Great Blue Heron Information Identification

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Great Blue Heron

General: The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest and most common heron in North America. These wading birds are skilled The tall, long-legged great blue heron is the most common and largest of North American heronsfishers, thriving in a variety of geographic locations and climates. This species is protected by the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act despite healthy numbers and stable populations, listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Description: As the largest of the North American herons, the Great Blue Heron may reach an adult size of 4.5’ tall but only 4.5 to 7.5 lbs, due in part to their hollow bones. Their rounded wings span 5.5’ to 6.5’ in width. Males reach an adult size that is approximately 10% greater than females1. In addition to their overall size, Great Blue Herons may be identified by their long necks, long, tapered yellow bills and long, thin legs that are dull green in color. Their legs terminate in narrow, wide-set toes that allow these birds to walk on soft ground. Great Blue Herons have an overall dull blue-gray coloration, with white, black and brown streaking along the neck. Their white faces and white head-caps are accented with black eye-stripes that merge with black plumes on the back of the heads. Additional features include a shaggy grey ruff on the back of the neck, short tails, and tan feathers on the thighs. Juveniles are similar in color, but lack the plumes and shaggy feathers of adults. A juvenile may also be identified by its dark crown and mottled neck2. There may be as many as seven subspecies of Great Blue Herons, distinguished by size, color, and geographic location.

During flight, a Great Blue Heron will fold its neck and slowly beat its wings, reaching speeds of 20 to 30 mph3.

On average, a Great Blue Heron will live to 15 years of age in the wild. The oldest known Great Blue Heron lived to be 23 years old. Like many species, Great Blue Herons experience a high mortality rate in the first year of life, losing over half of juveniles to predation and starvation. Great Blue Herons are generally a solitary species and typically forage along. However, this species does nest in single-species colonies that may contain up to several hundred nests. Great Blue Herons are most active in the morning and at dusk to maximize fishing success. During the day they are inactive, sleeping with single-species flocks of up to 100 individuals. Great Blue Herons are a territorial species and have been known to be aggressively defensive.

The Great Blue Heron is a large water bird which can grow up to four feet tallGreat Blue Herons are capable of producing seven distinct noises but relative to other species, they are fairly quiet. Sounds are made in response to disturbances or threats and to greet other herons. They also use physical gestures to communicate during courtship4.

Habitat: Great Blue Herons live in a variety of temperate and tropical habitats located in close proximity to water, often seen wading in marshes, sheltered bays and inlets, streams, ponds, swamps, wet meadows, along saltwater coastlines and at the edges of rivers and lakes. They may be found in fresh, salt or brackish water. East coast populations typically avoid shores, preferring to live inland5. Great Blue Herons tend to locate their nesting colonies away from human disturbances, in quiet areas including mature forests and islands.

Within their habitats Great Blue Herons are efficient at controlling insect and fish populations. These habitats place eggs and chicks at risk of predation by crows, ravens, eagles, bears, cultures, hawks, and raccoons. Adults may fall prey to larger predators. If a juvenile or adult is killed in close proximity to a colony, the colony will be abandoned. Great Blue Herons face other threats within their habitats, include collisions with wires, and loss of habitat due to land development and forestry.

Location: Great Blue Herons inhabit nearctic and neotropical regions. During the spring and summer, breeding colonies may be found across North and Central America, the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. Populations living in extreme northern climates may migrate south in the winter to Central and South America in search of food supplies. These migratory populations do not breed in their winter habitats. However, this species is highly adaptable (more so than other species of herons) and populations have been known to winter in environments as far north as British Columbia, the Alaskan coast, and New England.

Diet: Great Blue Herons are carnivorous. They usually hunt alone, seeking a variable diet of fish (making up the majority of their diet,) small mammals, insects, crustaceans, and reptiles, such as frogs and salamanders. They wade slowly or stand still, waiting for their prey to come within reach of their long necks and bills. They attack fast, grab their prey with their bills, and swallow their meals whole, causing some herons to choke to death if the prey is too large for their slender throats. In deep water environments, Great Blue Herons exhibit a variety of methods to locate and catch food. They may hover above the water, swim, or dive below the surface in pursuit of food.

