Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Doo, Doo, Doo, Looking Out My Backdoor IX: Other Visitors

Two species of woodpeckers are regular visitors to our feeder. One is the red-bellied woodpecker shown here. This is a female. On the male, the red extends all the way from the base of the bill to the nape of the neck without the gray gap you see here.  This is a good picture of the tail feathers which are specialized on woodpeckers. The two longer outer feathers are much stiffer and are used by the birds as a brace as they climb up the trunks of trees. Notice how the inner tail feathers are rounded so that when the edge of the feathers are placed against a tree it more or less matches the curve of the tree, increasing the tail's strength.

The downy woodpecker is the other regular woodpecker visitor to our feeder. This is a male, easily recognized by the red patch of feathers on it's crown. We include a special mix of fruits, seeds and nuts specifically to attract the woodpeckers. It looks so good, I'm tempted to try it!

This is a female downy. Most birds have three toes facing forward and one facing backward.  Woodpeckers, because their specialty is climbing tree trunks, have a two toe forward, two toe back arrangement.  (See the wren and junco below also.) The bristly feathers around the base of the bill help to keep wood chips from striking them in the eye as they dig holes in trees.

Wrens aren't big seed eaters, but they visit the feeder every now and then. They love peanuts, but they are not really equipped for eating them. They can't swallow peanuts whole and have to eat them in smaller pieces, so they have to break it up first - and there's the rub. When they strike a peanut with that pointy bill, it will go spinning off in all directions. It is comical to watch.

The Dark-eyed Junco is commonly known as a "snowbird" and with good reason.  When they migrate, they will use the winds associated with a storm front (often a snowstorm) to help them conserve energy while they move long distances. So, in many years, they arrive at the same time as the first snows of winter. Except this year, they arrived locally very early and there has been a flock around here since early November. I don't know that I have ever seen them on the feeder, but they like to associate with other birds around the feeder and they all use each other as a warning system. If you look carefully, you can discern a white edge along the tail. They have a white feather on each side of the tail that become very prominent when they fly, making them fairly easy to identify.

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