Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ferruginous Hawk?

This morning, still hoping for some unusual birds driven down the mountain by yesterday's blizzard, I've been working on ways to feed small birds closer to the a way to deter the blasted starlings and Red-winged blackbirds which seem to desimate all feeders in minutes.

I don't mind the big Black-billed magpies at all, and have a special flat-bed feeder where I toss up kibbled dog food and peanutes in the shell, along with smaller nuts and fruits that chickadees and Blue jays seem to like, too. While the starlings will polish off several entire suet-cakes in a day, the magpies apprently find it difficult to hang their big selves from the little cages. At any-rate, they prefer the dog-food, which the starlings apparently find too big to handle.

I like helping the magpies out; they're beautiful birds which were seriously affected by West Nile Disease. Besides, I'm on a mission now, having discovered a friend shoots them! Yes, he believes it's okay because he says they're preditors and a rancher can kill preditors. [sigh] I suspect he doesn't really hang them dead, upside down by one leg, to scare off others of their kind; but he'd like to. He says they peck out the eyes and soft tissue under the hooves of newborn calves, making it impossible for them to stand. I've seen one eat a mouse, but never attack a cow; but then, I'm no rancher. In my mind, this is just another reason to keep Livestock Guardian Dogs. LGDs, like my Zeus, run off preditors...including Magpies. He hates 'em and believes they do not belong around our feeders. Yes, LGDs will even protect chickens, if that's their charge.

Anyway, while messing around with suet cages so that the woodpeckers will get half a chance at them, I happened to see a very large, white 'blob' high up in the trees. I generally don't wear my glasses around the house, and so had to grab the binoculars...and then hurried out with my little camera. I'm fairly sure this is a Ferruginous Hawk. Last year, about this time, I'd seen what I thought might be one, they're HUGE, but it turned out, apparently, to be a smaller Swainson's Hawk. You can see that story here.

This time, however, I notice that the 'bib', so evident on a Swainson's is lacking here. The bird has a dark head and very light breast. It even seems to have the more rounded tail, at rest, than did the Swainson's. I wonder what you think? I'm sorry to say I scared it off with my photographing, and as I saw it get ready to fly, I tried for a last shot...and didn't make it; no sighting of long, feathered legs. Dammit. Still, having said all this and then reading what Wiki has to say about the big bird and seeing the photos there...I'm lost. The bird today didn't seem as large as the bird last time (which I thought was HUGE), but I am getting confused with all the different morphs and photographs of the birds while young. I wounder if the bird last time was a young Ferruginous. [big sigh]

Still, staying on the lookout, I just saw the tiny little, tan-variety White-throated Sparrow again. Cool, huh?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Turkey Vultures are back!

Yup, on the way to work yesterday morning, March 26th, their tree was half full of the big guys. I always like to see 'em...unusual as they are. I suppose we're lucky they don't mess with our cars, like some are wont to do. Last year they appeard here April 1st, nearly a week later.

Our favorite lunch spot, the Ryus Bakery, is hosting a Hat Contest tomorrow...a 'Vulture-hat Contest' celebrate their return. Way cool! Winner gets a free lunch.

The other morning I also had a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks visit for just a few minutes and a neighbor said she had a flock of 50 Cedar Waxwings, though I've never seen 'em in my yard.

This morning, as it continues to snow (our first blizzard of the year) I've been mobbed by starlings...dammit. Of course, Red-winged Blackbirds are also here, but I've not seen another Yellow-headed one. I did, however, see a bronzed Common Grackle...first of the year. Sadly, no more Rosy Finches and still not a single Cassin's or Purple Finch, either. Mostly have Siskins, Am. Goldfinch and Juncos.

With over 50 voracious starlings and another 50 or more blackbirds here (not to mention a couple dozen Eurasian Doves), some birds are uneasy to compete at feeders. I have pairs of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, but only the Northern Flickers will compete with the blasted starlings. While I've not seen nuthatches in months, nor Mountain Chickadees, two or three Black-capped sweeties come regularly. Oh, and the Magpies like peanuts, too! I love the big corvids...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hermit Thrush - Catharus guttatus

Last year, I received some help identifying a little brown bird (LBBs, as such birds are often called.) With the help from you, dear readers, I was finally able to discern that the (really bad) photos I was able to get of my LBB, were photos of a Hermit Thrush.

