West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris

Robert A. Askins, Michael E. Akresh, and William K. Hayes
Version: 2.0 — Published October 29, 2020

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Welcome to Birds of the World!

You are currently viewing one of the free accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of the World. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this account.

For complete access to all accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Vocalizations of West Indian Woodpecker are poorly known, but appear to be similar to those of Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) and other similar Melanerpes species. Relatively few recordings are available in online repositories, and likely represent only a portion of the entire repertoire of the species. More work is needed to fill in these gaps, and to allow comparison of vocalizations between populations on various island groups.


Vocal Array

Kwirr. This is often described as the churr call, a loud, rolling call lasting ca 0.25-0.3 s with a vaguely screaming quality, typically given in a series of 3-6 notes but sometimes singly. Slightly higher pitched than the similar call of Red-bellied Woodpecker (M. carolinus), with slightly finer modulations to the call imparting a less mellow quality to the notes. According to Kirkconnell (40), this call is given more frequently by males, but it is also often used by females.

Chuckle. Typically a rattling series of short cha notes, lasting anywhere between 0.3-8s or more. Kirkconnell (40) describes this as the kra-kra-kra call, explaining that a sequence of three syllables is often produced. Similar to the analogous calls in Red-bellied Woodpecker, but like the Kwirr, slightly higher-pitched.

Other calls. Though no recordings exist, likely has several other calls analogous to those in closely related species, including Wicka, Bark, and Churr series. Also expected to have distinctive nestling and juvenile vocalizations, as in other woodpecker species, but no recordings or information available.

Geographic Variation

None known, but should be investigated between populations in the Bahamas and on Cuba and the Cayman Islands.


No information.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

No information.

Places of Vocalizing

Kwirr call typically given by perched birds, but Chuckle (usually shorter versions) sometimes given in flight.

Gender Differences

Little information, though Kirkconnell (40) indicates that Kwirr given more often by the male.

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

No information.

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Kwirr calls presumably used to find a mate during courtship and for mutual recognition, and to attract a mate to the nest cavity, as in Red-bellied Woodpecker. Chuckle calls are used as a location call given by the members of a pair, and is important for nest exchange and for locating a mate at a distance (40, 41). A shorter version of the Chuckle call is given in flight, and is associated with alarm or excitement. It may also be used when supplanting another bird.

Nonvocal Sounds

Drum. Produced by rapid tapping on a resonant surface such as a dead tree or utility pole to produce a steady roll (8), at a rate of c 17 strokes per second (n = 2). As in closely related Melanerpes, Drum is relatively short, between c 0.5-1.2s. Used for territorial defense, mate attraction and to locate a mate (40). Drumming is used by both males and females, and may be followed with Kwirr or Chuckle calls.

Tapping. A slow, soft rapping sound made with the bill. Mutual tapping is used in courtship and to coordinate replacement of one mate by the other during nest building (49, 40).

Knocking. Loud tapping from inside of the nest cavity may be used for nest exchange during incubation (40).

Recommended Citation

Askins, R. A., M. E. Akresh, and W. K. Hayes (2020). West Indian Woodpecker (Melanerpes superciliaris), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.weiwoo1.02