What’s in a Fake-News Bird Name?

Jay! Jay!

I hear that cry and know instantly which bird just flew nearby. The Blue Jay’s squawk and its brilliant blue feathers mirror its name, making it easy to find and remember the bird.

That’s not often true of the fake-news name given to the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

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.

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.

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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One Ambitious Eagle

Two small patches of white caught my eye.

Even 400 yards away, they were unmistakable: A Bald Eagle’s head and tail. The bird was on a log that had become embedded in the muddy perimeter of Eagle Island. That’s the aptly named bit of high land that remained after our stretch of the Kalamazoo River was dammed decades ago.  Eagles are a common sight here. Only, this eagle was behaving somewhat oddly.

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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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Watching and Wondering

Watching a bird incubate is not very exciting.

Lady Baltimore spends most of her time in the nest. So, I spend most of mine watching her sit. Or rather, watching her tail, which is mostly all that I see. By my calculations, it’s about time for her babies to start hatching, one per day for four or five days. And a cowbird, too, if the interloper I caught scoping out the nest managed to lay an egg inside.

So, I’m watching that unexciting nest closely, looking for any movement that might suggest hatchlings within.

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