Today, having found several lovely photos that I'm allowed to share here, I thought I'd write a bit about this rather shy little bird. Perhaps this research will help me find another!

While I saw the bird in early October, I’ve just discovered it is likely to be migrating (though it is not much of a migrator, actually) through Colorado about now, and I am more often to find it in the summertime.

Thrushes include bluebirds, Solitaires, robins, and the Veery. These birds are mostly medium-sized and known for their power of song. Thompson III tells us the brown-spotted thrushes (including our Hermit Thrush) are world class singers: “Their flutelike songs are produced by a complex system of syringeal muscles that are able to create multiple notes simultaneously. These rich vocalizations, which have inspired naturalists and poets for centuries, have evolved to be heard in the thick vegetation of woodland habitats where these thrushes breed.”

These birds are fairly common and widespread but, as its name implies, this species is inconspicuous and quiet; spending much of its time on or near the forest floor. They can be hard to find.


While a highly variable species in color and size, Hermit Thrushes are mainly brown on the upperparts with reddish tails and have the familiar white-dark-white under wing pattern characteristic of Catharus thrushes. These thrushes have white or pale under parts with dark spots on the breast and grey or brownish flanks. The Hermit Thrush has pink legs and feet, a distinct white eye ring and a bill which is pale at the base with a black tip. The upperparts are generally olive-brown or grey-brown (dependent on where it lives; East or West, respectively) with a contrasting, Rufus tail. It cocks its tail up quickly and lowers it slowly and frequently flicks its wings. A distinguishing feature is the reddish rump with longer uppertail-coverts that contrast distinctly with remaining upperparts. This color blends into that Rufus tail.

Its body is rather slender, feet are somewhat long. The bill is dark brown, yellowish towards the base of the lower mandible, and with a black tip. There are a few, longish bristles at the base of its upper mandible. Wings are of ordinary length; its tail is short and even.

Its flight is swift and direct. As the birds moves a short distance, it flies low over the ground and in a gliding manner. Then it hops with the same movement as the American Robin. It may hover briefly over prey.

The Hermit Thrush is more often heard than seen.


  • Size: 6-7 inches ~ smaller than a robin
  • Wingspan: 10-11 inches
  • Weight: 0.81-1.31 ounces
  • Small to medium-sized thrush
  • Brown back, reddish rump and tail
  • Dark spots on breast
  • Thin, white eye ring
  • Bill pale at base of lower mandible, tip black
  • Pink legs and feet
  • Cocks tail up and flicks wings frequently; lifts tail up quickly, lowers it slowly

  • Eastern and northern birds more reddish with olive-brown upperparts, larger and grayer in West; intermediate along Pacific Coast
  • Sexes are similar and immature birds are like adults

Except during winter, this Thrush prefers the darkest, most swampy, and most secluded of habitat. The Hermit Thrush breeds within deciduous, mixed and coniferous forests, favoring internal forest edges of Canada, Alaska and the northeastern and western United States. It winters in the dense, moist cover of the woody growth in both forests and woodlands in the southern US and south to Central America.

Deciduous woodlands and thickets are favored during migration and winter.

While they usually breed only in forests, this thrush will sometimes winter in parks and wooded, suburban neighborhoods. The Hermit Thrush is the only member of its genus to spend the winter in North America.

This is a short distance migrant which migrates at night.

Populations continent-wide are increasing slightly, perhaps because while this bird is subject to the usual enemies such as snakes, foxes, weasels and skunks, as well as some hawks and owls, domestic cats which are so destructive to birds that nest near humans are less a factor for Hermit Thrush, as this bird usually nests in more remote areas which are seldom visited by cats. Also, few birds are more heroic in resisting attacks on their brood. They are capable of creating quite a ruckus over the presence of marauders, which invariably attracts other birds of the vicinity, adding a veritable chorus of protests. The parent birds dive and dart fearlessly, sometimes venturing so close that their wings strike the intruder. This hubbub usually is successful in driving the enemy to cover.


The Hermit Thrush's song, considered by many to be the most beautiful song of any North American bird, is ethereal and flute-like, constructed from a descending musical phrase repeated at different pitches. Outside their breeding range they may occasionally be heard in the late spring, before the birds head north to nest. They often sing from a high open location. Most earlier ornithologists were are unfamiliar with the Hermit Thrush as an accomplished singer; sadly, one must find this bird where it nests, for as it moves on migration it seldom sings.

