I have lost count of the number pictures and posts I have so far with chickadees, but there must e quite a number by now. For good measure, here is another one. Chickadees never cease to entertain. They may be one of the smallest birds we have in these neck of the woods but they are feisty, spunky and not the least bit shy. They are a “go-getter” – they know what they want (always food) and they do not hesitate getting it, even if it means they have to get our of your hand. They are rather particular about where they eat their acquired sunflower seed. Once they have the treat they take off to a into cover, like a tree or a bush and go to work cracking open the seed.
The last two post have featured a Downy Woodpeckers, first a female and then a male. There is, however, another woodpecker in town that looks nearly identical to the Downy Woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker is a tad larger than the Downy, with a distinctly longer bill. There are also some even more subtle differences in the black and white markings the the outer tail feathers of the two species. To make things even trickier, the two species can be found in the same habitat and often if one of them is around, the other one is not far away. Today’s picture is of a female Hairy Woodpecker. The telltale sign is the proportionately longer bill relative the head. My rule of thumb is that in Hairy Woodpeckers the length of the bill is more than half of the width of the head while in Downy Woodpeckers the bill is decidedly less than half the width of the head. As with most things in life, the more of the two species you see and compare the better one becomes at telling them apart.
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.
Red-breasted Nuthatches, just like their cousins the White-breasted Nuthatch are common, fleeting and assertive song birds. They know what they want and have no trouble elbowing their way to the food to get their fair share…, only to, moments later, vanish into the shrubbery again. A black stripe across their eyes reminiscent of a bandit mask only makes them appear more like a diminutive feathered vigilante refusing to get intimidated by more boisterous or larger birds.
Today’s picture is of a fuzzy Black-capped Chickadee that is visiting one of the bird feeders in Hermitage Park. Any nature walk in these neck of the woods this time of the year (or any time of the year for that matter) will virtually guarantee the companionship of Black-capped Chickadees. There does not seem to be a temperature low enough to faze these diminutive birds. They always seem to be on the go and always looking for the next meal. This one has struck the mother lode.
Dark-eyed Juncos are discrete little bird that like to “fly under the radar” by staying close to or on the ground. As I was watching the activity at the bird feeders with chickadees, nuthatches, downies and other winter birds quickly flitting in to pickup a morsel and then off again I failed to notice the more subtle activities going on on the ground. It took a while before I noticed the subtle scurrying of small dark colored birds on the ground. A closer look revealed the unmistakable dark hooded birds were Dark-eyed Juncos. Half a dozen or so of the juncos were scurrying around on the snow covered ground munching on all the seeds that had fallen down from the feeders.
So my prediction in yesterday’s post Where to bird in -30 °C? was correct. Offer food and the birds will come. Every winter the city sets up a large number of bird feeders in Hermitage Park and keeps them filled with an assortment of bird treats throughout the winter. The birds are well aware of this and the feeders are always busy. It was a beautiful sunny day today with the temperature hovering around -30 °C this morning. We arrived at the bird feeders around 10:30 am. There were no other people around, quite likely due to the bitter cold, but there was lots of avian action at the feeders. As the feeders are all clustered in a treed groove right off the parking lot we just pulled up the vehicle as close as possible and ended up doing some car birding. I am usually not a big fan of birding from the car, it seems like an oxymoron – you go birding to enjoy nature, yet you never leave the confines of the car. With the bone crushing cold, however, if seemed like a reasonable compromise. All in all we ended up seeing 8 species of birds, all of which were busy gorging themselves on sunflower seeds, nuts and suet.
Edmonton--Hermitage Park Bird Feeders, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Jan 18, 2020 10:45 AM - 11:00 AM
Checklist Comments: A sunny and clear but bitterly cold morning (-30C). No people around but lots of avian activity at the feeders.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 4
Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 1
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) 3
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 20
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 3
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 5