Reproduction: Great Blue Herons form mating pairs that last for the duration of one breeding season. Northern populations breed between March and May and southern populations breed between November and April. Each season new pairs will form. Great Blue Herons nest in single-species breeding colonies containing from several to several-hundred breeding pairs. Isolated breeding and nesting is very rare for this species. Nesting begins in February when males choose a site and begin an elaborate display of courtship including flight, stretching, twig shaking, and physical shows. Great Blue Herons prefer to nest in tall trees but will also select locations in shrubs or on the ground as long as there is a nearby source of water. Colonies are usually situated in undisturbed wetlands, far from human activity and roads, at elevations up to 4900’6. Males collect the materials for the nest, constructed of sticks and lined with bark, pine needles, and small sticks. Females lay anywhere from two to seven pale blue-green eggs that are incubated for an average of 28 days by both parents. Females in northern environments tend to lay more eggs. In the event that a nest is destroyed or abandoned (adults may abandon a nest due to human intrusion or extreme noise,) a female may lay a second clutch. Both parents feed chicks by regurgitating food, showing preference for the largest chick. After two months the chicks reach fledging age, able to fly and survive on their own. However, fledglings will continue to return to the nest to be fed by their parents for several additional weeks. Male chicks generally experience faster growth rates, reaching a fledgling size up to 13% larger than females7. Great Blue Herons reach sexual maturity at 22 months old.

Notes of Interest: A subspecies of the Great Blue Heron living in southern Florida and the Caribbean is often mistakenly called a Great White Heron because of a color mutation resulting in pure white plumage8.

In 1999, Great Blue Heron colonies in Seattle, WA experienced a 40% abandonment rate in the middle of the breeding season. Experts now believe this exodus resulted from an increased presence of Bald Eagles in the area, known to harass herons and feed on their young. Crows may have also contributed, known to feed on nests after Bald Eagles.
In recent years, breeding colonies in Washington State were once again impacted by threats. Colonies that numbered in the hundreds were replaced with colonies containing only 30 to 40 nests. In addition to the presence of predators, forestry, land development, and the associated noises are believed to have contributed to this decline9.


Footnotes
1. http://www.arkive.org/great-blue-heron/ardea-herodias/
2. http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/great_blue_heron
3. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/great-blue-heron/
4. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Ardea_herodias/
5. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Ardea_herodias/
6. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Ardea_herodias/
7. http://www.sms.si.edu/irlspec/Ardea_herodi.htm
8. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/great-blue-heron/
9. http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/great_blue_heron

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/great-blue-heron/
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Ardea_herodias/
http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/great_blue_heron.htm
http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/great_blue_heron
http://www.sms.si.edu/irlspec/Ardea_herodi.htm
http://www.arkive.org/great-blue-heron/ardea-herodias/

