This Thing Called Courage

Monday, June 16, 2008

Downy Dad Feeding Son




JUST IN TIME FOR FATHER'S DAY-- well, actually a day late, I stepped out to my kitchen this evening to begin making supper, and saw a very moving sight-- a Downy Woodpecker male was feeding his fledgling son, a little round puffball. (You can tell the males from the females easily-- the males have a red swatch at the back of their head-- the females lack this.) The father was attached to my suet feeder, which hangs down from the bird feeder, while the fledgling was hanging on to the window screen about ten inches away. After a bit the fledgling plopped down to the porch roof (about two feet down). His dad continued feeding him, breaking off little chucks of suet and carrying them down. The fledgling had probably been flying for only a few days-- he still looked a little shaky on his feet. Then they both flew into the mulberry tree, about twenty feet away.
The mulberry tree is LOADED with fruit this year, and the fruits are about a week away from ripening. Once this happens, that tree becomes a veritable Mecca for all the neighborhood birds. Since it hangs over my back door and back steps, I can sneak out there quietly and eat my breakfast out there, and watch the show. This evening two squirrels were already having at it, scoffing the unripened fruit-- typical! In many bird species, both genders help with the raising of the young, including, obviously, the Downy Woodpecker. I feel so privileged to be able to watch the wildlife here in their unguarded moments. I've been feeding the male and female downy all winter-- nice to know that they have successfully raised a brood in one of the nearby trees.

The second picture shows a downy woodpecker nest-- they excavate this from a standing dead tree (a snag)-- a very time-consuming thing, as the bill of the downy is quite small, compared to other woodpeckers. (The downy is the smallest of North America's woodpeckers.) The female and male take turns excativing, carrying out little bits of chiselled wood in their bills and spitting it out.

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