Monday, March 06, 2006

Woodpeckers

On the phone last week, my sister was talking through identifying a bird at her feeder. We concluded it was a red-bellied woodpecker. I remember when I first identified them in my yard I couldn't help thinking it was a ridiculous name. I mean, do you see any red on the belly? On the other hand, I think all male woodpeckers have some red on their heads, so the search for distinguishing characteristics picks up on some pretty subtle things.

Yesterday, coming back from tapping maple trees I looked up in unconscious response to the high pitched voices overhead to find a flock of cedar wax-wings in our huge black cherry tree. I guess they're here all winter, but I don't see them very often and I can't help being delighted. A friend told me last night that she'd recently seen an albino cedar waxwing. It's like a test: can you name this bird without color clues? Candace says it takes a minute, but luckily waxwings have a distinctive silhouette.

Lots of birds that have been hanging around in twos and threes are now showing up in big groups. I don't usually have tree sparrows at the feeder but this morning, in addition to the usual gang of mourning doves, chickadees, juncos and titmice, there's a big group of tree sparrows.

10 comments:

Ontario Wanderer said...

Red-bellied woodpeckers were named by a person with the bird in hand according to what I have heard. In any case, I saw the "red belly" for the first time in my life last year. The bird was on the south side of a tree and the wind was blowing from the west and the white feathers on its breast opened so I could actually see some pale red feathers in the middle of its chest. I am sure that you or I could have come up with a better name for this bird.

Mary Ann said...

I've seen the subtle blush that must have inspired the name. It might have made sense when naturalists were discovering and naming new species from specimens in the hand.

These pictures were taken in January. I wonder if the color is more prominent in the breeding season.

Tabor said...

A good name? How about the Embarrassed woodpecker? Or the Belly Blusher? Or Pink ...? Ok, not going there.

Ron Sullivan said...

Wow, I'd thought of those as a southern bird. I can't recall ever seeing one when I was growing up in Harrisburg.

You're right about the red belly, and consider also the silliness of "ring-necked duck" and "sharp-shinned hawk."

Was this one calling? Their call is distinctive and nifty. Nice bird.

John Stone said...

Here in the midwest I would ID that one as a Downy Woodpecker except the crest color is a lot bigger than I usually see... about half the size of a redheaded .. but without digging out my Petersons, I am not sure about your species there ... We used to have a lot of Flickers around town, but as the dead trees are cleared out they have pretty much disappeared ... Big, noisy, pretty bird.....

Mary Ann said...

Red-bellied woodpeckers are so common at my feeder, I rarely look twice at them. But they're new to my sister's feeder in New Jersey. So, when she started to describe it with the obvious red head, I knew we have to look for the next most obvious characteristic. For the red-belly, it's the striped back. Hairys and Downys have white backs. Bill, my ornithologist friend, and I think the red-bellied should be named ladderback. But, oh well. You don't go with the bird names you want. You go with the bird names you've got.

Gwyn said...

Red-Bellies don't come around my feeders, but I hear them in the neighborhood and see them always in the woods. On occasion, I've seen the red blush on the lower flanks, but always thought it was not the world's best moniker.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any good information on whether or not woodpeckers can cause significant damage to trees? I have one red-belly going to work on a maple of mine, and I love having him/her around. However, I see how fast they work and was wondering how destructive they can ultimately be.

Mary Ann said...

While the woodpecker work is highly visible, they're just going after insects in the wood that are more likely to be doing the serious damage. So, I tend to think of woodpeckers as the good guys keeping insect damage under control.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mary Ann. The little guy has actually taken up residence in the maple, which worried me at first as I understand most often they prefer dead or dying trees. However, we were up in the tree just a few weeks ago taking down some major limbs. All seemed healthy. The tree as a whole seems healthy. So, assuming it IS healthy, I guess my next question is, how much damage can a nest do to the maple?