WORDS ON BIRDS
Woodpeckers Feeding Offspring at Suet Feeders
By Steve Grinley
have had the pleasure of watching downy woodpecker parents feeding
their recently fledged offspring at our suet feeder in Essex. The
inexperienced youngsters cling to the wood deck railing,
occasionally fluttering their wings, begging to be fed. The adults
take morsels of the soft, palatable suet from the feeder and feed
them to the young woodpeckers. Once in a while, the adult would go
to the seed feeder, grab a seed and bring it to the railing, adding
variety to the new birds’ diet.
day I watched one of the young downy woodpeckers try to get onto the
suet feeder itself. The bird fluttered around the feeder several
times, as if not sure where to land, or how to land on it. It is one
of those with a “tail prop” extension, but eventually, maybe by
accident, the young bird grabbed the cage portioned and righted
itself on the feeder. Feeling quite proud I’m sure, it proceeded to
feed itself. It was fun to watch.
Doug Chickering of Groveland had a similar experience with a family
of red-bellied woodpeckers in his yard:
“We had gone to the Locust Hill Cemetery on the Gloucester-Rockport
line to look for a reported Varied Thrush. We didn’t see the Thrush
that day, but as we drove into the cemetery I saw an unusual looking
bird fly up to the trunk of a large oak tree right beside the car.
Much to our surprise and amazement we were getting killer looks at a
Red-bellied Woodpecker. This was 1989. In 1989 Red-bellied
Woodpecker in Massachusetts qualified as a hot line bird.
“As the years passed the status of this gorgeous woodpecker slowly
changed. I remember in the 90’s Lois and I would join the Circle
Donut Bird Club, and in the spring visit Argilla Road in Ipswich.
Here there was a large, crude homemade suet feeder nailed to the
side of a large tree in a front yard and always packed with a slab
of suet. Here a Red-bellied Woodpecker visited on a regular basis,
more or less. We usually got it. If not a hot line bird, Red-bellied
Woodpecker remained a special target bird along the lines of
Red-headed Woodpecker. This situation was perpetuated until the
entry to the third millennium. Their numbers increased surprisingly
rapidly and eventually Red-bellied Woodpecker outnumbered Hairy
Woodpecker in the Newburyport Christmas Bird Count.
“The increase of Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of a handful of
welcome changes in the fluctuating bird local populations. I have
seen one on Plum Island on a few occasions but it still remains
uncommon to rare at my favorite birding spot. Just a few years ago
we got one at our feeder. It was considered an event. Then we would
get one at the feeder a half-dozen times a year.
“This year both sexes of Red-bellied come down to pillage our suet
cakes on a regular basis. And today the saga of Red-bellied
Woodpecker came to a glorious “crescendo” at least for me. This
morning Lois and I were treated to the sight of an adult female,
feeding a newly fledged babe.
were at the far feeder and the female kept dipping down to the suet
feeder that was accessible only from the bottom. This design is
deliberate: its intent is to discourage less attractive Starlings
and Grackles who, apparently don’t care to hang up-side down for
long periods of time. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are not
dissuaded at all and this feeder is a great favorite of theirs.
“The female adult Red-bellied would
pull suet out and scramble up to the juvenile and feed it as it
fluttered its wings. The young bird demonstrated all the
characteristics of a new bird. It begged constantly and had trouble
grasping the metal bow. In fact, its efforts were almost comical, as
it would slowly slide down the bow, flapping its wings ineffectually
and continuing to beg for food. I was struck by what seemed to me
how much this bird resembled human babies. It was sleek and there
wasn’t a trace of red on the head giving it a distinctively bald
look and its efforts and struggles were crude and uncoordinated.
“Even though the Red-bellied Woodpecker
is edging towards being a common bird I don’t think it will ever be
anything but a special sighting for me.”
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