Tag Archives: downy woodpecker

Bird watching a(nother) snowstorm

White-throated Sparrow close up

One White-throated Sparrow.

More big snow yesterday. What else was there to do but watch birds?

Anyway, it was one of my two counting days per week for Project Feederwatch.

FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

White-breasted Nuthatch

One White-breasted Nuthatch.

I bet there are two that visit our feeders, I just didn’t see them at the same time on Sunday or Monday.

Mourning Dove

Subtly beautiful colors, a Mourning Dove.

I like their calmness, as the other birds flit and flap. The most I saw at once: 7.

Downy Woodpecker male

A male Downy Woodpecker, black and white with a little red cap.

In two days I counted 96 individual birds of 19 species. Three downies, one male and two females.


Five Tufted Titmice in total, but with the definite impression I am missing some as they move so quickly. Although not quickly enough for the snow. This is the first time I noticed snow building up on some birds! What a February we are having. And today is only the 10th.

Purple Finch Valentine

A little birdie Valentine: Purple Finch.

The state bird of New Hampshire looks lovely in snow. I counted two males yesterday.


The pestiferous though kinda pretty European Starling.

At one point there were 9 in the birch trees watching the feeders, as I stood on the other side of the sliding glass door and watched them. They are spooked by people, still, but I bet they will learn fast to ignore us.

They seem to eat anything but especially like my homemade suet dough. So do the bluebirds – who are not afraid of me. I scared the starlings away a few times so the bluebirds could eat too. I may need to consider a special starling-excluding feeder if I get too many of them.

This week’s Project Feederwatch totals…

Mourning Dove 7
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 5
Black-capped Chickadee 10
Tufted Titmouse 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Eastern Bluebird 6
European Starling 9
American Tree Sparrow 12
White-throated Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 12
Northern Cardinal 13
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Purple Finch 2
Pine Siskin 1
American Goldfinch 5

Flickr album: February 9 snowstorm birds

Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow, with its rusty-red buzzcut hairdo.

Steve Grinley: Bird Feeders Help Birds Survive, and Breed Successfully

It has been a harsh winter here in New England and feeding birds can certainly help them survive. Birds that have stayed the winter or migrated from further north to feast on natural seeds and fruit in our area will be finding that the winter supply of natural food is being depleted. Our resident birds appreciate the added handout that feeders provide. In addition to the nourishment that bird seed and suet provide, the birds expend less energy and burn less fat, helping them to survive the cold. A number of birds that don’t normally stay the winter or that may be here accidentally and are not used to New England weather are particularly helped by seed and suet at feeders.

There’s a woodpecker in my kitchen

indoor bird

Bird in hand.

Yesterday I was having a bowl of turkey noodle soup for lunch, looking at photos I took in the morning of two snowy owls, when I heard the thump of a bird hitting the sliding glass door… followed by an even louder thump I recognized as the cat hitting the glass from the other side.

On the deck, a stunned female Downy Woodpecker. (The cat was fine. Physically.) I think a hawk chased the bird into the window. I have seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk swooping around in the backyard for a few days and our door has reflective decals on it.

I carefully picked her up. She had just a few small down feathers floating off her and seemed otherwise whole and possibly okay. This is not the first time I have seen a window-stunned bird: Common Grackle in my hand. I brought her inside briefly to retrieve my camera.

downy woodpecker

She was warm and soft and lovely to hold. Can I keep her??

The cat was twining around my ankles and the dog sticking his nose into the situation. So I put her outside on the seed tray, in sunlight.

seed tray

She remained in that catatonic bird state for about three minutes. Then she revived and hopped over to the suet. All better!


I bet woodpeckers have hard little noggins.

Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Brain Damage? …a woodpecker’s skull is built to absorb shock…

The lives and livelihoods of these birds revolve around slamming their heads into things. Whether it wants to get at an insect hiding in bark, excavate a space to build a nest, claim a bit of territory, or attract a mate, the woodpecker has one simple solution: bang its head against a tree trunk at speeds reaching 13 to 15 miles per hour. In an average day, a woodpecker does this around 12,000 times, and yet they don’t seem to hurt themselves or be the least bit bothered by it. This is because, after millions of years of this type of behavior, they’ve evolved some specialized headgear to prevent injuries to their heads, brains, and eyes.

Tiny but tough.

Peanut butter suet dough for birds in cold weather


Ingredients. And in mere minutes…


Homemade suet dough for the birdies. A special treat when the temperature drops.

The recipe is from Julie Zickefoose, natural history writer and artist, via her bird-centric blog.