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius

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General: Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) are the small woodpeckers responsible for the neat rows of sap wells found drilled into trees across much of the southern and eastern United States and central Canada. These striking black and white birds can usually be found perched along tree trunks lapping up sap. Sapsucker populations are healthy and stable, earning the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker the classification of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Description: Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are small relative to other species of woodpeckers. They reach a mature length of 7” to 8.75” and weight of 1.5oz. to 1.9oz. They can be identified by their black and white, boldly patterned plumage (in scallops across the back,) yellow or buff-white undersides, red caps, and long white patches on the sides of folded wings (that open to a wing span of 13.5” to 15.7”1.) Additionally, Sapsuckers have white rumps, black eyelines and two white stripes stretching from the eyes and sides of the bill toward the black bib on the chest. Males differ from females by the presence of a red chin and throat, both of which appear pale or entirely white on females. Juvenile Sapsuckers have buff and dusky black barring on their backs with pale underparts and white rumps. Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers have straight thick bills that act as chisels, brush-tipped tongues used for lapping up sap and catching insects, rigid, pointed tails, and crown feathers on the backs of their heads, which they raise to form peaks.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers behave in a similar manner to other woodpeckers. Their flight consists of rises and falls, a swooping pattern used by other woodpeckers. They hop along tree trunks, leaning back against their supporting tail feathers when feeding or tending to sap wells, an activity that takes up at least half their time2. Their communicative behaviors are similar to those executed by other woodpecker species. Mating displays consist of lifting the head to reveal throat patches, chases, and tapping. Aggression is expressed through raised crests and ruffled tail and throat feathers, head swaying, and raised tails and bills.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers produce a number of sounds. A kwee-urk is associated with breeding as well as territory defense. Threatened birds may also shrill. Breeding pairs also create quirk noises to strengthen their bonds. These noises are produced by scratching on trees. Repetitive week-week and wurp-wurp sounds are made between pairs or parents and juveniles. Excited birds make a nasal, mewing c-waan3. Like all woodpeckers, Sapsuckers create the unmistakable drumming noise while hammering against trees.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers have been known to live to nearly 8 years old; however, in the wild they live an average of 6.5 years4.

Habitat: Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers live in hardwood, mixed, and coniferous forests, at elevations up to 6500’.

In the spring and summer, they establish breeding grounds in young or regenerating forests that offer ample opportunities to bore sap wells. Nesting often occurs in groves of small trees, such as aspens. During the winter, Sapsuckers relocate to open hardwood or mixed woodlands. While Sapsuckers will inhabit a greater variety of habitats in the winter than in the spring or summer, they will not settle in an area that is entirely coniferous during winter months5.

Location: Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers may be found throughout the central, northern and eastern United States and into central Canada. Sapsuckers are the only species of woodpecker in the eastern United States that is entirely migratory. Some Sapsuckers may stay in their breeding areas throughout the winter, especially in southern parts of their range, but most populations relocate to winter habitats, ranging from south of New England and the Great Lakes to southern parts of the United States, Mexico, the West Indies and parts of Central America. It is common for females to migrate farther than males. Sapsuckers have been found in Iceland, Britain and Ireland; however, Sapsuckers are not native to these geographic areas and these sightings are attributed to accidental relocation6.

Diet: Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers can often be spotted sitting along tree trunks feeding from their sap wells. They harvest sap by boring two distinct types of holes in over 1,000 species of trees and woody plants (although they prefer trees that have sap with high sugar concentrations, such as maple, hickory and birch trees.) They select trees that are alive and actively producing sap, a behavior that sets them apart from other species of woodpeckers who tend to prefer dead wood.

Sapsucker’s systematic drilling starts in the spring, when narrow circular wells are bored deep into the trunk, providing access to sap flowing upward through the tree’s xylem (which sapsuckers reach by inserting their long bills.) The second type of well is shallower than the first and rectangular in shape, drilled into the phloem of the tree. These wells provide access to sap as it runs down from leaves once the tree has bloomed. Sapsuckers lap-up sap leaking from these wells. Because these secondary holes are shallow, they must be continually maintained with fresh drilling so sap can continue to flow. This sap has a sugar content of over 10%. New holes are drilled year round in both breeding and winter territories, and are placed in a new row above or in line with existing holes.

Sapsuckers also feed on insects, such as ants, spiders and moths, suet, berries and fruit. They hop along the ground to forage for insects, but also catch flying insects while sitting at the ends of tree branches, dig for insects beneath tree bark and consume insects caught in sap. Sapsuckers may be found in orchards, which provide opportunities for harvesting sap and access to fruit.

Reproduction: Before mating in the spring, Sapsuckers exhibit playful courting displays, as one bird chases another in flight and across tree trunks and branches. As courting pairs stand facing each other on a branch, with ruffled feathers and raised crests, they swing their heads and emit winnowing sounds. These pairs also participate in ritual tapping, in which courting birds interact with echoing taps. These behaviors strengthen bonds and create mating pairs that may last for several breeding seasons.

