February is for Wildlife Lovers: Wildlife Wednesday, February 2020

Virginia is for Lovers is a long-time advertising slogan used to appeal to tourists interested in visiting Virginia and it’s apparently been a successful one.  My riff on that slogan is February is for Wildlife Lovers in celebration of Wildlife Wednesday during this month where love and pairdom is paramount: a month of hearts and chocolates–and the birds and the bees–though for our purposes here, it’s the birds and the butterflies.

February is the month when human couples send flowers, share candy and/or make reservations at absurdly expensive and noisy restaurants.  But some of my backyard birds are also busy in the art of love, or at least, in the art of settling down to the business of wooing, mating, and preparing for a family of winged things.

I typically see either the male or the female Red-bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus, but I rarely see both partners on the same day.    A couple of weekends ago, that paradigm changed, the female visiting first, in the tree.

It’s not a classically well-framed shot, but I love the stink-eye that she looks like she’s giving me.   Red-bellied eye-rolling is about to commence!

After moving up along a main branch of my Red oak tree, she fluttered down to the black-oiled sunflower feeder for a quick snack.  The female Red-bellies have little-to-no blush of red on their bellies and their splash of head red starts toward the back of their heads, extending down the nape of their necks.

 

A short while later, a handsome woodpecker chap visited the same tree and feeder.

“Did ya get a good shot of my rosy, woodpeckier chest?”

With more red on his face, head, and belly, he’s a brightly patterned catch.  I assume these two comprise the same couple who raised two clutches of junior woodpeckers last year.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are monogamous and each share in nest building and chick raising.   The males choose the nesting site, starting the pecking work on the hole;  if the female accepts the offer and the site, she and her partner finish the construction together:  the couple that builds together, stays together!   Red-bellies are known to use the same tree for their nests, but build a new nesting hole for each new set of eggs.

 

At about the time that the Red-bellied couple visited, I enjoyed a similar sighting of both a female, then male Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens, again on the same day.   The female has no red on her cute little head, but she’s adorned in snazzy black and white on her head, wings and back, with a lovely white tummy.

The male Downy has a dab of red atop his head, accompanied by similar-to-his mate black and white patterned feathers.  Like the Red-bellies, the Downies are monogamous and both partners parent offspring.  Last spring I enjoyed the privilege of watching Daddy Downy teach his little one how to flit from tree-to-feeder, then back again.  Daddy birds rock!

I look forward to a new set of woodpecker kids in the neighborhood.  The Red-bellied Woodpeckers nested in my neighbor’s tree–the one that my SIL now owns–and I’m certain that my SIL will enjoy watching these charmers as they build the nesting hole(s) and once again, become parents.

I don’t know where the Downy Woodpeckers nest.  They fly in a northwesterly direction from my back garden, but I don’t know what tree, or trees, they’ve chosen to secure their little ones in past breeding seasons.

More pairing is underway with the mating of Gulf Fritillary butterfliesAgraulis vanillae.  Butterfly wooing is quieter than bird wooing and mostly involves undulating flight patterns between the partners, who then rest somewhere as they seal the deal.

Due to our mild winter, there are active butterflies and not only Gulf Fritillaries, though they’re clearly in breeding mode with egg laying to follow.  While I’d like to have some hard freezes (this month–NOT in March!), I haven’t at all objected to butterflies during this typically drab time of year.  There are still some flowers for nectaring and my passion vine–the nursery for Gulf Fritillary caterpillars–is green and able to provide sustenance for the larvae, given that a hard freeze hasn’t yet killed it to the ground.

The breeding season for birds, butterflies, bees–and heck, everything else–is about to begin.  It’s a time that gardeners can provide food, in the form of seeds and fruits, and with diverse choices of plants, as well as water and cover.  If your garden is welcoming to wildlife, you can sit back and observe remarkable events in your garden:   you’ll enjoy watching the wildlife lovers and their offspring and you’ll become a wildlife lover.

Please leave a link to your post when you comment here and happy wildlife gardening!

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.