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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Easy Street

"Feed me, feed me"
"And again"

Today we looked out and saw two Hairy Woodpeckers on the feeder that was filled with hulled sunflower seed. The bird on the left, was a fledgling begging from its father, on the right. All Daddy had to do was reach into the feeder and transfer the seed to begging baby right next to him. How easy was that!
Well it was easy, at least for a moment. We don't mean to imply life is that easy for these woodpeckers, or any other birds. They have to avoid predators, find a mate, find or create a suitable nesting hole, defend it against competitors, find enough food for themselves, and then, feed the hungry mouths of their babies. But at least for today, the feeder was a welcome source of food for the Hairy Woodpeckers.

Some observations on this scene:

* Hulled sunflower attracts many species of birds. It attracts all the species who can remove the shell, as well as birds who would have a hard time removing the shell, such as Carolina Wrens, Bluebirds, Catbirds, etc. In this case, the fledgling could not crack the shell and it would have been laborious for the adult to crack the shells one at a time and feed them to the fledgling. So, having the food already shelled, allowed the adult to just shovel it into the baby's mouth.

* Note that the fledgling looks a lot like the adult but differs in certain ways. (Note: a fledgling is a baby who has left the nest, but is still dependent on the parent for food, for up to several weeks.) The fledgling is smaller than the adult, has a fluffier appearance, and has a less developed tail. Look at the adult's tail. It is long and the central feathers are strong and pointed, helping it brace itself. The fledgling's tail is still growing in. The central tail feathers are still in the sheaths that envelop growing feathers, a characteristic of most woodpecker fledglings.

* In the third photo, the head of the fledgling has a few pinkish to reddish feathers on the front of the crown. This is usually true of fledgling Hairy Woodpecker males, but on rare occassions, a fledgling female can have a few reddish feathers on her forehead. Over time this fledgling will molt into the plumage pattern of the adult. If it is a male, it will have the head pattern of its father with red at the back of the crown. Some male Hairy Woodpeckers, east of the Rocky Mountains, have the red patch divided by a black, vertical bar, as in this photo. Birds in other areas of the country, usually have a continuous, unbroken, red bar. If the fledgling becomes an adult female, she will not have red on the head.

* The sunflower was used only as a supplement. They only stayed at the feeder for about 5 minutes, then flew off and went around the woods, the adult feeding the fledgling insects.

* It did not occur to the fledgling to reach into the feeder and get its own food. Eventually, it will learn to get food by itself, and we will probably see it back at the feeder, minus Dad.

All photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006

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