Male Sapsuckers are often responsible for choosing nesting sites and excavating nests, usually in the same species of trees used for drilling sap wells (such as birch, maple, aspen, and elm.) They show a preference for living trees hosting a fungus that softens the trees interior (making excavating a nest easier.) These nest cavities may be used for up to seven consecutive years. Entrances are approximately 1.5” in diameter and the cavity itself is around 10” in depth and lined only with woodchips.

Sapsuckers have one brood a year, consisting of 4 to 6 white eggs that are approximately 1” in length. The eggs are incubated by both adults for 10 to 13 days, although males spend more time incubating the eggs, especially at night7. The chicks are born naked and blind, with gray beaks. After 8 days, the chicks open their eyes8. During the nestling period of 25 to 30 days, parents must feed the chicks nine times an hour to ensure proper development, taking turns bringing the chicks sap and insects. Parents mix sawdust with droppings in the nest and remove them, to keep nest cavities sanitary9.

Juveniles fledge in mid-summer and gradually acquire their adult coloration throughout their first fall (with red plumage appearing first) and winter (when the black and white signature pattering appears on their heads and chests10.)

Notes of Interest: Sapsucker wells provide feeding opportunities for at least 35 other species of birds and mammals, attracted to the sap and/or insects11. One particular bird species attracted to the sap flows is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. This hummingbird’s reliance on the sap is so integral to their survival that they coordinate their spring migration with that of the sapsucker. Other species that use the sapsucker wells are bats and procupines12.

Footnotes:
1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-bellied_sapsucker/id
2. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-bellied_sapsucker/id
3. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Sphyrapicus_varius/
4. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Sphyrapicus_varius/
5. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-bellied_sapsucker/id
6. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/yellow-bellied-sapsucker/
7. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Sphyrapicus_varius/
8. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-bellied_sapsucker/id
9. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Sphyrapicus_varius/
10. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/yellow-bellied-sapsucker/
11. http://www.houstonaudubon.org/
12. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-bellied_sapsucker/id

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-bellied_sapsucker/id
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/yellow-bellied-sapsucker/
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Sphyrapicus_varius/
http://www.houstonaudubon.org/

Steller’s Jay – Cyanocitta stelleri

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General: Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are bold, social and extremely vocal Steller's Jay habitat, behavior, diet, migration patterns, conservation status, and nesting.birds that can be found in the mountainous areas of the North American west. They may best be known for their dark blue coloration and lack of white undersides. Be cautious of these vividly colored and inquisitive birds when picnicking, as they have been known to steal unguarded fare. Steller’s Jay populations are healthy and expanding and are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Description: Steller’s Jays are large, robust birds that reach adult weights of 3.5 to 5 oz. and lengths of 11.75 to 13.5”. They have full, long tails, large heads with thick, straight black bills and rounded wings that open to a span of over 17”. Steller’s Jays, like Blue Jays, have prominent crests that sit erect atop their heads. These two species are the only two in North American that have easily distinguishable crests1.

Steller’s Jays are identifiable by their allover dark coloration, lacking the light underparts common of many species. Their heads are charcoal in color with subtle white or blue markings and black crests. Their bodies are dark cobalt blue accented by vivid blue and black barring on the wings and tail. Sexual dimorphism is minimal within this species, with females only being slightly fainter in color and with slightly less barring than males. Juvenile Steller’s Jays lack the brilliance of adults and instead are brown or gray with less prominent crests.

Geographic variations occur across the seventeen known subspecies of Steller’s Jays. These differences can include greater amounts of blue or black across the bodies and crests, and variations in head sizes and patterning.

Steller’s Jays are intelligent, noisy and inquisitive birds that spend most of their time foraging and exploring their habitats. On the ground and in trees they move with bold hops (pausing often to investigate their surroundings) and in the air they travel with graceful, long and steady wing beats (their wings rarely extending past horizontal2.)