Melt in the microwave and stir together:
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup lard

In a large mixing bowl, combine
2 cups chick starter
2 cups quick oats
1 cup yellow cornmeal and
1 cup flour

Add melted lard/peanut butter mixture to the combined dry ingredients and mix well.

I made half a batch this morning. Smells pretty good and the dog thinks so too. He thought I was making dog cookies.

titmouse dough

Here is a titmouse pecking away at a lump of it.

It’s better to crumble it a bit more, which I usually do. Easier for small birds and also then bluejays won’t carry off a big nugget of it to stash and horde in their secret bluejay dragon lairs.

I put some in the bluebird bell feeder too, and on the tray feeder. Popular with titmice, chickadees, bluebirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows and cardinals.

I store it in the refrigerator.

All ingredients are available from the grocery store except (unmedicated) chick starter. But it’s important to search it out at a feed store (or order it on Amazon like I did – F.M. Brown’s Encore Natural Chick Starter) to include high quality protein, nutrients and calcium. According to Zickefoose:

Chick starter is an extruded pellet that crumbles easily. It’s formulated to encourage growth and strong bones in young domestic chicks, kind of like puppy chow for birds. It’s got a lot more nutritional oomph than yellow cornmeal, oats, peanut butter or lard.

Tonight: snow and sleet on the way.

Update next morning…

downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker nibbles some dough in the cold rain.

I’m standing right next to Forrest Gump

Downy Woodpecker

Some birds are easier to get close to than others.

I can walk within a few feet of this Downy Woodpecker before he flies away. When he flies, he reminds me of a moth. He flutters around and just sort of ends up somewhere.

You can see he is a male by the red patch on his head. This fellow has a distinctive bit of black mixed into the red.

Downy Woodpecker

Behavior is also a way to identify this particular bird. He seems a bit “touched.” Sort of out of it.

Can individual birds be crazier or dumber than other birds of the same species? Did this one fly into a tree, hit his head and boggle his brains? Is he a woodpecker changeling? Or is he one of the young ones still learning his way around?

In these photos, he is a few feet away from a suet cake. Suet is the preferred food of Downy Woodpeckers in our backyard. But he is clinging to a tube feeder, with perches for the finch-type visitors, and staring at the seed.

Downy Woodpecker

A couple of days ago, I watched this woodpecker (I call him Forrest Gump) cling to the tube feeder in this position absolutely motionless for about 8 minutes.

Can woodpeckers fall asleep with their eyes open? Was he in a trance?

Downy Woodpecker

Forrest Gump is awestruck, lost in the moment.

He is going to need some luck to survive in this backyard, with the Broad-winged Hawk and other predators nearby in the woods. Strange little creature.

The diligent downy

downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker looking down at a suet cake.

When civilized man invaded their territory, the downy woodpecker did not retreat before his advance but accepted as a home the orchards and shade trees with which man replaced the forest. At the present time it builds its nest sometimes within sight from our windows and often in the parks of our large cities. It is one of the best known of our permanent residents.

The ornithologists of a century ago show unanimity in their characterization of the bird. Audubon (1842) remarks that it “is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity”; Wilson (1832) says that “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity, perseverance” and speaks of a pair of the birds working at their nest “with the most indefatigable diligence”; and Nuttall (1832) characteristically shares Wilson’s opinion even to the extent of employing his exact words, “indefatigable diligence,” in his own account of the building of the nest. Nearly a hundred years later Forbush (1927), when near the end of his long life, put his seal of approval upon this sentiment, expressed long ago, by summarizing the downy as a “model of patient industry and perseverance.”

Backed by these authorities we may regard the downy woodpecker as a bird with a stable and well-balanced nature, a bird which, unconcerned by the rush and traffic “of these most brisk and giddy-paced times,” still perseveres in its “indefatigable diligence.” – Winsor Marrett Tyler, 1939 Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 174: 52-68 (LINK)

The woodpecker says wake. wake.

Downy Woodpecker

5:45 a.m. Three days in a row. The Downy Woodpecker sits on the porch rail outside our bedroom window and calls a sharp, loud, one note call:




Listen to Downy Woodpecker sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It sounds like a distress call. It is impossible to sleep through. I peek through the wooden blinds and the bird is looking at the house, at the window, at me.

I roll out of bed and go carry the suet feeders, tube feeders and bell feeder, which are stored inside overnight because of raccoon banditry, back out to the porch.

The piercing one-note call stops. Now the chorus of ordinary morning birdsong carries no special message for Bird Food Lady.

Downy Woodpecker female

Our most popular and successful back porch suet cake here at Amy’s Early Bird Diner: Feathered Friend High Energy Suet from our local Agway.

(Top photo is a male downy, bottom is a female. Males have a red patch on their noggins, females do not.)