Sunday, October 7, 2012

Discovering What Woodpeckers Eat

Gila Woodpecker, Corona de Tucson, AZ 1-2-2009
It's no secret that woodpeckers are one of my favorite families of birds. I love the way they cling to trees or hang upside down, and figure things out. I find them fun to watch and I love to try to attract them to my yard. They have some of the most beautiful and interesting plumages and behaviors, but one day this past summer I became very intrigued by what woodpeckers eat.
Gila Woodpecker, Corona de Tucson, AZ 4-11-2009
Here in Arizona the Gila woodpeckers will go through all kinds of contortions to drink nectar from my hummingbird feeders!
Gila Woodpecker, Corona de Tucson, AZ 10-11-2009
Their strong toes and stiff tail feathers allow them to prop themselves against tree trunks or even the bottom of the nectar feeder!
Downy Woodpecker, Andover, MA 1-22-2012
Most woodpeckers will eat suet.
Downy Woodpecker at the Geremonty Marsh, Salem, NH 10-19-2011
As well as searching for insects and grubs in the bark of infested trees.
Downy Woodpecker, Andover, MA 3-30-2011
In the northeast I found downy woodpeckers searching for insects in the stalks of cattails at a bog.
Downy Woodpecker on mullein, Andover, MA 2012
But I was most surprised to step outside my front door in Andover, Massachusetts last summer only to discover a Downy Woodpecker clinging to this giant mullein plant in my front yard. I do not know if it was eating insects or seeds, but it clung to the stalk for over an hour working its way up and down the stem.
Red-naped Sapsucker, Tucson, AZ 1-5-2009
One of the most interesting birds in the woodpecker family are the sapsuckers. sapsuckers are so named because they drill holes in the trunks of trees, then drink the sap that flows, as well as eat the insects that get caught in the flowing sap. In the northeast you will frequently find birch trees drilled with very symmetrical holes encircling a tree. 
Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Norridgewock, ME 2012
Pileated Woodpecker, Farmington, Maine 4-10-2011
One of the most impressive woodpeckers is the pileated. While this is not my best photo of one, I really like that it shows the bird pulling an insect out of a hole that it exposed by chiseling away the bark with its massive bill.
Acorn Woodpeckers, Madera Canyon, AZ, 1-19-2009
In late August of this year I moved back to Tucson, AZ. Here we have the clown-faced woodpeckers called Acorn Woodpeckers. I find them interesting because they live in family groups in the canyons of the Arizona Mountains. One of the most interesting things about Acorn Woodpeckers is that they will drill holes in one or two trees, then collect and store acorns in the holes for the winter.
Gilded Flicker, Corona de Tucson, 5-9-2007
Another favorite woodpecker family of mine are the flickers. Here in the United States we have Northern flickers throughout much of the country, and Gilded Flickers here in the Sonoran desert. While all flickers will eat suet, seeds, fruit, and insects, they can also frequently be found on the ground eating ants. 
Red-bellied Woodpecker, Andover, MA 6-26-2012
The Red-bellied woodpeckers of the east will eat suet, seeds and fruit. The first red-bellied woodpecker I ever saw was in Florida eating oranges and grapefruits in my brother's yard. As you can see from these pictures, almost all woodpeckers can be drawn to your yard by putting out suet cakes.
Arizona Woodpecker, Madera Canyon 3-28-2007
One of the rarest woodpeckers in North America is the Arizona Woodpecker. Though it looks superficially similar to the Downy Woodpecker, and it is of a similar size, it is our only brown woodpecker. 

This one is clinging to the bark of an alligator juniper tree in Madera Canyon twisting its neck into a humanly impossible angle as it searches for insects beneath the bark.
Downy Woodpecker, Andover, MA July 25, 2012
So, whether eating insects or suet, seeds or nectar, watching woodpeckers is so much fun. 
Note: Kathiesbirds has moved back to Tucson, AZ as of the end of August 2012. You can still read about my birding adventures on Kathie's Birds, or read my bird and nature poetry on Kathie's Poet Tree. If you would like to read about my first experience with living in Arizona, then follow the link to Sycamore Canyon, the first blog I ever wrote! Either way, I am always having fun birding because Birding is Fun!

