Listen to Mama: Wildlife Wednesday, October 2019

Listen to your mama, young Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.

I tell that same thing to my 24 year-old son all the time, omitting the ‘little woodpecker’ part of course.  Because my fledgling lives half a world away, most of the time when I’m dispensing sage mama advice, I can’t actually see him rolling his eyes, but I’m reasonably certain that particular eye movement is occurring.  Sometimes, he does agree with me and that’s a definite mama win.

Recently while in my front garden, terra firma, I heard chittering from high up in my neighbor’s ash tree.  Mama woodpecker and her fledgling were conversing, but who knows–except themselves–what mother and child woodpeckers discuss?  Was she annoyed that she wasn’t getting any mama-me time?  Maybe he was complaining that he wanted to hang out on his own branch and not be always in mama’s sight.  He is entering those teen weeks and we all know how trying that time is.

For a brief moment, they were both distracted by something, their voices silenced.

Soon enough, they were back at it: mama digging into the deep crevices of the ash tree’s bark with her strong beak and eating her find, her teen chittering as she rummaged.  This tree is the nursery and home base to several generations of Red-bellied families. The nesting hole where the eggs are laid and chicks are raised lies on another thick branch just beyond the one in the photo, but apparently the family likes hanging out after the little ones are too big for sequester in the nesting hole.

I didn’t see dad in this charming family scene; maybe he was at my peanut feeder in the back garden or perhaps hunting insects at another tree.  I think this is the second woodpecker brood, as in the spring, there were chicks (two, I think) in the hole and I would imagine they are long-fledged by now.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers produce two to three broods each season.

The woodpecker youngster has become a regular visitor at my peanut feeder in the back garden.  At each sighting, I notice more red on his head and for that reason, I believe he’s a male.  The male Red-bellies have a large swath of red on their heads, the bright blush of feathers reaching down toward their eyes.  The female Red-bellies are also redheads, but with less area covered.

Why are they called Red-bellied Woodpeckers when they sport those snazzy red heads?  Firstly, there’s a blush of red on their tummies which is the descriptor of their name. Secondly, there’s another common species of woodpecker in this area, the Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocelphalus, whose deep, rich red head out-reds the Red-bellies’ heads.  Got that?

Whatever mama and and her boy were yammering about up in that tree, it seems that the little dude has learned some valuable lessons from his parents.  He knows where the peanut feeder is and how to go about grabbing a snack without the supervision of his elders.

Good job growing up and great job parents!  The neighborhood welcomes more Red-belly Woodpeckers.

I hope this past month was a good one for your wildlife watching. Please share your wildlife happenings and remember to leave a link when you post here and happy wildlife gardening!


16 thoughts on “Listen to Mama: Wildlife Wednesday, October 2019

  1. A great story and photos. I have explained the difference between the two woodpeckers many times. My Red-headed ones have moved on and I haven’t seen them for several years. I have been hearing the calls of the Pileated recently.


    • Oooh, Pileated woodpeckers–never seen one and I so want to. Another bird species that’s around here, but not for me, apparently. My sister-in-law lives just west of us (other side of MoPac, if you know Austin) and she has the whole lot: Downies, Red-bellies, Red-headed, Pileated!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I recently read that the piney woods have more woodpeckers than any other region of Texas — eight species — but you’re working on it! I appreciated that little lesson on red-headed/red-bellied. It’s hard to sort them out, although from the photos I’ve seen, I think the pileated would be easy enough to spot. I also read that there used to be a ninth species in Texas: the ivory-billed. It disappeared some time ago — or didn’t, depending on who you believe. There are a couple of guys who seem to live their lives searching for the mythical bird that at least one is sure he’s seen. It sounds a little like the search for the abominable snowman, but if they find one, it could be the find of the year.


    • Wow, I didn’t realize that, but if I was a woodpecker, I’d probably like to live in the Piney Woods, too. As for the ivory-billed, I didn’t know it was ever in Texas; I thought it was a Louisiana bird. I’ve heard about those two guys; their commitment is impressive, I must say.


  3. I have barely set foot in my garden, but I am thrilled to tell you that, about a month ago, I saw a woodpecker in my elderberry bush (which is a small tree by now). And, having worked on the houseboat over a period of a few weeks, I have LOVED the kind of fowl that frequent the river. Two days ago, I heard a high-pitched squeaking, looked up, and saw a large Bald Eagle land on a dead tree branch high up above. Seconds later, a murder of crows circled around him, and eventually landed, safely distancing themselves from the big guy. I was so excited!! And, I’ve seen geese and herons galore. I really love spending time on the river!


    • That’s great! During a couple of our trips to Portland, we walked along a trail–wonderful nature trail along the same area as the OMSI which is along the Willamette. We saw so much bird life! I just love that area, I’ll bet you’ve really enjoyed it.


  4. Loved this post, also the idea of an adolescent woodpecker rolling his eyes. If only that could be captured on film! You remind me it is about time to start putting out peanuts for the birds – I only do that during the colder months.


    • I’ve always wondered if bird and mammal teens and young adults get annoyed with their parents the way our teens and young adults are annoyed with us. Not to anthropomorphize, though. 🙂 I’m seeing a few migratory birds in my garden, but the winter Texans aren’t here yet and that’s when there’s a run on the peanuts.

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  5. New to birding, I remember seeing a Red-bellied Woodpecker for the first time while at my camp in Monmouth, Maine. Then, I peered behind it only to find a Downy and Pileated seemingly waiting for the Red-bellied to carry on so they could move in. It was like the who’s who of woodpeckers. Since then, I can’t get enough of the whole lot. Recently, I’ve been fixated on Northern Flickers (Yellow-Shafted), especially this fall when you can see 6-8 in a single tree in my part of the woods. They’re a fascinating species. Thanks for sharing your story and observations!


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