Tag Archives: Pileated woodpecker

A Brutally Cold Winter

And A Busy Yard

Winter hit us very hard this year.  We already have more than two feet of snow on the ground and, as I’m writing this blog, it’s snowing outside.  The temperature has also dropped down below zero for a couple of nights and hanging below 20ºF most days.  As much as it is harsh for us, it’s much more difficult for our winged friends.  We depend on them to handle garden pest control and they have been doing a great job.  It’s only fair for us to provide some comfort for them when food and fresh water is hard to find.

Since we provide food, water and roosting places, when the winter gets really bad our yard gets very busy.  This year is even busier since the Pine Siskin are here.  They would come around once every few years when their food is hard to find in the sub-arctic boreal area.  There are so many of them that we have to fill the main feeders in the garden three times a week in order to keep up with their appetite.

We leave the feeders in the garden but remove the ones on the patio every evening so as not to draw in skunks and raccoons.   Every morning I see the birds line up on the fence waiting for us to put the feeders back.  It’s a wonderful sight.

A male American Goldfinch
A male American Goldfinch

I wonder if this male American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) knows something that I don’t.  He’s starting to molt and getting his black patch on the head back.  The male Finch shed their winter down when spring comes and turn bright canary yellow in summer.  Several of the finches have developed some bright color and black head patches now.  Either they are fooled by the temperature swing or spring is just around the corner.

Shared feeder
Shared feeder

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker

We have plenty of Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubesceus) and they are not as wary of us as the other woodpeckers.  The Red-bellied and Northern flicker woodpecker are very camera shy.  The Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have never come to the feeder.  The one above was pecking on the maple tree in the front yard.

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

These five Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were waiting for their turn at the feeder.  We see them more and more in winter.  We assume that either we have plenty of food and shelter to offer or they were born here and feel comfortable being in the yard instead of migrating south.  By religiously monitoring the nest boxes, we managed to raise one to two broods every year.

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Female Northern cardinal
Female Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal

Nothing wrong with this male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  It was so cold that he alternately tucked one foot in while feeding.  Many of the birds either do this or just sit on both legs to keep them warm like the Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) below.

Song sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee

House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) waiting his turn while a Pine siskin defends his space from a landing Chickadee.

Some photos are not much in focus since they were taken through two panes of glass.  Sitting in the blind wasn’t an option when the temperature was below 20ºF.

 

 

 

 

Spring Is Around The Corner

Taking A Clue From Birds

There has been one snow storm after another and the official spring date is still more than a month away.  Our garden is covered a foot deep in snow crusted with ice.  The cold frame we put up last fall has become an igloo at this point. I have no idea what has happened in there since I can’t have access without digging my way in through snow.  I’ve left the honey bees alone.  The only sign that there are live bees in the hives is the fresh dead bees I found on top of the snow around the garden.

Our walkway
Our walkway
A pretty good looking dead bee  on top of snow
A pretty good looking dead bee on top of snow

It was very sunny and no wind today so I braved a low 30º F, in my knee-high boots, to stomp around inspecting the garden.  As much snow as there is on the ground, there are many signs that spring is not too far away.  I always see the arrival of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) as an indication that spring will be here soon enough.  Today was the second time I’ve seen a large flock of Robins come around.

Slightly disheveled looking Robin in a tree top
Slightly disheveled looking Robin in a tree top

Aside from Robins, the male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) no longer keep to their truce.  They seem to keep close to their female companions now and chase other full grown males around the yard.  The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are also looking for nesting spots now and no longer just coming to the garden for food.

A male Cardinal staying close to the female
A male Cardinal staying close to the female
A flock of Eastern Bluebirds at one of the feeders
A flock of Eastern Bluebirds at one of the feeders

The American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are starting to shed their winter coats.  There are little bits of yellow tipped grey down here and there on the snow, and the birds are beginning to show spring colors in bright yellow blotches.

American Goldfinch starting to show a bright yellow color
American Goldfinch starting to show a bright yellow color
A Pileated Woodpecker also joined the garden party today
A Pileated Woodpecker also joined the garden party today

With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.

Pileated Woodpecker

A Magnificent Bird

I had a visit from a very shy bird, a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), last weekend.  It is the largest woodpecker around since the Ivory-billed (Campephilus principalis) is presumed extinct.   It is a crow-sized woodpecker, with a 17″ long body and a wingspan around 29″, according to National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America by Edward S. Brinkley.  I knew they were in the neighborhood since I could hear them knocking.  Last year a mother took two chicks around to our garden a few times, but mostly they stay in the wooded areas away from people.   Only the Downey Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) seem to prefer easy pickings like the feeders rather than banging their brains out on trees for sustenance.  We have a lot of Downeys, more than we can count.  Some of them even roosted in our birdhouses.   The Red-bellied (Melanerpes carolinus) and the Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) are also common woodpeckers in the area.  Only once in a while would the Pileated  join their cousins in our garden.  Last weekend was one of them.

With a very loud hammering sound high up on the tree, too loud to be mistaken for a small woodpecker, I looked up and tried to locate the origin.   There he was, with a bright red Mohawk hairdo, hammering away at a tree trunk.   I dropped everything, grabbed a camera, and followed him from branch to branch.  He glanced at me from the above from time to time.  I’m glad he is around and trusted me enough not to fly away as soon as he saw me.   Here is a magnificent bird and some cousins.  Hopefully they won’t follow the Ivory-billed down the extinction path.

On a tree trunk observing me
Paused between pulling off the bark
Inspecting the bottom side of the trunk
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker taking off after grabbing a nut from the feeder
A male Northern Flicker Woodpecker looking for either ants or seeds
Mother Downey waiting patiently for her son to finish eating