Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Harry's Journal: Entry #4 (Diahoga Trail Woodpeckers)

The Susquehanna River is high, but that doesn't seem to concern woodpeckers who are building nests along the river's banks. Why would it? When you can make a home and find breakfast well above the flood-line, it's hukuna-matata. I enjoyed my morning walk along the Diahoga Trail in Athens between the water treatment plant and Riverfront Park. 

The hairy woodpeckers, whom I've named Harry and Sally, have been drumming in different parts of the forest out of each other's range of sight but within hearing distance of each other. I'm not quite sure what's going on there. I can't tell if there's an attraction, or if it's something of a mutual tolerance. I had thought that finding a bird of the same species and opposite sex was all that Harry needed to do, but I wonder if the same may be true for woodpeckers as it is with people; a perfectly compatible mate may be off-putting or even repulsive to our senses, and so finding that perfect someone feels like finding a needle in a haystack even if there are "a lot of fish in the sea."

A pair of downy woodpeckers whom I've named Lois and Clark were observed foraging very close to each other, and occasionally producing muffled chattery vocalizations. I haven't seen a nest built yet, but today I watched them drive a red-bellied woodpecker away from a tree with a lot of  old downy-sized nest cavities. 

There are two different male red-bellied woodpeckers carving nest cavities, one near the edge of the cornfield and the other at the north tip of  Beaver Island. The nest building at Beaver Island started one week ago and the red-bellied woodpecker I'm calling Fred finally reached the point where his entire body fits inside.  Watching his activities reminds me of the pressures and challenges woodpeckers are facing this time of year. Fred would spend about 15 minutes excavating, then go to a hollow branch nearby and then rattle off some drumming calls to declare his territory. After that he'd spend about another 15 minutes foraging in the forest a bit north of his nest hole, and then it'd be back to excavating. 

The Springtime presents significant challenges for woodpeckers and other birds. They have to build a nest, defend a territory, attract a mate, and find dinner. It is a stressful time.

I'm concerned about the abundance of starlings that have been hanging around Fred's nest site. He's already had to ward off a trio of starlings once while I was watching yesterday. He defended his site with courage and boldness using his beak like a knight's sword and spreading his wings like a cape to appear bigger. There should be enough old woodpecker holes from previous years for the starlings to occupy, but they can be bullies, so we shall see. I'm rooting for Fred, and hoping he finds his Wilma soon.

That's all for now.

Beaver Island (Fred at nest cavity circled in yellow)

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