The female Downy Woodpecker had made a pencil sized hole through the bark and was intent on thoroughly investigating what lied inside. I wonder how she decided to make the hole where she did it. Experience? Can she sense that there is something hiding under the bark? Or perhaps it’s was a random spot.
I came across this female Downy Woodpecker that was thoroughly enjoying the sunflower seeds someone had left on a stump at the Grey Nun Spruce Woodlot in St. Albert. I managed to snap the following picture that nicely illustrates why woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers. Woodpeckers commonly use their tails for support when their are climbing or working on trees. This behavior is possible as a result of adaptations such as pointed, strong and rigid tail feathers and larger and stronger tail bone, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles in comparison to other birds.
This scruffy-looking female Downy Woodpecker was particularly fond of the contents of this bird feeder. She spend a long time at the feeder munching on, what looked like, some kind of nut. It was a very cold morning and this food source would have given her access to a high energy food source. The perfect fuel to keep her metabolism going and keep her warm on a winter day like this.
Yesterday’s post featured a female Downy Woodpecker. Today’s post is featuring a male Downy Woodpecker. If it would not be for the red patch on the neck of the male they would be indistinguishable. This male was just a few meters above the feeder where the female was feeding.
What is black, white, sometimes red and sits on tree trunks? Woodpeckers of course. It is a fascinating fact that many woodpeckers in the world seem to be black and white, with the males having red on their head. Case in point, our very own Downy Woodpecker vs Hairy Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker are all black and white with the males having red patches on their heads. The Black-backed Woodpecker is black and White, but with the males having yellow at the back of their head. As it turns out, both red and yellow plumage is caused by the same pigment (specifically carotenoids, which also create orange plumage). Northern Flickers also fit this pattern with black and white on their body and brown/orange on their body with red patches on their heads. As you move south through the american continent this color pattern repeats itself among the various woodpecker species one encounters, e.g. Cream-backed Woodpecker, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Guayaquil Woodpecker, and the Magellanic Woodpecker to mention just a few (but there are many more species fitting this pattern). There are several reasons for this color consistency in woodpeckers. A recent study found that habitat, climate and a shared evolutionary history are strong determinants of woodpecker plumage.
What would be more fitting on Christmas Day than a cute little Downy Woodpecker that was enjoying the sunshine today down in Whitemud Ravine. Downy woodpeckers are the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers and other than being smaller are virtually identical to the Hairy Woodpecker. Despite their similarities the two species are actually not very closely related and belong to two different genus. While the reasons for their nearly identical plumage is not fully understood, studies have shown that their similar appearance is an example of convergent evolution.
Today is my first birthday as a birder. Exactly one year ago – on December 16, 2018 – I went on my first birding outing with my brand new Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars. A 45 minutes drive took me to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory where I went for a walk through the frozen forest looking for my first species of birds. This was pre-camera days and my phone served as a camera so I mainly got landscape pictures and no bird pictures. The first bird I spotted, and the #1 entry on my life list, was a Downy Woodpecker at one of the bird feeders at the bird observatory. It is fitting that today’s picture is of a Downy that I came across in the Whitemud Ravine yesterday. Downies are the cuties of the winter – petit, fuzzy and irresistible…, yet confident and not shy around us humans. Yesterday’s Downy was busy looking for a morsel to eat on a stump right off the trail. It went about its work systematically and very energetically. It was rather scruffy looking, perhaps it was a young individual or maybe it was just having a bad feather day.
Let’s go back to the same day last year… After a few hours at the bird feeders by the bird observatory I had seen eight species. Not bad for a first-time birder. In the afternoon I went on my second outing to Hermitage Park bird feeders where I saw another four species. The day’s total count ended up being 12 species. As it turns out, the next time I would add another Canadian bird species to my life list would be number 65 over a month later…, but that is a different story.
A year and 166 species later things have obviously slowed down quite a bit in terms of adding new species to the list but now I get the satisfaction of finding and re-familiarizing myself with species that I saw during last year’s winter. The Cedar Waxwings and Snowy Owls are on top of that list. Is has been a tremendously exciting year of birding and there are many highlights that I will cherish forever. As I am looking at my life list every species on it brings back memories of that first sighting. It is quite remarkable how a list of bird species can evoke vivid memories and stories of finding little (on not so little) winged treasures. I am looking forward to my next year of birding and I cannot wait to see what birds it has in store.
It was a cloudy mild winter’s day and our walk in the Whitemud Ravine started rather uneventful. If was not long, however, before we could hear the familiar drumming sound of a woodpecker going to town on a tree. That was the beginning of a nature walk with the woodpeckers. The first woodpecker was a Pileated Woodpecker in the distance. Once you spot a Pileated Woodpecker it is hard to let it go. Another couple of birders that came by shared that there were Black-backed Woodpeckers further down the trail. This woodpecker is the least common woodpeckers in these neck of the woods, so we decided to try our luck and moved on. Sure enough. One only had to listed for the familiar drumming sound and it was not long before we were able to track down the Black-backed Woodpecker (picture will be posted in a future post). This was a special treat as I have only seen this species once before in this location. From here on, things got only better. While shooting the Black-backed Woodpecker a Brown Creeper serendipitous showed up in the view finder. Further down the trail we came across a scruffy looking Downy Woodpecker only to, moments later, come across the highlight of the day, a magnificent Pileate Woodpecker looking for a snack on a stump right off trail. Wintertime is definitely woodpecker season and some days you really luck out. A peculiar nature of most woodpeckers is that they are not shy or skittish around humans and one can quite easily get close to them. I am not sure if they just could not be bothered with our presence or if they are to busy looking for food to notice us. It sure looks like they are oblivious to our presence.
Edmonton--Whitemud Park, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Dec 15, 2019 11:47 AM - 1:52 PM
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) 2
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 1
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 20
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 2
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) 1
It’s been a while since I saw a Hairy Woodpecker. These fellas are like the big brothers/sister of more common Downy Woodpecker. The Downy is slightly more petit than the Hairy, but the size difference can be subtle and otherwise the two are virtually identical. The two first birds on my life list are the Downy and the Hairy Woodpecker, in that order. They could have been in the opposite order, however, as I was fortunate enough to see both of them at the same time at one of the winter feeders at the Beaver Hills Bird Observatory almost a year ago. Seeing them next to each other was a special treat that allowed me to directly compare them and has helped me immensely in my ability to confidently distinguish the two species. This is my first photograph of a Hairy Woodpecker. I encountered this one at the Centennial Park in Sherwood Park on a bone shattering cold morning. This fella did not seem to mind the cold at all, however, and was busy going to down on the tree branches looking for a morsel to eat.
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest North American Woodpecker and quite likely also the cutest. The Downy Woodpecker holds a special significance to me as it is the first species that I identified for my 2019 Alberta Big Year. Today I found this little guy (the red patch indicates it is a male) down on the forest floor spending a long time going through all the nooks and crannies of an old log looking for anything to eat. Downy Woodpeckers are not shy and often come to suets in the winter. Today I realized, however, that they are tricky to photograph as they tend to be quite energetic and move around a lot. One of the first identification challenges I encountered when In started birding was to tell downies apart from their larger lookalike, the Hairy Woodpecker. Other that a slight size difference, with the Hairy being a tad larger, all other distinguishing characters are very subtle. The breakthrough for me came when I visited Beaverhill Bird Observatory in December and encountered both species at the bird feeder at the same time. Ever since that day I have had no troubles distinguishing between the two. The next few bird species that I would benefit from having next to each other to get that light bulb moment would be a Canadas Goose vs. a Cackling Goose and a Bohemian Waxwing vs. a Cedar Waxwing.