Daddy Duty Almost Done: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2020

Spring is new life and verdant growth, but is also well behind us and with it, the boom of babies born.   There are still some critters in offspring production: insects, rodents, sparrows, doves and others, I’m sure, who produce youngins’ year-round, or nearly so.  But for many of my local wildlife, their baby-rearing days for this year are drawing to a close.  Baby birds are no longer helpless chicks, but are at fledgling and hatch-year stages; almost, though not quite, independent. Some lessons are still imparted by dedicated parents, like this handsome daddy Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.

Such a pretty woodpecker!  His head is most definitely red, but it’s the blush on his belly which gives this interesting bird its common name.   

As dad picks up a black-oiled sunflower, baby red-bellied waits patiently on the trunk of the near-by Oak tree. 

C’mon Dad! I’m hungry!

I observed this sweet familial scene for about 15 minutes.  Dad flew to a feeder–mostly the sunflower, sometime the peanut–grabbed a morsel, then zipped back to the tree. When the snack choice was a sunflower seed, he’d spend a minute working the seed-coat off by hammering it as it was secured in the crevice of the bark.  I wonder how he’d learned–by experience or from his parents–that by placing the seed in the crevice, he could better work the seed without its falling on the ground?  Finding an easy source of available food and preparing it for a meal would a skill dad would want to pass on to junior.  Modeling is the best form of teaching!

It’s not yet clear if the fledgling is male or female, but there is the suggestion of rosiness on the back of baby’s head.  Time will tell.  Male Red-bellied red heads begin between their eyes and cover over the tops of their heads. Females’ red heads start toward the backs of their heads, leaving their sweet faces mostly non-red. 

The youngster knows a treat is coming and inches closer in anticipation!

 Yum!!  Thanks, Daddy!

Woodpeckers are common feeder birds, but they eat a wide variety of foods:  all kinds of insects, spiders, nuts from a variety of trees, and seeds from annual and perennial plants.  According to Cornell’s page on Red-bellied Woodpeckers, they sometimes eat lizards, nestling birds, and small fish.  I’ve watched as woodpeckers (Downy Woodpeckers, too) glean insects from the barks of trees, but I’ve never witnessed any munching on protein from higher-up along the food chain.  

“Yes, Little One, you might someday enjoy the crunch of a lizard.”

I watched these two in my back garden as they hung out on my Red Oak tree, but commonly, I’ve seen Red-bellied Woodpeckers–mom, dad, kids–hitch themselves along the thick branches of my neighbor’s large front garden Arizona Ash tree.  That tree now belongs to my SIL:  different neighbor, same house and tree.  

The ash is old and particularly weak-wooded.  During  a May storm, a major branch broke, landing in multiple pieces at the end of SIL’s driveway.  It was rather dramatic!  Thankfully, no one and nothing (except the branch) was damaged.  Interestingly, the break occurred at an established Red-bellied Woodpecker nesting site.  Especially in the last few years, I’d observed little red-heads hanging out from the hole that some dad started and some mom helped finish.  This spring, before the break, bully European Starlings chased off the Red-bellied Woodpeckers, which was sad.  In retrospect, I’m glad the Red-bellied babies weren’t in the nest when the storm came and the limb fell.

As neighbors stood around and marveled at the mess, recounting their own storm horror stories, I cast my eye on the portion that housed the woodpecker hole and nesting cavity.  SIL was on-board with me taking it–for what, I wasn’t yet quite sure. 

That piece of former woodpecker nest now sits in a garden just below the tree. 

The hole, drilled through the thick bark by determined, hammer-beaked woodpeckers, is a door/window into the tree.  The nest cavity was fairly roomy and the sides of the hole were completely smooth, an exemplar of fine crafting by woodpeckers.

At the storm-driven break, obviously weakened by the nesting of generations of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, I filled the former nest with potting soil after plugging the woodpecker hole with crushed granite.  I popped in a stem of Ghost Plant, Graptopetalum paraguayense and the plant is doing well in its new home.  I just need to water from time-to-time. Ahem.

I enjoy observing the excellent parenting skills of the various birds who visit my garden.  For a while longer, I’ll watch the juveniles’ antics as they mature.  Autumn isn’t too far in the future and the new generation will eventually leave, moving on to their own territory to find mates and continue the cycle.   

What wild things did you see in your garden this past month?  Please leave a link, if you’d like to share your garden’s wild ways.  Happy wildlife gardening!

Stand Your Ground

I guess this post could be renamed Stand Your Feeder but that doesn’t quite resonate.  None of these birds are on the ground–standing or otherwise–one is eating at the feeder, the other two are waiting their turn.  In this bit of bird drama, it’s the younger fledgling Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, who’s in control, thwarting efforts to dislodge him and ignoring back chat from the the European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, to the left, and the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, on top of the feeder stand.  The Red-bellied is munching away at sought-after peanuts as the two adult birds caw and carp.

The little Red-belly wins the moment–and the peanuts!

Bird feeders are hot spots of conflict where birds demonstrate their more aggressive tendencies, protecting their food source(s) and trash talking one another.  Feeders invite a microcosm of natural competition that most of us don’t observe regularly, unless we notice the wildlife in our midst.

Here, the juvenile Red-belly responds to the impatient grown-ups regarding their insistence that he hurry up his snacking. 

In my head, I hear Nelson (‘The Simpsons’) obnoxious laugh when I see this teenage  Red-belly looking up at the interfering adults.  I wish that laugh wasn’t in my head.

Teenagers.  They always talk back!

In an Audubon article Who Wins the Feeder Warthe authors describe the “Hunger Games-like world” regularly seen by humans who feed local birds.  From observations by Project FeederWatch and Great Backyard Bird Count  participants, the authors share surprising results of feeder interactions between paired birds, noting the winners and losers. It’s a bird-eat-bird world out there, as they report a FeederWatch citizen scientist’s observation of a grackle’s catching and eating chickadees to prevent their muscling-in (can chickadees muscle-in?) on his feeder.  It’s not necessarily the bigger bird who wins the feeder war, but the bird who has the more aggressive personality–or more formidable beak.  The authors confirm the tenacious character of a diminutive Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens, who often rules the roost–which I’ve witnessed in my own garden–and recounts a confrontation between a Red-bellied Woodpecker and the larger Pileated Woodpecker: the Red-belly is the victor.  In my garden, a similar scenario played out recently: the younger and smaller Red-bellied Woodpecker kept the adult starling and jay at bay, while the teen noshed his fill.  Who’d want to get pecked by that beak?? 

I participate in both FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, but I admit to not always noting the bird interactions that occur.  Woodpeckers are shy, but once on the feeder, demand respect; Yellow-rumped Warblers harass Orange-crowned Warblers; hummingbirds chase everyone, including butterflies; White-winged Doves are stupid.  And they stomp around on my plants.

Jerks.

Back to the peanut rumpus, the starling finally gave up and winged away, but the jay was determined to feed and wait out the woodpecker, complaining to all who would listen and it’s not like we had a choice.

One down, one to go!

After several minutes of nibbling, the youngster snatched a full peanut and shortly after this shot, flew to the nearby oak tree to enjoy his treat.  The chastened blue jay was a bit gormless for a time, eventually hopping to the feeder for its share of the peanut booty.

Who needs The Hunger Games or Survivor (or American politics…) when you’ve got birds in the garden, strutting their stuff and showing who’s boss? 

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!