The song of this thrush is a melodious, fluty warble, not unlike wind chimes. While mostly on one pitch, starting with a clear whistled note followed by two or three higher, twirling phrases. Each phrase, delivered at different pitches, begins with a single, ethereal, flutelike note. Listen here, here or here.

On a page, sounds are rendered as oh, holy holy-ah, purity puriety-eeh, sweetly sweetly. The call most often used in an aggressive context is a sharp chuch: chup, quirk, or tchup…often repeated and sometimes written as tuk-tuk-tuk. When a pair meets near their nest, both give soft, pweet, peet calls. The flight call, often heard during its nocturnal migration, is a clear, plaintive heee.

The exquisite song of this modest bird of the northern woodlands has captivated the affections of a host of bird lovers. It has inspired naturalists and poets for centuries; including Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, Amy Clampitt, Henry Van Dyke and T.S. Elliot.

In his Catalogue of Birds of New Brunswick, M. Chamberlain (1882) described his impressions of the song of the hermit thrush as he heard as follows:

The music of the Hermit never startles you; it is in such perfect harmony with the surroundings it is often passed by unnoticed, but it steals upon the sense of an appreciative listener like the quiet beauty of a sunset. Very few persons have heard him at his best. To accomplish this you must steal up close to his forest sanctuary when the day is done, and listen to the vesper hymn that flows so gently out upon the hushed air of the gathering twilight. You must be very close to the singer or you will lose the sweetest and most tender pathetic passages, so low are they rendered--in the merest whispers. I cannot, however, agree with Mr. Burroughs that he is more of an evening than a morning songster, for I have often observed that the birds in any given locality will sing more frequently and for a longer period in the morning than in the evening. I prefer to hear him in the evening, for there is a difference; the song in the morning is more sprightly--a musician would say "has greater brilliancy of expression"--and lacks the extreme tenderness of the evening song, yet both have the same notes and the same "hymn-like serenity." The birds frequently render their matinal hymns in concert and the dwellers in a grove will burst out together in one full chorus, forming a grander "Te Deum"--more thrilling--than is voiced by surpliced choir within cathedral walls. On one occasion an Indian hunter after listening to one of these choruses for a time said to me, "That makes me feel queer." It was no slight influence moved this red-skinned stoic of the forest to such a speech.


This species is a terrestrial or bush gleaning omnivore. On breeding grounds, takes mostly animal matter, especially insects and other small invertebrates, amphibians, and small reptiles. On migration and in winter, diet supplemented by wide variety of fruits. Generally, thrushes forage on the ground by watching for movement and digging in leaf litter.

During the summer, this thrush forages on the forest floor. Its movement is much like a robin; breast almost to the ground, tail raised a bit, wings drooping it hops and then runs a few steps and stops, its head erect and cocked as it looks and listens.

This thrush also lifts dead leaf litter in bill and tosses it aside to expose ground and foot-quivering (using feet to shake and scare insects out of clumps of dead or newly regenerating grasses) has been observed.

In the winter time, thrushes add equal parts fruit to the insects, feeding in trees and shrubs, adding buds and berries to its diet.


Their nest is a bulky, open cup of grasses, leaves, mosses, twigs, rootlets, hair, mud, and lichens, lined with fine rootlets, fine grasses, hair, moss, bark, and willow catkins. on the ground or relatively low in a tree. The interior dimensions of the nesting bowl are about 2 3/4 inches across by 2 inches deep. The nest a placed on ground, or low in small trees. Oddly, east of the Rockies it usually nests on the ground while in the West it is more likely to nest in trees...though generally not higher than six to eight feet.

Two to five eggs make up a clutch. Eggs are ovate or elongate-ovate and a plain greenish-blue or light-blue with occasional, sparse, brown flecks or spots. Incubation is 11-13 days; chicks fledge in 11-12 days. The number of broods per year may be as high as 2-3, in the south.

Interesting Facts

  • The Hermit Thrush is the state bird of Vermont
  • A group of thrushes are collectively known as a "hermitage" and a "mutation" of thrushes.
  • The hermit thrush is the hardiest member of its group, for it is the first to arrive in spring and the latest to leave in autumn.
  • This bird has been called the Ground Swamp Robin

Photos from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's Been a Year!

