Red-bellied Woodpecker brings a mouthful of bugs to the nest

Bon Appetit!

What’s on the Menu?

This past spring, I watched Hairy Woodpecker parents feed their nestlings. They would fly to the door of the tree cavity, poke their heads and torsos inside, and shake. All I could see was tail feathers bobbing rapidly as the parents pushed and the babies pulled to swallow the regurgitated food. After a couple of weeks, though, the tail movement stopped, even though the parents were still flying to the tree cavity every hour or so.

I worried: Had mom and dad stopped feeding the kids?

I checked my go-to resource, Birds of North America, or BNA:

BNA tells me that Hairy Woodpeckers feed by regurgitation for only a portion of the kids’ month in the nest. As the nestlings get bigger, their parents start bringing fresh food, mostly insects. That got me thinking about the different woodpecker feeding methods I’ve observed.

The Pileated Woodpeckers who nested just outside our window fed their nestlings by regurgitation, right up until the kids fledged.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers nested in the same tree the next two years. Those parents carried visible food into the nest. They do not regurgitate-feed at all. Mom and dad bring their kids mouthfuls of food that’s somewhat identifiable. If you know your bugs, it’s pretty easy to check out their menu, especially as the kids grow and the parents no longer need to crush and mash insects into baby food.

The coy neighborhood Northern Flickers have never started families where I can peek into their nest, so I have no first-hand observation of flicker feedings, but BNA mentions only regurgitation. All these woodpeckers have similar anatomy, so I do wonder why the feeding methods differ.

Today’s video shows a variety of eating styles. Be sure to watch the Sandhill Crane’s long neck after it swallows. Is that a turtle egg going down the hatch? The video montage also includes a winter snippet that reminds me how challenging it must be for creatures to forage when their usual food is covered by a blanket of snow.

For a longer view of Pileated Woodpecker feeding, see Episode 7 of the Lucy and Ricky story. Mealtime got a little rowdy in that nest!

There’s so much yummy food being served up in my neighborhood. Bon appetit, my feathered friends!

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