When a Woodpecker Proves You Wrong

Why was the woodpecker pounding such a puny branch?

The Hairy Woodpecker could only be seeking food. The branch was too tiny to surround a roost cavity.

I could see why a woodpecker might choose this red oak to forage. It has several branch stubs: jagged wounds where fungi can enter. Many wood-boring insects prefer laying eggs on decayed and damaged trees. The hatchling larvae can easily chew their way inside, where depending on species, they may overwinter.

But this particular branch? It’s so skinny—maybe four inches in diameter—it must have been frozen to its core in yesterday’s 14-degree weather. Wouldn’t an insect mom want an egg-laying site with more mass? A trunk or a thick limb that would retain warmth to help her babies survive a Michigan winter. I was sure the woodpecker wouldn’t find food in this branch.

He pounded and chiseled. It took him just six minutes to prove me wrong.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Squirrels

I’m surrounded by forest ninjas.

They’re stealthy, incredibly agile, and like all ninjas, they excel at their craft—in this case, larceny from my neighbors’ bird feeders. Our woods are full of them.

I’m talking about jet-black, bushy-tailed tree rodents, the local teenage mutant ninja squirrels. They’re not all teens, of course. But every one of them is indeed a mutant.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

The Balcony

I just love rotting trees.

They’re wildlife magnets. I’m particularly fond of one such tree just outside my window. It has held my attention since 2015 when Pileated Woodpeckers nested there.

But the snag’s rotten story began about a decade earlier when we had a limb removed.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Perched to Ponder

An eagle perched near my window.

I see Bald Eagles often, usually some distance from the house. When eagles do land nearby, they’ll scoot if I simply step to a window. So when I saw the eagle in my tree, I stood back from the glass, as usual. But after an hour, I just had to try for a closer look through my camera.

With tiny, slow steps I moved to the sliding glass door. The eagle didn’t seem to notice.  Then I inched the door open a crack. The bird didn’t budge. I pushed again, just enough to get the lens outside.

The door groaned, and the eagle turned and looked my way.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, pacificnorthwestkate.

Silk Crossing

The katydid crept cautiously.

She was scaling our home’s vinyl siding. Slowly and deliberately, she would lift a leg. Sometimes, she waved it in the air. Then her foot patted the siding several times before committing to a landing spot. She seemed to be checking for obstacles like a sight-impaired person might use a cane to survey the sidewalk.

I peered closer. Then I saw the reason for her wary walking.

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Spin, Spin, Spin

I never cared much for spiders.

This summer was no exception. Our house is in the woods, and I’ve become accustomed to seeing webs draped here, there, and everywhere. But this year’s spider season seemed over the top, especially when measured by the quantity of spider poop I scrubbed—repeatedly and begrudgingly—off the siding.

Then, one little silk spinner made me reconsider my arachnid animus.

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More than a Mustache

Whiskers!

We’ve all seen them on our pets’ faces and on squirrels and other rodents, rabbits, beavers, walruses, and some other mammals. Until recently, I didn’t give whiskers much thought. Then I learned they’re not just facial hair… and they’re not always on faces.

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What’s with that Feather?

I thought a feather was stuck in the flicker’s bill.

He wiped it on the rim of a tree cavity. But the feather didn’t budge. Over and again, this juvenile Northern Flicker swiped and wiped his bill.

Finally, he managed to drop the feather… only to repeat the process with another!

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When an Eagle’s Gotta Go

I was in awe of the eagle’s mighty…

poop.

I was never particularly enthralled by bird poop. I mean, ick. On the car. On the lawn chairs. And once, years ago, on my shoulder. Besides the occasional irritation at a windshield splat, I never gave bird droppings any serious thought.

That is, until yesterday. I happened to be filming when a young Bald Eagle lifted his tail.

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Fumble and Search

Score!

The young woodpecker made a proud show of his loot.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are well equipped to forage. Their bills are built to chisel, hammer, and drill. They have long, sticky tongues with barbed tips—perfect for reaching into crevices and pulling out prey.

These birds are omnivores, happy to eat seeds, nuts, fruit, and meat. They’re both aggressive and tenacious. A few months ago, I filmed a Red-bellied Woodpecker pounding the life out of a bat before flying it away for consumption. At feeders, these woodpeckers will swipe peanuts from under squirrels’ noses. And when they find a hard-shelled seed or nut, they know exactly what to do: Wedge it into a tree crevice and hammer. They’ll catch the pieces with a cupped wing or trap them in belly and breast feathers pressed into the tree.

So, when the immature woodpecker leaned into a crevice with a nut in his bill, I expected to see a speedy pound-and-swallow maneuver.

Instead, I saw a fumble.

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