I recently realized I've been actively bird watching for a year now...and blogging about it for just as long. I've 160 posts and sixty birds actually seen in my yard! I have to say, however...I look forward to seeing a few only pure laziness must prevent me from noticing. They are here and there is no reason I've not noticed a Brown Creeper, Bushtits, Catbirds, Thrashers, and more wrens, warblers and sparrows. I'm getting better; I'll find em!

I've also been working on my yard and have continued the turf-wars. I'm committed to removing large swaths of lawn and planting much less water-needy native shrubs and trees that will also feed birds, bees and butterflies...not to mention attract benificial insects. I'm also more than a little aware native plants take less care in general...and that saves both my time and my back. LOL

Once, I created a bit of a hubbub by posting a photograph of what appeared to be a female Caliope early May. That raised some 'rare' bird alert; apparently they just don't show up that part of the year!

I've had bigger birds visit too; Wild Turkey, Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed Hawks and for a few days Turkey Vultures roosted in my front yard. They didn't like me wandering around pointing a camera at them, however...and moved down the street
(I'm happy to say.)

I've had a few interesting fly-overs, not the least of which were Sandhill Cranes. I heard them before I saw them and recognizing their chatter when I finally looked straight up. They were flying quite high, which says something to that chatter; I'd not have noticed them except for recognizing their voice. I saw several; in a large check-mark in the sky. It was thrilling.

At any rate, I thought I'd finally post my complete list (so far) of Yard-birds:
  1. Wild Turkey
  2. Cooper’s Hawk
  3. Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  5. Swansion’s Hawk
  6. Great Horned Owl
  7. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  8. Rock Pigeon
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. White-winged Dove
  11. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  12. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  13. Calliope Hummingbird
  14. Rufous Hummingbird
  15. Downy Woodpecker
  16. Hairy Woodpecker
  17. Northern Flicker
  18. Black Phoebe
  19. Western Wood-Pewee
  20. Blue Jay
  21. Steller’s Jay
  22. Black-billed Magpie
  23. American Crow
  24. Common Raven
  25. Black-capped Chickadee
  26. Mountain Chickadee
  27. White-breasted Nuthatch
  28. Bewick’s Wren
  29. American Robin
  30. Hermit Thrush
  31. European Starling
  32. House Sparrow
  33. American Redstart
  34. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  35. Yellow Warbler
  36. Song Sparrow
  37. White-crowned Sparrow
  38. White-throated Sparrow
  39. White-throated Sparrow – tan
  40. Dark-eyed Junco (all five)
  41. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  42. Black-headed Grosbeak
  43. Lazuli Bunting
  44. Red-winged Blackbird
  45. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  46. Brewer’s Blackbird *
  47. Common Grackle
  48. Great-tailed Grackle
  49. Brown-headed Cowbird
  50. Bullock’s Oriole
  51. Western Tanager
  52. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
  53. Black Rosy-Finch
  54. Brown-capped Rosy-Finch
  55. Purple Finch
  56. Cassin’s Finch
  57. Evening Grosbeak
  58. Pine Siskin
  59. Lesser Goldfinch
  60. American Goldfinch

  61. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  62. Sandhill Crane
  63. Canada Goose
  64. Geese (species)
  65. Ducks (species)
  66. Gulls (species)
  67. Swift (species)
  68. Bats (species)...oh, sorry

* = ID not confirmed
Italics = Flyovers

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Woodpecker Series Part IV - Lewis's Woodpecker

The Lewis's Woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis, is the medium-sized bird, named for Meriwether Lewis, one of the first men who surveyed, mapped and explored the areas bought by the United States of America during the Louisiana Purchase.

Lewis described the new bird he found as he camped in the vicinity of modern Kamiah, Idaho, on the Clearwater River:
"The Black woodpecker which I have frequently mentioned and which is found in most parts of the roky Mountains as well as the Western and S. W. Mountains, I had never an opportunity of examining untill a few days since when we killed and preserved several of them. This bird is about the size of the lark woodpecker or the turtle dove, tho' it's wings are longer than either of those birds.

The beak is black, one inch long, reather wide at the base, somewhat curved, and sharply pointed; the chaps are of equal length. Around the base of the beak including the eye and a small part of the throat is of a fine crimson red. The neck and as low as the croop in front is of an iron grey. The belly and breast is a curious mixture of white and blood red which has much the appearance of having been artificially painted or stained of that colour. The red reather predominates.