23 comments:

  1. Recordo os meus tempos de menino em que havia por aqui muitos picapaus. Viam-se as árvores picadas e eram de uma grande beleza.
    Hoje deliciei-me a vê-los aqui e conhecendo outras variedades.

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    1. Luis, Thank you for your comment, though unfortunately I do not know what it says! Can anyone out there translate for me?

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    2. Luis, thank you for your kind comment. I am so glad that it reminded you of your boyhood and all the birds you would see. Thank you for commenting on my blog post!

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  2. Kathie, Here in the northwest it is common to see small black mite like insects feeding on common mullein flower heads. They are attacking the seeds and I have seen several hundred on single stalk on several occasions. I have seen Downies feeding on mullein stalks many times and the times I have been able to tell what they were ingesting it has always been these small bugs. I would suspect that is what you are seeing as well.

    Mike

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    1. Mike, thank you SO MUCH for this information! I tried to research it but could not find any info anywhere! My observation of this behavior is what sparked this post!

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  3. A very epic and delicious post Kathie! I recommend it for the reader's...digest :)

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    1. Lol. Laurence! You are always so witty!

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  4. Wonderful informative post and photos, Kathie! Your photos are terrific as illustrations and in themselves. Having woodpeckers in your yard is not always fun though: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drilled so many holes into my Mountain Ash Tree that it almost died. We ultimately cut it down because of the many dead branches. Same with Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers; their flaying the bark killed large branches on my crab apple tree. Sadly because of it I had to remove my suet feeders.

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    1. Hilke, I did not know the sapsuckers could kill a tree. As for the woodpeckers, as I understand it, they will not just drill into a tree unless it is already infested with insects. I am so sorry that you lost them both and that you can no longer set out your feeders. They are such fun birds to watch! thanks for your informative comment!

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  5. Kathie, I love all the images you showed in the post and the great information about what woodpeckers eat. I especially love the images of the Arizona Woodpecker, wow, what a gorgeous bird!

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    1. Mia, it truly is a cutie pie! I have not seen one yet since moving back but soon I will find one I am sure! It's time for some new pictures!

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    1. Isidro, thank you! Saludos to you too!

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  7. Kathie, what a fantastic post! Great photography. Beautiful woodpeckers. Interesting bird behavior discussion. Well done!

    I love finding patches of mullein here in Idaho as they are such regular hosts of Downy Woodpeckers. It makes sense that they are eating the bugs on the stalks rather than seeds. The allure of these mullein plants to Downy Woodpeckers is so strong that I am often able to get within a couple of feet of the woodpecker without it even noticing me.

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    1. Robert, it was the same for me! Though I was using the 70 to 300mm zoom I hardly had to use it! In fact, when I was done photographing the bird I just walked right by it within a few feet! It stayed there eating for over an hour!

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  8. Great job Kathie. You really covered a lot of different woodpeckers feeding with excellent photos! I was suprised when I would put oranges out trying to attract orioles and ended up with catbirds and Red-bellied Woodpeckers instead.

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    1. Larry, those Red-bellies really love their fruit!

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  9. ...wonderful post, Kathie! I love the brown and white Arizona Woodpecker--I want to see one!

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    1. Kelly, come to AZ and I will take you there!

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  10. Great post Kathie! So many great woodpeckers in action! Love the shot of the Pileated Woodpecker extracting the insects, how cool! They are such impressive birds. They stop by my yard from time to time and I love to watch them hammer away.

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  11. Wonderful experience reading/admiring the words/photos in this post. Thank you so much!

    Dennis

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  12. Like your post very much, thanks for sharing! I am enjoying reading!
    white azalea

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  13. Superb post filled with interesting information and terrific photographs! My, you have seen quite a variety of woodpeckers. Lucky you! It is always a joy to view the woodpeckers in our backyard. We've got Downies, Hairies and Red-bellied all delighting in the suet. Pileated, Sapsuckers and Flickers also can be seen in the area. That Arizona Woodpecker is really something. Super capture. I truly enjoyed reading this wonderful post!

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