Steller’s Jays are extremely social birds, traveling in flocks of mating Steller’s Jay pairs as well as in mixed-species flocks. Their populations are built upon complex patterns of social hierarchies and dominance. To display aggression, two jays may partake in aerial fights, grasping and pecking at each other during flight. Social standings may also be determined through crest displays, wing spreading (to express submission) and an activity called “Aggressive Sliding.” To ward off predators, such as raptors, Steller’s Jays unite into mobs to use vocal and physical intimidation3.

Extremely vocal birds, Steller’s Jays are capable of a broad range of sounds and calls, including mimicking (the likes of dogs, cats, squirrels, chickens, other birds, and even some machines4.) Other sounds include squawks, screams, rattles, soft warbles, and piercing sheck sheck sheck screams5. Adult jays, while usually some of the most vocal birds in their habitats, are quiet and discreet when raising their young or robbing nests6.

Steller’s Jays have been known to live to approximately 16 years old.

Habitat: Steller’s Jays reside in mountainous coniferous and mixed forests of the North American West, where they can be spotted in the high canopy. They may also be found in arid woodlands in the American southwest and Mexico. Their habitats also include parks, campgrounds, and suburban areas.

Location: Steller’s Jay populations are generally resident and inhabit coniferous and mixed woods forests in western North America, from the southern coast of Alaska, through the Rocky Mountain Region (into eastern Colorado) and south into Mexico and Central America at elevations of 3,000’ to 10,000’. Along the Pacific Coast, Steller’s Jay populations tend to be found at lower elevations7.

Although Steller’s Jays are generally resident, some populations may migrate to lower elevations during winter months. Large irruptions in the fall and winter may also cause populations of Steller’s Jays to move into southern California, deserts of the American southwest, and the Great Plains. There has also been accidental population movement into Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas and central Texas8.

Diet: Steller’s Jays are generalist foragers, searching for food on the ground and in trees. Their omnivorous diets consist of two-thirds vegetable matter, including seeds, berries, and nuts. These jays are capable of carrying several large nuts or seeds simultaneously within their mouths and throats. Because they have developed spatial understanding and memory, Steller’s Jays are able to bury and store nuts and seeds for winter food caches. In addition to their own caches, it is common for Steller’s Jays to raid caches of other birds during winter months. Their diets also include insects, small rodents, reptiles, invertebrates and carrion. Steller’s Jays are habitual nest robbers and are known to eat eggs and nestlings. Populations living in close proximity to humans will eat garbage, bird feed and picnic fare9.

Reproduction: Steller’s Jays form long-term monogamous pairs that tend to remain together year round. Breeding generally occurs within dense coniferous forests, and begins with courting displays called “Sexual Sliding10.” Steller’s Jays have one brood per year. Nesting sites are selected by both mates who then collect materials and build the nest together. These nests are usually above ground, located on horizontal branches close to the trunk of a tree. One of only two species of New World Jays to use mud as a building material (the other is the Blue Jay,) Steller’s Jays construct cup-shaped nests of stems, moss, leaves, and sticks (all held together with mud.) These nests may be up to 17” in diameter, 7” tall and 2.5” to 3.5” in depth and are lined with pine needles, animal hair, rootlets and sometimes paper. Females are able to lay one egg per day, with typical clutches containing 2 to 6 blue-green eggs spotted with olive, brown or purple. The eggs are 1” to 1.4” in length and are incubated by the females for 16 days, although males have been known to share in incubation duties11. Both parents share in feeding their young. The chicks molt for the first time in 2 weeks and begin to fly at around 3 weeks of age, shortly after fledging. Although the fledglings begin foraging for their own food at one-month-old, parents continue to provide food for an additional month after their young fledge12.

As Blue Jay populations expand west, hybrids with Steller’s Jays are becoming more and more common.

