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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Drama in the treetops

We had a little excitement in the trees early this evening. The cause may be a woodpecker in our midst. Or not. I should know what a wood pecker looks like, but if called upon to I.D. one, I'd probably fail. I don't know if it's the flight path, or what, but we don't get a lot of woodpeckers around here. Maybe one every couple years. Or even every five or ten years.

A few weeks ago I spotted a bird that looks like what I think a woodpecker looks like. And, it had a long beak. And, it was walking up and down a tree trunk. But, it wasn't doing any pecking. It wasn't redheaded (like the few I've seen), but it did have a spot of red on the back of its head. So, I dismissed it as a real woodpecker.

A little after five tonight, I was sitting on the porch and the bird was back. At least I think it's the same bird. If so, the spot on the back of its head has gotten much bigger. It's no longer just a spot. However, the red does not encompass the entire head. I don't know. It's hard to explain. I did get a picture. It's a little blurry. I would have preferred to have a tripod and a long distance lens and to catch the bird in profile.

Also, it did a little pecking on the gum tree tonight. But not a lot. Maybe two or three or four pecks. And not very fast. Hey, I do know what a woodpecker pecking sounds like. I've been to Northern Wisconsin. This was different. Lame by woodpecker standards.

And (get this), it made a mouth noise. Not a song. Not a warble. Not even a whistle. It was a like a squawk. But, not a caw. And not real loud. It was a low guttural squawk. Like what I would imagine a hawk might sound like if I'd ever actually heard a hawk squawk. (Man, that was hard to type.)

Anyway, the drama occurred when it was practicing its squawk and the sparrows and blackbirds started freaking out.

At one point, ten or twelve blackbirds lined up on a branch close to the house and looked down at me like... I don't know. Like they expected me to do something. That was kind of scary.

The sparrows started swooping and flying in formation. Swooping at nothing. And doing formation like five or six feet from the ground. Very odd behavior for the sparrows around here. Were they showing off? Or, getting ready for war?

The robins and cardinals were unfazed. I was thoroughly entertained. Except for the blackbirds.

Posted by Marie at August 2, 2006 11:36 PM


Also, while all this was going on, I felt an annoying little pain on my forearm. I looked down and there was a small green grasshopper on my arm spitting on me. Or, whatever it is grasshoppers do. That stuff burns. Wild times in the old town tonight.

Posted by: Marie at August 3, 2006 12:07 AM

We have a woodpecker coming by nearly every day to a tree that was badly damaged by the tornado this Spring.

It is a very beautiful bird, with a red head, and a white coat just under the red head. The rest of its body is black.

It moves up, and down the tree in hops, and short flights tapping away.

I've often thought of photographing it, but I usually see it when I just getting home from work, and I'm too tired to deal with it.

I'm glad you posted this.

Sometimes I get that feeling that all the birds are in a mean spirit. It might be the heat. Birds get increasingly territorial as resources, including water become scarce.

I recall the loss of several nearby trees which took several nest with them - this was a few years ago. There seemed to be constant bickering for several weeks between whole groups of birds.

I believe they had to work out new territory.

I didn't see that in Jerome this year, despite the tornado which took so many trees. I believe it was because the tornado took place before mating season, and therefore there wasn't as much disruption - but probably fewer birds.


Posted by: JeromeProphet at August 3, 2006 12:52 AM

Marie, your picture of a red-bellied woodpecker is not half bad. The noise you describe is its usual call. Around here, other birds pay no attention when they squawk. They're not a threat.

Birdwise, what's getting really weird around here is that vultures seem to be on the increase. Like there's a vulture population boom or something. And they hang out in groups sitting on street lights. So I'll be driving to work going down US-29 and I'll pass by these street lights overhanging the road with 3 or 4 vultures sitting on them. That is really eerie.

Posted by: Kem White at August 3, 2006 8:34 AM

I can't imagine that those birds were reacting to the woodpecker at all, Marie. Around here, they bounce up and down my gum trees (They prefer softwood, pulp trees because they're easier to peck) not bothering anyone but the insects. When they come to the feeders, they'll snap at birds that land on the feeder near them but they generally don't bother anyone. Still, I would have enjoyed all that fuss.

Posted by: Rob at August 3, 2006 9:34 AM

I second Kem re: the vultures. I never saw a lot of them until I moved to California; here, I've seen dozens of turkey vultures roost in eucalyptus trees while they're feeding on the remains of the fall salmon run on the American River. During our trip back east this past week, I was surprised to see them everywhere we went outside the cities. Strikes me that they're one of those species, like coyotes, that's able to accommodate itself quite well to our presence (wonder whether the increase in deer populations has anything to do with it, too). Another species that's become ubiquitous, going from romantic to pain in the keester: the Canada goose.

Posted by: Dan at August 3, 2006 2:16 PM

JP, That is very interesting. We didn't lose too many trees over this way. There were several that were topped off, though.

Thanks, Kem. I just can't imagine vultures in Maryland. I wonder if they'll eventually come to Central Illinois.

Rob, Our birds are usually very sedate. The woodpecker's presence was the only thing happening that might have set them off. At least, that's the way it came together.

Dan, We've just about had our fill of geese around here. They're mean and dirty.

Posted by: Marie at August 3, 2006 10:00 PM