Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Downy Woodpeckers

We have always thought that our yard was good for the birds with plenty of food and cover and even places for them to nest.  We have left the vines and shrubs to get a little out of hand but with a steady flow of birds in and out we always convince ourselves that it is beneficial to the birds and us not to be too neat.  Many times during the summer we are rewarded with a group of young birds feeding in the yard.  Maybe a handful of chickadees sitting in the tree with the parents shuffling back and forth from the feeder.  The young ones crying out "feed me, feed me."  Or the robins walking around in the grass with the adult showing the pale young how to grab and tug on a worm.  But this summer is the first time we have found multiple nests in and around the yard.  First there were the Mourning Doves nesting by the front door.  Followed soon by Robins in the tree out front. And this past week we found too busy nests.

As my wife was taking some garden waste to the compost bins she heard the insistent, high-pitch whine of nestlings.  She couldn't pinpoint the noise but it seemed to be coming from a neighbor's tree just across the property line.  So a little while later when I walked by she took me back there to hear them.  We scanned the trees with our binoculars and found a likely branch full of five different holes.  Then in came an adult Downy Woodpecker and stuck its head into one of the holes.  The kids went wild.  The father soon followed, waiting his turn to feed a morsel to the kids.
Pair of Downy Woodpeckers returning with food for their young.

The adults flew off and we waited.  Several minutes passed before we decided we needed to return to our garden work.  Surely the babies would be there for a while.  Later in the afternoon I returned with camera in tow to capture the excitement. I didn't have to wait long until momma bird returned with an insect in hand, or bill I should say.  Again, dad was right behind her.  The first would fly in to the broken off tip of the branch and then work their way down to the nest hole.  As soon as they departed from the tip, the other would land.  The second adult would move part was down the branch before pausing while the first adult feed the children.  As soon as the food was gone the first adult would leave and be replaced by the second.  The nestling's whining never stopped.

After a few more visits, the male slipped into the hole after feeding the kids.  He stayed inside for a minute or two before departing with a fecal sack that he dropped in the yard (yuck!).  About half an hour later the male again slipped into the nest hole.  this time he was inside for several minutes.  The female returned twice with food.  I guess it had become so crowded that the baby had to stick its head part way out to get the food.
Young Downy Woodpecker reaching out for food.
Finally, after the female had left the branch the male peered out to see what was going.  After checking the scene out a few times he flew off, again with a fecal sack in tow.

It has been a week since these picture and we can still hear the young calling from their hole.  According to All About Birds, Downys take 18-21 days to fledge. So maybe there is another week or two to wait. It would be wonderful if I happened to be back there when they leave the nest.  But what are the chances they do that on a non-work day?

Be sure to visit Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday for more fabulous bird stories and pictures.

8 comments:

  1. This is so interesting to me as I have a Downy coming to my feeder, the nest is farther off some where ....you got some great shots and thanks for all the info...hope you get to see the fledge!! I will put in my Downy next week for W at ABC. cheers.

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    1. We seldom seen Downys at the feeder during the summer. I think it that we can only put out Safflower seed due to squirrels and raccoons. But in the winter they'll come to the suet feeder.

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  2. This weekend while I was up north for a dragonfly gathering we had a yellow-bellied sapsucker nesting in a tree cavity similar to this near our cabin. Nice pics. Thanks for participating in this weeks Tuesday Tweets.

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  3. Downy's are fun and it's great to see them in pairs!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  4. Great photos and a very interesting post. I hope you can see the young ones when they get ready to fly.

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    1. I just went out this evening and didn't hear or see them so maybe they have fledged. Hopefully we will see them around the yard soon.

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  5. Downies are such sweet little woodpeckers! It's exciting to have a nest to watch.

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    1. I was excited. Especially since I had seen a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches excavating a hole in another tree nearby but never saw them nesting. The Downy's are a good replacement.

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