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!

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!