Notes of Interest: Steller’s Jays received their namesake from naturalist Georg Steller. He first discovered this species in 1741 while exploring an Alaskan island as part of the crew of a Russian exploratory ship. Other species that share their namesake: Steller’s sea lions and Steller’s Sea-Eagles13. Over the last two decades, Steller’s Jay populations have expanded, infiltrating a broader range of habitats. As a result, the Steller’s Jay has become a much more common resident of towns and cities14.

Footnotes
1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
2. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/stellers-jay/
3. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Cyanocitta_stelleri/
4. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
5. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/stellers-jay/
6. http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/stellers_jay
7. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
8. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/stellers-jay/
9. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
10. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Cyanocitta_stelleri/
11. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
12. http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/stellers_jay
13. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
14. http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/stellers_jay

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/id
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/stellers-jay/
http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/stellers_jay
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Cyanocitta_stelleri/

Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescen

General Downy Woodpeckers, Picoides pubescens, are the smallest and most common woodpecker of North America.  Similar in appearance to the Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpeckers can be distinguished by their diminutive size.  Their stable and numerous populations offer frequent opportunities for backyard sightings, mixing advantageously with other bird flocks for protection and food sourcing.  These agile foragers may be spotted among tree branches and tall brush or at a backyard feeder. 

Description Downy Woodpeckers are known for their bold black and white coloration, similar to that of the Hairy Woodpecker, and their small size.  Their bodies, measuring 5.5”-6.5” in length and up to 1 oz. in weight, are a classic woodpecker shape, with a “straight, chisel-like bill, blocky head, wide shoulders, and straight-backed posture”1.  Relative to their body size, the bill of the Downy seems small in comparison to the longer bill of the Hairy Woodpecker.  The wingspan ranges in size from 9.5” to 11.5”.  The Downy has a white breast and black and white checkered wings and back, with a broad, white strip running down the center of the back.  The head is striped in black and white.  Males may be identified by the red patch on the nape of the neck., sometimes referred to as a cap.  The outside tail feathers are predominantly white with some black markings present.  The tail feathers are stiff and are used to brace the woodpecker’s body when boring holes. 

Due to the expansive territory of this species, physical variations have developed.  Seven subspecies of the Downy Woodpecker have been identified, differing mainly in size and also color.  Birds living in northern environments typically grow largest, and western varieties are darker overall with less white on the wings.    Downy Woodpeckers of the southeast may be identified by their smaller size and grayer undersides.  Birds living along the Pacific coast typically display less white spotting on wing coverts and secondaries (a type of feather found on the wing,) while those living east of the Rockies have highly developed white spotting2.  Downy Woodpeckers in the Pacific Northwest are known for their dusky coloration on the back and underside3. 

  Downy Woodpeckers, on average, live one to two years due to a high mortality rate in the first years of life.  However, organizations have monitored birds in the wild living upwards of twelve years. 

Behavior Downy Woodpeckers exhibit a variety of behaviors that distinguish them as a unique species as well as identify them as a member of the greater woodpecker category.  In flight, Downy Woodpeckers use an undulating flight pattern typical of many woodpecker species4, using a rhythm of quick wingbeats alternating with wings folding against the body.  However, when moving along tree branches, Downy Woodpeckers swiftly move horizontally and downwards along branches with greater agility than other woodpecker species.  As a defensive stance, a Downy Woodpecker will fan the tail feathers, and raise their head while jerking the bill back and forth.  A courtship ritual consists of both males and females darting gracefully between trees, fluttering their wings softly in a butterfly-like display5.

Three distinct noises are associated with the Downy Woodpecker.  The first, and probably most often associated with this species, is the drumming noise.  A common misconception associated with the woodpecker is that this loud, rapid drumming is an attempt to bore for insects.  This particular noise is actually used by the Downy to claim territory, maintain dominance or attract a mate.  This particular drumming is steady and fast, approximately 17 beats a second.  When excavating for food or to create a nest, the drum of the Downy tends to be slower, quieter and more deliberate in nature.   The Downy also produces a short string of high notes lasting around two seconds.  This shrill, descending whinny is made during mating season by both sexes6.  The third noise is a high, short note made in excitement and called a pik.

