Thursday, March 29, 2012

Front Row Seats

Our front porch faces the woods and a little bit of my neighbor's back yard.  He had several trees topped a couple of years ago.  Most of them recovered, but one large one did not.  They removed too much of the top and left too few branches.  I didn't realize how much it has decayed until recently.  I happened to see a mated pair of the red-bellied woodpeckers that call this area home on the tree the other day.  The tree trunk splits into a "Y" at the top and they were chasing each other around one trunk and then the other.

The following day, my attention was drawn to that area because a red-belly spent the entire day in the area calling out.  The fact that it was there for so long was unusual since they are constantly on the move foraging on different trees looking for bugs.  I could hear the bird, but I couldn't locate where it was calling from.

The following day, the same thing occurred.  The red-belly was calling from the same area.  Only this time, I could also hear it thumping slowly on a tree.  Not the fast rat-a-tat sound you hear when they are drilling holes, but a much slower rhythm.  Looking closely to see where the sound was coming from, I spotted the male at the top of the tree I described earlier and he already had a pretty good size hole cut into the top of the tree.  The hole is roughly forty feet up the tree.  Looking at him through binoculars, I discovered how decayed that tree had become.  It had a pretty good growth of fungi around the edge, a sure sign of rotting wood.  I was surprised how close to the top of the tree the bird was building the nest.  I would think that if it rained for any length of time, the water would seep through the punky "roof" and the nest interior would be damp.

He has been at it for a two or three days now, carving out the interior.  You can tell how far along he is by how far into the nest he leans to bang away at the wood.  The wood chips are mostly left in place as nesting material.  The interior has to be pretty roomy, so he has got a lot of work to do yet.  He stops every once in a while and calls out to his mate.  I'm not sure if he is just checking on her, or he would like her to inspect his progress so far.  I haven't seen her come to the tree since the day they were both there.  So it looks like we are going to have front row seats to a nesting pair of red-bellied woodpeckers.  That will be fun to watch.

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