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This conspicuous, vocal woodpecker is resident in a wide variety of habitats on Grand Cayman, Cuba and nearby islands, and San Salvador, Abaco, and (until recently) Grand Bahama in The Bahamas. West Indian Woodpecker is similar to the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) of eastern North America in appearance and behavior, but it is usually larger. Also, most subspecies of West Indian Woodpecker have a distinctive black mark over and behind the eye (the supercilium of the scientific name).
West Indian Woodpecker frequently is found in areas with tall, smooth-trunked palms, which provide suitable nesting habitat, and this limits its distribution on some islands. It forages solitarily or in pairs on the trunks and branches of trees. Its feeding behavior is exceptionally broad for a woodpecker. It gathers insects, spiders, small frogs, and lizards by pecking on bark, probing into bromeliad leaves, or gleaning vegetation, and also frequently feeds on fruit. Distinct populations on particular islands are recognized as separate subspecies. Although West Indian Woodpecker is common on Cuba and Grand Cayman, some of the subspecies on smaller islands have small populations that are vulnerable to extinction, and the original Grand Bahama population probably has been extirpated.