Sunday, April 10, 2011
Downy Woodpecker: A Backyard Study
Posted by Robert Mortensen
While refilling the backyard feeders, I heard loud drumming above me in the tree. It took me a few minutes wandering around the base of the tree looking up and getting a nice neck cramp and making the neighbors sure of my absolute lunacy, but I did eventually find that female Downy Woodpecker perched on a dead split branch. She wasn't eating, just drumming away. "Why was she drumming?" I asked myself. Was she signaling her readiness to mate? Was she establishing her territory? There has been a second female hanging around recently, but not today. Perhaps she lost out to this little drummer. She was certainly communicating something 'cause while else would she be bangin' her head on a dead stick.
While looking at this little drummer gal I noticed several hollows in my tree that I had never noticed before. Well, I'll be! I've got a dozen natural and bird-made cavities in my tree, perfect spots for Woodpeckers, Owls, Kestrels, and of course Starlings.
She really enjoys the suet feeder and I find her there several times a day. She never lets me get real close for photos, so these shots are the closest yet. As I approach, she tends to zoom up the tree, on the backside of course, occasionally peering around to see if I am still there and then goes up a few more feet. Once at the thinner branches she flies off to the larger tree.
Later, I watched her flitting around the branches chasing live insects. She stealthily approaches the bug and in an instant snatches it from the bark. Sometimes the bug flies and she follows it with her eyes and gives chase once the bug lands on another branch. I never see her fly-catching on the wing. Other times she pecks at the bark digging for burrowed-in bugs and larvae as one would expect a woodpecker to do.
This evening I had my 6 year old daughter Victoria with me observing the dainty Downy. We talked about how she used her tail to prop herself up against the tree trunk and we looked at her color pattern, where the white was and where the black was. The white spots on the wings and the white patch on the back. The black and white stripes on the face. We saw her pounding her hard bill on a branch looking for food.
Sometimes backyard birding, actually watching and observing behavior, can be just as fulfilling and perhaps more interesting as a trip to a new location racking up lifers.