 Habitat Downy Woodpeckers are non-migratory birds preferring year-round residence in deciduous forests, living in woodlands among trees, brush, long grasses and wildflowers.  However, they are also commonly found in city parks, suburban neighborhoods, orchards, and vacant lots.  As a species, they are adaptable and have been known to thrive in forested areas in secondary, young growth.  Downy Woodpeckers are typically arboreal, but at times may hop along the ground foraging for food. 

In their natural habitats, Downy Woodpeckers are at the mercy of several predatory species, including the American Kestrel, several species of hawks, rat snakes, and squirrels.  They are at risk in-flight and their eggs and fledglings are at risk within the nests.

 Location Downy Woodpeckers reside in habitats across North America, excluding Hawaii and Mexico and areas in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, southern California, northwestern Alaska and northeastern Canada7. 

 Diet The Downy Woodpecker is an acrobatic forager, spending much of its time searching for food in trees.  Wood boring insects and larvae make up 75% of the Downy Woodpecker’s diet.  Males and females forage separately, with males spending most of their time on smaller, more advantageous branches and females being relegated to larger branches.  Downy Woodpeckers are also fond of fruit, seeds, sap, millets, peanut butter, and suet, and may be found at backyard feeders, including hummingbird feeders8.

 Nesting Downy Woodpeckers nest for the first time in the spring following their birth and tend to have one brood a year; although, these birds have been known to have two broods in southern habitats where food supplies are available for longer periods of time9.  Downy Woodpeckers lay three to eight white eggs per brood (approximately ¾” each) in a hollow cavity in a tree, on a bed of woodchips.  Selecting a dead deciduous tree or dead portion of a tree leaning away from the main vertical, both male and female Downy Woodpeckers spend one to three weeks boring a nest with a1-1.5” entrance on the bottom side of the limb (although they have also been known to nest within walls.)  The nests are usually 6-12” deep, widening at the bottom to accommodate the eggs and bird.  A 12 day incubation period is followed by an 18 to 21 day nestling period10.  Out of the 3 to 8 fledglings, on average only 1 to 2 will survive the first year of life11. 

 Woodpecker Damage Can a woodpecker cause damage to a home or property?  The answer is yes.  In the Northeast, one species of woodpecker in particular is responsible for most home damage.  That woodpecker, the Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus, can be identified by the yellow or salmon coloration under the wings and tail and the tan/white underside with black spots.  The Downy Woodpecker is less likely to cause damage to a home but still may.  Other woodpecker species responsible for home damage include the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Red-bellied woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker and Red-headed woodpecker12.  Damage occurs due to drumming on materials or boring holes in materials for several reasons: establishing territorial dominance, “singing” to mates or excavation for feeding or nesting.  This drumming may sound like a rhythmic hammering noise.  However, loud, rapid drumming is often for reasons other than feeding and nesting, as the drumming associated with these activities is quieter and more intentional.  Woodpeckers may select materials such as wooden shingles, siding and fencing (specifically cedar, pine and redwood,) many species of trees, gutters, wood eaves, synthetic stucco, chimney caps or light posts.

