Friday, February 28, 2014

At The Feeders: Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

February 28th, 2014. We installed a couple of log feeders in mid-December, 2013. Our inspiration came from a log feeder at the Ontario FeederWatch Cam sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that was visited regularly by a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Within a few days, Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) began feeding at our logs.  

We were surprised when, on January 21st, we saw the first Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), a female, arrived at the feeder in the mid-afternoon. We didn’t see a male until February 8th although it’s possible that these woodpeckers had been coming quietly to the feeders and we hadn’t noticed them.

A female Red-bellied Woodpecker feeding at a log feeder with a male Downy Woodpecker making its way down the trunk of a tree just behind the feeder. This shows the relative sizes of these woodpeckers – 9.5 inches compared with 5.5 inches - quite nicely.

Both male and female have a barred back and wings and red caps. The red cap on the female is ‘broken’, not continuous. She has a small red patch just above the beak and a red cap from the top of the head to the base of the neck.

The male has a continous red cap.

A male feeding at the log.

They will stop feeding if disturbed. I’ve watched on remain perfectly still for five minutes before it felt safe…

to continue feeding.

These photos show how they hold onto the log with the very tips of their claws.

This bird was just starting to fly off into the woods.

I didn’t understand why this was called a Red-bellied Woodpecker until I got photos that clearly show the red patch on the belly. Usually, it’s not easy to see.

They tend to arrive and leave the feeders by a nearby tree trunk.

These woodpeckers may arrive at the feeders soon after it gets light in the morning and as late as dusk. They are very shy birds; they will fly off at the slightest disturbance compared with the Downy Woodpeckers which will stay at the feeders when most other birds fly off in alarm. 

Identification Resources:

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

At The Feeders: Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

February 23rd, 2014. We installed a couple of log feeders in mid-December, 2013. Our inspiration came from a log feeder at the Ontario FeederWatch Cam sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that was visited regularly by a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). I thought it would be fun to see if we could attract woodpeckers to one at our location since there we’ve seen four different woodpecker species: Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Syphyrapicus varius). 

W made the logs by routing a series of 1-inch holes approximately 1 to 2 inches deep around a log about 12 inches in length. An eye screw was inserted in one end of the log which was then suspended from tree limbs on metal hangers. The holes were filled with a mixture of peanut butter, vegetable shortening, and a bird seed mix of Millet, Milo, Corn and Sunflower Seeds. 

The log feeders are located at the edge of the woods behind the other feeders 

I didn’t really expect to see woodpeckers at the feeder this Winter. So I was surprised and delighted when a male Downy Woodpecker visited the feeder within a day. I didn’t notice a female until three weeks after the first log was hung but she could have arrived earlier without my noticing.  

Downy woodpeckers are quite small; smaller in length – 5.5 to 6.7 inches – than
Northern Cardinals which are 8.3 to 9.1 inches

The male [top] has a red patch on the back of the head; the female doesn’t have the red patch. 

It’s interesting to watch them feeding...

From sizing up what’s in the hole to… 

Actually feeding – sticking their entire head into a hole, to... 

Having beaks covered with food. Sometimes they have to fly over to a nearby tree to clean their beaks. 

The males tend to concentrate on feeding. The females will… 

Often look around to keep an eye on their surroundings. 

It’s not unusual to see male and females feeding at the same time. These might be a pair. The male wouldn’t tolerate a second female who attempted to feed at the same time. 

They tend to arrive and leave the feeders by a nearby tree trunk. 

A closer view. 

These woodpeckers usually arrive at the feeders soon after light – often before sunrise – and may feed on an off until dusk. 

Identification Resources: 

Related post: 
- Birds In An Ice Storm  
- Snow Day And Hungry Birds 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) At The Bird Feeders

February 17th, 2014. I was just getting up when I noticed that all the birds at the feeders had scattered. This usually means that a cat or dog is wandering through, or a hawk is flying overhead. However, when I looked out the window, I was very surprised to see a possum - a Virginia Opossum (Didelphia virginiana) - snuffling around in the seed hulls underneath the bird feeders. It was in the shade but I grabbed my camera just in case. These photos were taken hand-held at 1/20th of a second so…

It was standing with its back towards me. I wasn’t terribly hopeful that it would turn around. I expected it to wander off across the clearing and into the woods but…

it turned its head just and I caught a glimpse of its face.

To my surprise, it turned around and…

It continued to nose out seeds.

Something distracted it and…

it decided it was time to leave. It moved quite rapidly towards the house and turned towards the woods.

It’s very unusual to see a possum in the morning. I don't think I'll see another one during the day any time soon.

Identification Resources: 
University of Georgia Museum of Natural History: Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

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Friday, February 14, 2014

At The Feeders: Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

February 14th, 2014. The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is, by far, one of the showiest birds to come to the feeders. We see eight or nine pairs around the feeders each day. They are among the first to arrive in the early morning and the last to leave in the late afternoon. They feed on sunflower seeds. 

The male is the brightest.  
The female’s plumage is more muted, but quite beautiful. 

Cardinals are most comfortable feeding on the ground or on the platform feeder, but will also feed at the tube feeder. They can hull the seeds at the feeder.

Some cardinals have tried to feed at the log feeders… 

Most attempts are like this. They can’t gain purchase on the log so take a mouthful of food ‘to go.’
A few cardinals have mastered feeding at the logs even if they look a little awkward.  

Identification Resources: 
All About Birds 

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