Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Babes in the Woods, Part 2

Yesterday morning, I wrote, “The population of downy woodpeckers visiting our feeders just about tripled this week. Our backyard is alive with these lovely little black and white birds!” You may read that essay HERE with my description of the antics of a small swarm of fledgling downies at our feeders.

Today, I could write the same essay, substituting “hairy woodpeckers” for “downy woodpeckers” and referring to “lovely medium-sized” woodpeckers instead of “lovely little” woodpeckers. At least one, and perhaps two, families of young hairy woodpeckers arrived today, coming with their parents, who have been daily feeder visitors for the past three years or so.
I just love watching them explore their new world. One young bird clambered all over the deck rail and palings, trying everything to find out if it tasted good. It found a puddle of last night’s rain water and had a drink. Another scavenged spilled seed from underneath the seed feeder, while another two chased each other round and round the trunk of the tree where our suet feeders hang. The hairies, both young and adult, are naturally shyer and more wary than the downies, and they are easily startled.

It’s interesting to observe the territorial displays that various birds employ around the feeders. Each bird works hard to defend “its” feed from all other comers. All the woodpeckers which visit our feeders (five species in all) have conspicuous underwing patterns. When they want to act tough, they face their rival, raise their wings to reveal the pattern, and call loudly, lunging and flashing the wings. It usually works, though sometimes some caterwauling battles ensue. On two occasions, I have seen a hairy woodpecker seize its smaller downy cousin by the bill, shake it vigorously, and toss it into the air! The little one would catch itself in midair and fly off. (Read more on “Woodpecker Wars” HERE.)

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