Eat or be Eaten

I watched the Downy WoodpeckerDryobates pubescens, for several minutes.   She was rock-still:  nothing moved, not a feather, despite the gentle sway of the feeder and the clasped piece of peanut in her beak.  Because she was motionless–abnormal for a bird–I realized that there must be a predator nearby.

I Downy-watched from my kitchen window, my favorite bird blind.  Even with my movements at the window–slow and careful, as not to startle the little bird–she didn’t move: no head turn, no shuffle of claws, no gulp of the prized peanut, nor snatch of another.  From my standing position, no predator was obvious, so I squatted at the window, looking up into the oak tree just beyond and around at the outdoors as best I could see.

I finally spotted that which froze, in fear, the heart of the would-be feeding woodpecker. The culprit perched far across my property, high in the neighbors’ elm tree.

The photo is poor, taken through the window and at some distance, with plenty of foliage and limbs as distractions.  The hawk is a big one, probably a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, as they’re common here, especially in autumn, winter, and early spring.

The Downy was still for a good five minutes, maybe longer.  Finally the hawk took flight toward my house, but high above.  A split second afterwards the Downy pushed off from the feeder, heading in the same direction as the hawk, though much farther below and toward the protection of a large evergreen shrub.

I don’t know if the hawk swooped in for the woodpecker, though I doubt that’s what happened; there’s too much cover which would serve as safety for the woodpecker and too much interference for the hawk’s dive.  I imagine the hawk winged to another part of the neighborhood in search of an easier catch, less aware of the hawk’s existence.

It was an eat or be eaten life-cycle moment.  I’m certain the woodpecker finally ate her peanut, because I’ve seen her since.  And I’m equally certain the hawk found something to eat; I’m just not sure what, when, or where.

Appreciative for the life lessons a garden bestows, I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

Knock Wood

In a quiet part of an afternoon, I watched a male Downy WoodpeckerDryobates pubescens, as he rested in foliage shade.

I thought he might be waiting for the right time to pop down to the peanut feeder, which hangs just below where he perched.   But he didn’t want peanuts, he seemed content to sit, and like me, watch.

Until this past spring, I enjoyed only fleeting glimpses of downies in my garden.  Typically they’ve visited during winter months, in bare trees, and as pairs.  Always they were up high in those trees and constantly in motion, brief black and white visages until gone from my sight.  In April (or so) I placed a peanut feeder in the garden and since then, the downies are regular visitors, though summer saw a downturn in downy activity.

Mr Downy’s red cap is a head turner that will surely attract a mate, if it hasn’t already.

I wonder if this is Daddy Downy who visited regularly last spring with his mate and offspring? Or perhaps this is the offspring?  Though I originally thought baby downy was female, I could be wrong.  Downies know better about these things than birding gardeners.

Birds are less active in my garden during the summer months.  The resident birds are around, feeding, bathing, and harassing one another, but mostly done with chick-rearing and not yet interested in mate-finding. The migratory birds are long gone north for nesting adventures.  Hummers hunt nectar from the plants and disappear in flashes.

I’m tickled that a new birding season has already begun.  Migrating birds from breeding grounds in far North America are appearing in my garden as they make their way to wintering homes in Mexico, and Central and South America.  The resident birds and winter visitors will settle in for the next breeding season, preening new plumage and pairing for new progeny.  With good luck–and plenty of peanuts, black-oiled sunflowers, and food from native plants–this backyard birder will relish the autumn, winter, and spring bird bonanza.