This damage can and should be prevented or stopped using several techniques.  Action should be taken quickly as woodpeckers become territorial once established.  Selecting construction materials that do not provide ideal boring opportunities for woodpeckers, such as plywood or Masonite, may prevent damage entirely.  You may also use visual repellants (hawk silhouettes and mobiles or owl effigies) or loud noises to scare woodpeckers or deter them from frequenting the area.  Mirrors, reflective strips that move with a breeze, pinwheels, or metallic pie tins have also been shown to be effective in scaring woodpeckers and can be placed near the site of damage to scare woodpeckers.  If holes already exist in homes or trees, it is important to repair them to prevent attracting new woodpeckers to the area or from further damage or infestation.  Cover holes with a material to prevent further damage (material options include metal flashing, netting or hardware cloth.)  If the damage exists on a tree, burlap may be wrapped around the damaged area to prevent further damage.  If a nest has been excavated, consider waiting until the fledglings have left the nest (usually midsummer) to plug the hole.  Keep in mind that certain species of woodpeckers only attack diseased or damaged trees so it is important to determine if additional problems exist and to treat appropriately.  If damage has occurred in the eaves of a home, you may attach netting from the edge of the eave to the house to eliminate access to the affected area.  You may also deter woodpeckers by eliminating the noise-making material they have selected to drum on by filling in any hollow areas that may allow an echo or placing padding behind the material.  If the cause of drumming is an infestation, it is important to take appropriate steps to eliminate the invading pest.  Providing the woodpecker with an alternative food source, such as a suet feeder placed in the yard away from the home, may prove effective in deterring a woodpecker from attacking an infested area (however, avoid using suet during warmer months as suet may adhere to a bird’s plumage.)  Lastly, you may try providing alternative nesting areas for woodpeckers trying to excavate a nest on your property.  Manufactured nest boxes, made similar in size with similar entries to natural nests, may provide woodpeckers an alternative to excavating13. 

*While products exist such as Tanglefoot Pest Control, Roost-No-More, and Bird Stop, and claim to deter birds from using an area by creating a sticky, undesirable surface, please reconsider using these measures.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these products may adhere to “a bird’s plumage, impairing its ability to fly and stay warm”14.  Additionally, these products may stain or cause a surface to discolor. 

Footnotes

 

1.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

2.  http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/downy-woodpecker/

3.  http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/downy-woodpecker/

4.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

5.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

6.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

7.  http://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/downy-woodpecker.htm

8.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

9.  http://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/downy-woodpecker.htm

10.http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

11.http://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/downy-woodpecker.htm

12.http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/for/for38/for38.htm

13.http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/woodpeckers.html

14.http://www.birds.cornell.edu/wp_about/control.html

Works Cited 

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/downy-woodpecker/

http://animal.discovery.com/guides/wild-birds/d-h/downy-woodpecker.html

http://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/downy-woodpecker.htm

http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/woodpeckers.html

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06516.html

http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/for/for38/for38.htm

http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/for/for38/for38.htm

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/wp_about/control.html

Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus Pileatus

pileated_woodpecker_in_Tree

General: Once you have seen the Pileated Woodpecker in the wild, watched it climb trees and fly through the forest you will always be able to identify it. I know of no other bird that size and with that silhouette. As far as woodpeckers go, this is the largest North American woodpecker there is. Like other woodpeckers, its excavating plays a crucial role in many forest ecosystems in North America. A diverse array of other animals use its cavities for shelter and nesting.

Pileated Woodpeckers excavate large nests in the cavities of dead trees. Females lay approximately 1–6 white eggs. Incubation is approximately 15-18 days. The chicks are born naked and helpless. They fledge in about 26-28 days

Their call is a loud cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk. It is very similar to the Northern Flicker.

Identification: The Pileated Woodpecker Adults are 16” to 19” long with a wingspan of 26” to 30” and weigh 8 to 12 oz. They are almost crow sized. It is best recognized by its large, dull black body, red crest on the head and a white line down the sides of the throat. The males have a red line from the bill to the throat, in adult females these are black. In flight the wings show pale bases to primaries on upper-wing and entirely white under-wing covert.

Habitat: Pileated Woodpeckers inhabit deciduous and coniferous forests with mature stands of trees. They can be found in suburban areas and farmland with stands of trees. I live in a small Upstate New York town. The pictures are of a bird that was on a neighbor’s maple tree digging for ants and grubs.

Territory: Pileated Woodpecker’s territory ranges from eastern North America to the Gulf coast, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast.

Migration: Pileated Woodpeckers are year round residents of their territories.

Food: Pileated Woodpeckers eat insects, carpenter ants, wood-boring beetle larvae and to a lesser extent fruits, and nuts. They often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects

 

Pyrrhuloxia – Cardinalis sinuatus

pyrrhuloxia

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