Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Day of the Woodpeckers

 I suppose it's either last night's snow (4" here) or the coming cold wave, but something is driving the birds to our suet feeder in droves. It's usually the chickadee or titmouse with an occasional cardinal thrown in for good measure. But at lunchtime, all that changed.

 I was sitting in the dining room eating my meal; Mom was in the kitchen doing dishes.

 I heard her call. "Come here quick!", she said. "There's a new bird here that I haven't seen before. It looks like it's wearing a coat or a stole!"

 I stood up and carefully leaned around the corner, so as not to startle whatever she was looking at. There, swinging on the suet feeder, was a large brown bird. I didn't know immediately what it was but I certainly remembered seeing it before.

 I backed away and ran up the steps to get my camera.

 It's a "Common Flicker" (Colaptes auratus) [1] of course but the name didn't come immediately to mind. Plus, this isn't a bird I see very often. Clearly the change in the weather has left the birds suddenly hungry and willing to take more risks than usual.

 When the bird opens his wings and flies, it's like an explosion of yellow. Look inside the tail. The wings are likewise lined with sunny gold.

 I watched him eat for a while and then he flew to a pine fifty feet away, nearest our meadow. He (I say "he" but this may be a "she") landed on the tree and puffed up the breast feathers. Is this a "stay warm" action or something else? Another Flicker was at the same tree, eating poke berries from last fall. Perhaps this is a mated pair?

 When the bird came back to the suet feeder, I waited until the bird's back had rotated into view so I could get a good shot of that beautiful "coat". This is really quite a stunning bird, bedecked in a variety of earthy colors. I'd estimate the bird to have been a foot tall.

 But the fun wasn't over. After I finished lunch, I picked up with the dish washing. Soon enough I saw a very large shadow pass overhead. I looked carefully so I could see what kind of bird it was. Turns out I didn't have to wait long.

 Could it be?

 I backed away from the window and sat down on a stool in the shadows and lifted the camera for a shot. It was a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) [2], the real Woody Woodpecker of the avian world. This bird is huge ... easily 15 to 17" tall. No wonder he cast a shadow.

 The Audubon Society says, "Despite its size, this elegant woodpecker is adept at keeping out of sight." Indeed. I've seen exactly one since moving to Pinehaven 28 years ago. Rare indeed.

 The bird was very wary of me but I suppose his hungry outweighed his fear. Still, he stayed only a minute or so but did return a time or two while I watched. For once I was lucky to be doing dishes.

 In the days ahead we are to drop into the -5° to -10° range. I suppose the birds feel this Arctic cold in their bones and set out to grab an extra bite wherever they can.

 When the big boys are at the suet feeders, the other birds seem to sit on nearby branches and sulk. "We're hungry, too!" they seem to say. But when you're a dingy, you don't mess with battleships.

Oh, my! Look at all the wonderful things to eat!
- Tiny Tim "A Christmas Carol"

[1] Amy Bridge, owner of the Butter Street  Barn in Germantown, said she studied ornithology in college and that this bird is a "Yellow-shafted Flicker".
[2] Amy adds that this Pileated is a female. "The males have a red cheek patch," she said. Thanks, Amy!

No comments:

Post a Comment