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Sunday, 6 January 2019

Downy Woodpecker (Pic mineur)

06 January 2019

     One of the locations where Miriam and I go with a degree of regularity is Three Bridges Road in St. Jacobs, and we often park there at the entrance to the Mill Race Trail which we walk quite frequently.
     Right at that point there is a tree with a couple of suet feeders nailed to it, and there is a knee wall no more than a couple of metres long, where bird seed is often strewn along its length. We have no idea who constantly replenishes the suet, or who provides the seed. On very rare occasions we have seen an older guy (probably younger then me!) come and do it, but he seems a little taciturn, and simply does what he needs to do and leaves. We have never seen him stay to watch the birds come to the food that he has provided.
     One can only assume that he is motivated by pure altruism and a love of other living things and we vigorously applaud this unsung hero.
     Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is one of the species most commonly attracted to the suet.
     This tiny woodpecker (15-17cm) is found over most of the northern part of the continent in a wide range of habitats. It readily comes to gardens and will feed on animal fat of any kind at a backyard feeder. 
     Today, both male and female were feeding on the suet.

Male


     When feeding "naturally" they are active foragers, moving incessantly as they glean the bark for insects, spiders, and eggs living below the surface of tree trunks and branches. At the suet feeder, however, they remain for a while, and eat their fill of this available-on-demand high quality protein and fat.
     
Female


     Sometimes one sees a bird with a deeply discoloured breast, ranging in colour from creamy to greenish to purple. Novice birders conclude they have a different species but it is no such thing. The colour of the substrate where they are foraging rubs off on their plumage, and since they delight in berries such as mulberries or pokeberries, a purple wash may be infused into their feathers.
     Overall, because of its ready acceptance of a range of habitats, and especially due to its acceptance of a human modified environment, this species is doing well. It has even been known to feed from the hand of a human.
     Downy Woodpecker is a very common species here. Common perhaps, but uncommonly delightful for sure.

Observation of a Downy Woodpecker by Henry David Thoreau on 8 January 1854, p.m.

     Stood within a rod of a downy woodpecker on an apple tree. How curious and exciting the blood-red spot on its hindhead. I ask why it is there, but no answer is rendered by these snow-clad fields. It is so close to the bark I do not see its feet. It looks behind as if it had on a black cassock open behind and showing a white undergarment between the shoulders and down the back. It is briskly and incessantly tapping all around the dead limbs, but rare twice in a place, as if to sound the tree and see if it has any worm in it, or perchance to start them. How much he deals with the bark of trees, all his life long tapping and inspecting it! He it is that scatters these fragments of bark and lichens on the snow at the base of trees. What a lichenist he must be! Or rather, perhaps it is the fungi makes his favourite study, for he deals most with dead limbs. How briskly he glides up or drops himself down a limb, creeping round and round, and hopping from limb to limb, and now flitting with a rippling sound of his wings to another tree.

48 comments:

  1. They are a beautiful bird. In 2016 my husband and I were hiking in the Mt Hood area of Oregon and constantly heard a 'hammering' sound. We finally located, high in a tree, what we decided must be a woodpecker. My only experience of them but such a thrill for an Aussie.

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    1. I am sure it was a thrill, Helen. You don’t have woodpeckers in Australia, but you have so many other wonderful species, many from unique families, that I think your side of the bargain is fair!




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  2. A great story about a Downy Woodpecker. That is nice that during winter they have feeders for birds. We also have a few feeders where I live to keep birds happy in winter.
    I tried to photograph a Downy Woodpecker a few times but wasn't successful as you are.

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  3. Hari OM
    I had the great fortune of spotting a couple of these on a friends feeder when I toured the States a few years back. She said as you do, that they are 'common' in her sight - but an excitement for me! YAM xx

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  4. What absolute charmers. Charmers that I will only experience through words and photos. Huge thanks to you, to Miriam and to Henry David Thoreau (and also to the taciturn altruist).

