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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The woodpeckers are coming back

I spent some time in my backyard yesterday trying to get pictures of the Brown-headed Nuthatches and the Downy Woodpeckers visiting the feeders. The nuthatches never did show up while I was watching, but I was able to get a few shots of a female Downy at the suet feeder.

It seems to me that most of the Downies that I see visiting the feeders are either females or juveniles. Occasionally I see an adult male there but not as often as the females.

One of the reasons that they are suddenly turning up may be that I'm using a new brand of  "no melt" suet which they really seem to like.

This bird stayed at the suet cake for several minutes.

You can see that there is no red nape patch, so we know for sure that this is a female.

While I was watching this bird, out of the corner of my eye I caught the flash of white on the wing of a bird flying into my neighbor's pine tree. I trained my binoculars on the spot where I had seen the movement and got a terrific surprise!

I had complained here just a couple of weeks ago about the disappearance from my neighborhood of the Red-headed Woodpecker. They used to be fairly common here, but for several years now they have been absent from my yard and the immediate vicinity of my yard. Imagine my astonishment and delight then when I looked through my binoculars yesterday and saw this:

You might think there is nothing red about that head, but, in fact, this is what a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker looks like. In a couple more months, he'll complete his first molt and then his head will be entirely bright red. But right now, he's just a baby and he's still wearing his baby feathers.

But this baby has caught himself a big lunch! Can you see what he is holding? It's a cicada. It took him several minutes to dispose of the big insect.

Even after eating the cicada, he was still hungry and he started rooting around under the bark of the dead limb where he had perched to eat his meal. He seemed to find quite a bit to munch on. I couldn't tell if it was ants or possibly some kind of larvae.

This young bird was doing a good job of making a living on his own, away from Mom and Dad.

 After several more minutes, he decided to try his luck elsewhere and took flight.

The numbers of woodpeckers of all kinds do seem to be increasing in my area and, thinking about it, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Woodpeckers love dead trees and there have been a lot of those around over the last couple of years because of the drought. Even though most of the dead trees in my neighborhood have been removed by now, there are still lots of trees, pines particularly, with dead limb snags. These are a magnet for woodpeckers, and also nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and a lot of other birds that like to explore under bark for insects. So, the drought has actually improved the habitat for such birds and it shouldn't surprise us to see their numbers increasing.

And now I have a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker in my yard - well, my next-door neighbor's yard actually - and he seems to be finding lots to eat here. I can dare to hope that he'll make this his territory and that these wonderful birds are on their way to a comeback in my yard.

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