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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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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Food for Courage

An all-caterpillar diet does not have to be boring.

That’s what I concluded as I watched Baltimore Oriole parents feed their nestlings during my recent nest-watch. They brought wiggly larvae in all colors, sizes, shapes, and textures: green, white, black, skinny, plump, smooth, striped, bumpy, and hairy. Aside from the occasional dragonfly and moth, the nestlings’ diet seemed pretty predictable.

Until they were about four days old.

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High Crimes

Curious, I thought.

A female grosbeak went inside a Baltimore Oriole nest. At least, that’s what I thought I saw. But after I posted a video on Facebook and Twitter, several friends corrected my error. The interloper was a Brown-headed Cowbird.

And that’s not good news for the orioles.

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Image Credits: Kurt Bauschardt.

Milady Makes a Nest

Baltimore Orioles are building a nest outside my window.

Thinking they deserve better than he, she, or it, I asked Facebook friends for names. I reminded everyone that five years ago, we named some nesting Pileated Woodpeckers Lucy and Ricky, inspired by their blazing red crests. For my new bird neighbors, friends suggested Fred and Wilma, Bogey and Bacall, Cal and Ripken, and Earl and Weaver, among others. But my favorite names were (sorry, baseball fans) Lord and Lady. I’m sure Cecilius Calvert and Anne Arundel, the Second Lord Baltimore and his Lady, wouldn’t mind.

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A Labor of Leaves

Squirrels are industrious little creatures.

They’re famous for indefatigable filching at bird feeders. For hoarding and hiding nuts. And for building dreys, those treetop nests made of seemingly random clumps of leaves. But there’s nothing accidental about drey fabrication. The nest has multiple layers for warmth and strength. Dreys are carefully woven shelters that withstand severe winds, hail, and driving rain. Here’s a cross-section view one blogger posted.

I’ve never witnessed a drey construction project. Don’t I wish I could film that bit of creature behavior! But this spring, I watched a squirrel use leaves to great advantage in a tree cavity.

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An Avian Friendversary

Five years ago, Pileated Woodpeckers friended me.

Okay… strictly speaking, it’s been a one-way friendship: Me admiring some magnificent birds.

It began in April 2015. I was home every day, all day, recovering from surgery. I felt confined, not unlike today’s stay-put virus isolation. My sanity-saver was our expanse of sliding glass doors. They overlook a steep, wooded bluff that brings some trees’ crowns near eye-level, just yards away.

When I first noticed two woodpeckers pounding persistently, I assumed they were foraging. The tree they were pecking wore fungus on its trunk. There had to be insects under the bark.

A week later, I realized my error.

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When a Squirrel Needs a Snack

What do squirrels eat? Plenty.

Squirrels like nuts, of course. In our corner of the woods, that means mostly acorns. They love seeds, flowers, bark, and mushrooms—the kinds that cling to trees whose insides are rotting with fungus. On the darker side, they’re known to raid birds’ nests—usually for the eggs, and sometimes they’ll take a nestling. All these squirrel snacks make perfect sense, even the bark. That toothsome treat provides starches, sugar, vitamins, and minerals.

This week, I noticed two additional foods in the squirrels’ diet. One makes me want to cheer, and the other has me scratching my head.

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Fluffy Feathers and Frigid Feet

You’ve probably seen birds fluff their feathers in winter.

The fluffy feathers form little puff pockets of air warmed by the birds’ bodies. But… have you ever seen a bird with feathered feet?

In the past few weeks, I’ve watched geese stand immobile for thirty minutes or more on ice and in shallow, frigid water. They seem unconcerned about freezing their feet. Turkey vultures poop on their feet to cool them off in summer. Is it possible, I wondered, that the geese are dropping little toe warmers, and I never noticed?

I reviewed hours of video featuring geese on ice. Nope. Nary a plop.

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