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  5. Can relate to those woodpeckers with discoloured feathers etc. due to eating berries of different colours - same happens to our hands if we were to pick them, the berries I mean.

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  6. Beautiful bird. We seldom get to see wood pecker especially in our area.

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  7. I would love to see a woodpecker in the wild! And these ones look so cute - thanks for sharing them!

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    1. Come on over, Emma. In the winter I can probably deliver four species, and in spring/summer another three. If that is not reason enough to plan a trip I don’t know what is!

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  8. Apreciado amigo David, hemos coincidido este nuevo año con una entrada ayudando a estos pequeños y bellos pajarillos con algo de comida que les ayude a pasar el invierno. ¡Bravo! Por ese caballero altruista que no duda en ayudar a los más débiles.
    Precioso reportaje como siempre, es un placer leerte y contemplar tan esplendidas fotos.
    Que este nuevo año sea un año marcado por el cariño y gran atención a los más débiles.
    Te deseo todo lo mejor para ti y familia amigo David.
    Un fuerte abrazo de vuestro amigo desde tierras alicantinas.

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  9. The Downy Woodpecker is beautiful David, I love it.

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  10. Hello David!
    The Downy Woodpecker is such a beautiful bird!
    Stunning pictures!We have woodpeckers in Greece,as i have seen in a FB group ,but only at the mountains .
    And i heard them in The Hague’s Forest knocking the very high trees! I couldn’t see them!
    Thank you for sharing all those interesting informations! Have a lovely week!
    Dimi...

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  11. Hi David.

    A beautiful woodpecker.

    Groettie from Patricia

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  12. Hola, buenos días.

    Un hermoso pájaro carpintero nos enseñas hoy, con un relato con todo detalle. Veo que por suerte tú también tienes cerca a algunos carpinteros, aunque no sean aristócratas (jaja).

    Un abrazo desde Galicia, España,

    Rafa.

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  13. Hi David It is a source of worry to me that the lovely Downy reminds me so much of our Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. While your Downy and the larger peckers seem to do well, most of our own seem to be struggling. Even the Green Woodpecker (yaffle) I never see any more, just the Great-spotted. I haven't seen a Lesser-spotted in 30 years and it would take a fair old drive to find one, with no guarantee of one at the end of my journey.

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  14. Other than squirrels, I've only seen hairy and downy woodpeckers lately. They are great. Then I wonder what happened to the chickadees, nuthatches and other winter birds.

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  15. En underbar liten fågel! Jag antar att den lilla hackspetten inte är densamma som vi någon gång kan påträffa här, Dryobates minor. Jag har haft glädjen att träffa på denna hackspett vid två tillfällen någon gång de första åren som vi flyttade ut hit i skogen. Den satt och hackade i ett litet träd och tillät mig stå bara några meter ifrån. Denna tillitsfulla attityd gjorde ett starkt intryck på mig. Tyvärr är den inte vanlig här och detta var längesedan. Måste finnas ett nära släktskap mellan dessa två arter.

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    1. They are in the same genus, Gunilla. I am sorry that you have not seen it for a while. You will have to announce that you have pictures of its cousin and I am sure it will come to take a look!

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  16. Hello David.
    How nice that someone puts the fat there for the birds.
    That way you can make beautiful pictures of it.
    Nice to see.
    Greetings Tinie

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  17. It is a pretty woodpecker and he looks like our Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
    You have a good day David.

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  18. I have been watching Great Spotted Woodpeckers in a couple of local spots recently, they are very similar to the Downy, the males especially, the drumming is immense and to see them searching the trees is always a joy.

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  19. Preciosas fotos David, me encanta verlo como busca el alimento. Feliz semana, un abrazo.

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  20. Hello David, yes woodpeckers are great. We on this side of the ocean feed the birds in Winter as well. And the people who have gardens can enjoy those birds close to their home. Also some people hang food in parks and woods to help the birds trough the harsh times. So indeed that man is a birdlover and a hero. Love the story. Regards, Roos

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  21. You are lucky to have someone who is happy to feed birds on a spot where you can watch them as well. I have heard 'our' woodpecker a couple of times this year and I had one sighting when I did not have the camera but that is all 😒 Thanks for sharing Diane

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  22. Beautiful photos of the Downy Woodpecker, David. Here we have another woodpecker, Dendrocopos major. I see them daily, and they thrive here.

