Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In the Spotlight


The nutcracker suite is not just a seasonal treat around Bon Bon Pond, thanks to a tiny tuxedoed-acrobat named “Picoides pubescens.”  Commonly called the Downy Woodpecker, this outgoing year-round resident  delights with a “bird ballet” each and every day. I never get tired of observing his undulating avian arabesques and pirouettes as he flits from oak to asp and poplar to pine.

Perhaps no other in the ornithological class has benefited more from intense birding efforts around Bon Bon Pond than the Downy.  The past three years have seen the species explode in population.  These people-friendly fliers dominate the suet feeders and have a hankering for peanuts and sunflower hearts. 

The smallest and most abundant species of the Woodpecker family, these white and black beauties are just a little over six inches with a small bill.  Males are distinguished via a red nape patch. Downy pairs produce one brood each year.  White it’s said the clutch size is between three to eight white eggs, I’ve never seen more than five hatchlings. They nest and also roost in dead trees where they excavate cavities.

Darling Downys consume large numbers of harmful insects such as beetles, ants, and weevils. It upsets me that these beneficial birds often get such a bum rap—mostly from property owners who are outraged over damage to homes, barns and other buildings.  A Google search will turn up three basic reasons for Downy drilling:  (1) insect infestation; (2) marking territory during breeding season; or (3) searching for a mate.  Around Bon Bon Pond most of the drilling occurs in the fall and winter which pretty much eliminates possibilities two and three.  I remain convinced that the much-maligned Downy is in search of insects and as such is actually an invaluable aid to homeowners, alerting us when rotting boards needs to be replaced.    

Downys and their other woodpecker cousins can also help us identify trees that are in danger.  If you notice intense woodpecker attention--especially to elms, apples or ashes--it’s a good idea to have the tree examined by an accredited arborist.

However you interpret their activities, please remember all woodpeckers are classified as migratory, nongame birds and are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. 

Listen to the Downy Woodpecker call and drum: 


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