Thursday, December 16, 2010

Downy Woodpeckers

 Each fall, we watch for the return of the downy woodpeckers to our suet feeder. We've found suet is the best attractant for this bird. There is a few day's delay after we hang the first cake of suet until a downy finds it. But from that point on, they are constant visitors throughout the winter.

 This downy (Picoides pubescens) is a male, obvious from the red patch on his nape. In his earliest visits to the feeder (such as this one), he's nervous and shy. The feeder is just outside the bay window at our kitchen sink, a place we spend a lot of time. Eventually the birds know we are there and cease to care. The food is much of a priority.

 This female came soon after the male. As the snow flew, she pecked at the fat and covered her beak with it. The female seems to remain more shy than the male, stays a little more skittish throughout the season.

The birds are small - about 6" tall and generally a sparrow-sized bird - and make a constant peep as they feed. Audubon describes the sound as "pik" but whatever it is, it continues between every bite. These are, by the way, the most abundant eastern woodpecker.

 Even on a dark day, when the wind is whistling from the west, the woodpeckers come for the easy handout. When this shot was taken, snow had filled the background and the temperature was quite cold (well down into the teens). As often as they visit, I am amazed that we are still on our first cake of suet.
 Other birds visit, too: common sparrows, titmice, nuthatches and the like. But they seldom stay when the woodpeckers arrive. It is then usually dining alone.