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  23. How a great bird! Looks a little (Dendrocopos minor). Happy New Year!

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  24. It is most heartening to hear that the Downy Woodpecker is doing so well in North America, David. As Phil Slade says, woodpeckers in general are not doing well in the areas I frequent, and the state of the Lesser Spotted is of grave concern. I'm even seeing Great Spotted with less frequency.

    Thank you for including that paragraph from Thoreau. I enjoyed his account too - almost as eloquent as your own!

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    1. It was interesting that the sightings were only two days apart, Richard......and 165 years!

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  25. Hi David,
    Wonderful to read a Woodpecker is doing so well, ours most certainly are not. The Lesser Spotted is virtually non existent in Leicestershire but a friend thinks she is seeing one at the farm, so I'm living in hope.
    All the best to you both, John

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    1. Hi John: I have never seen either Lesser Spotted or Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. Good luck with the Lesser Spotted at your friend’s farm. My only woodpeckers in England have been Great Spotted and Green. I have seen Wryneck but not in the UK.

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  26. What a beautiuful bird the Downy Woodpecker is, I love seeing it, thanks.

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  27. Hi David,
    A gorgeous little woodpecker! Lovely to view this Post! We only have here the Lesser Spotterd or Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, but they are rather rare! Very common are the Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker. I never have seen a Wryneck!!!
    Have a nice week,
    Regards, Maria

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  28. I’ve never seen one with a purple breast. We had a big woodpecker day yesterday with a hairy, a red-headed, several flickers, and a red-bellied all in one afternoon. I really enjoyed your photos.

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    1. A great woodpecker day to be sure. I wish I had been there with you.

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  29. David - along with the chickadees, the Downy is the most frequent visitor to our feeders (and as you note, specifically the suet). A beautiful bird to observe. Happy New Year to you!

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  30. I see a number of Australians are wanting to see woodpeckers - I can understand that. I wonder who the mystery feeder is.

    Great excitement here at present as there is a Tufted Duck at Werribee - a first for Australia. (And I am at work!). Hope all is well.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  31. I didn't suppose that woodpecker females have no red spot on their heads, David. It's interesting. Great photos!

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  32. Hi David,
    It is remarkable to notice how many different kinds of woodpeckers you can find all over the world. For a change this is a new species for me.
    Greetings, Kees

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  33. What a beautiful woodpecker - good to hear that it is doing well. The photos are beautiful and it is a lovely story about the food being left for the birds. I so enjoyed reading the Thoreau quote - thank you.

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  34. n the Netherlands we do not have this beautiful Donsspecht (Dryobates pubescens) but it looks a lot like the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) that we do have :-)
    Beautiful pictures and also beautifully portrayed. I love woodpeckers and now I can watch this woodpecker at my leisure ;-)
    A hug

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  35. I love woodpeckers and often get downies at my feeder. I love the idea that this fellow just DOES this. That he cares for the birds, then goes to let them be at it in their own space and time.

    And thanks for the Thoreau piece. I wasn't familiar with it but oh, it does tell the story well, doesn't it?

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    1. The more I read Thoreau the more impressed I am.

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  36. Googled it, its Finnish name is "keijutikka", "fairy woodbecker". <3

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  37. I think the Downy Woodpecker looks a beautiful bird.

    All the best Jan

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  38. Thoreau's account of seeing Downy Woodpecker is very colourful. By co-incidence I borrowed an annotated copy of "Walden" from the Sheung Shui public library a few weeks ago.

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  39. Hi David - what a delightful description Thoreau gives us ... and so interesting to see his use of the word 'rod' as a term of measurement. Your photos and note about the chap who generously keeps feeding the birds ... so good to know - cheers Hilary

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