The top of the head back, sides, upper surface of the wings and tail are black, with a glossey tint of green in a certain exposure to the light. The under side of the wings and tail are of a sooty black. It has ten feathers in the tail, sharply pointed, and those in the centre reather longest, being 2-1/2 inches in length. The tongue is barbed, pointed, and of an elastic cartelaginous substance. The eye is moderately large, puple black and iris of a dark yellowish brown.

This bird in it's actions when flying resembles the small redheaded woodpecker common to the Atlantic states; its note also somewhat resembles that bird. The pointed tail seems to assist it in seting with more eas or retaining its resting position against the perpendicular side of a tree. The legs and feet are black and covered with wide imbricated [overlapping] scales. It has four toes on each foot of which two are in rear and two in front; the nails are much curved long and remarkably keen or sharply pointed. It feeds on bugs worms and a variety of insects.

Personally, I find this bird stunning and feel blessed that they congrigate and nest in the big cottonwoods by the nearby river. For all the spelling errors (found by my spellchecker, not by me!) I throughly concur with this rather poetic discription. Lewis’s Woodpecker is a uniquely dark-colored woodpecker with long wings and tail. Its slow wing-beat-and-glide, while chasing flying insects, results in a complex flight pattern. Lewis's is the common woodpecker of mountain ranchlands, and some ranchers call it the "Crow Woodpecker" because of its dark color, large size, and slow flight. Meriwether Lewis also mentioned that his woodpecker "flys a good deal like the jay bird," but after more observations of flight and vocalization, later said the bird reminded him of the Red-headed Woodpecker of Virginia.

This is one of the largest American Woodpecker (some ten-inches long) with blackish-green upperparts; a prominent silvery-gray collar and upper breast, a dark red face with pinkish or salmon-red lower breast and belly. Though males are slightly larger, individuals cannot be sexed reliably without examination in the hand. Juvenile lacks red face and collar, and has less red on belly. The bird is generally silent in flight.

It’s a shame that, before the field guides by Roger Tory Peterson…the only way to ‘discover’ a bird was to shoot and then handle it. Our current Christmas Bird Count has its roots in the Christmas Day practice of contests involving who could shoot the greatest number of birds! As a matter of fact, even the concept of The Big Year, a year-long bird count, has it’s roots in Audubon’s great birding adventure where his quest was to paint a life-size portrait of every bird in the New World.

Unfortunately, to paint a bird required heavy sacrifice; to complete a single drawing, Audubon had to shoot and kill whole flocks of birds just to select the one or two birds with the best plumage. He then treaded wire into the carcasses and posed them as if they were still alive and painted watercolors that were big, bold and remarkably animated. While he was a sharpshooter and hunter, Audubon abhored the thought of extirpation. He warned about killing just because one could; like buffalo and the great auk, creatures were on the verge of disappearing forever. When Audubon died, a student of his wife’s, also agast at senseless wildlife killings, created the first bird preservaton group and named it in honor of Mr. Audubon. Happily, that practice of shooting birds on Christmas Day came to an end and counting, instead, became the Annual Contest.

Lewis's Woodpeckers enjoy a close association with open-canopy forests like ponderosa pine, riparian woodlands dominated by cottonwood, and burned pine forests. However, this has made the woodpecker susceptible to habitat loss and degradation and such areas disappear from our lands. As a result, the species may have experienced up to a 60% population reduction in less than the last fifty years.

This woodpecker can be particularly aggressive in defending winter food-stores. Territoriality can be intra- and interspecific. This can occur in summer, in defense of area in vicinity of nest cavity, as well as in late fall and winter in defense of acorn or nut stores.

While they generally appear to dominate interaction with the European Starling, the population of Lewis's Woodpeckers has been reduced by the arrival of starlings, which compete for nest sites. They were formerly fairly common in western areas, in burned forests and in open prairies with scattered trees, but with development and fire suppression, along with the invasion of starlings, they have been extirpated as a breeding species from some areas. I see evidence of this in the nearby woods where I see starlings as well as the woodpeckers. Thus far, they seem to be hanging in there, at least in my neighborhood.

There is little data, but all reported predators of this woodpecker are birds, with successful predation by Red-tailed Hawk and the American Kestrel, which is reported to prey heavily on juveniles soon after young leave nest. In Utah, one took half a single brood as fledglings as they climbed up nest tree for the very first time. During a winter in Colorado, a lucky Lewis’s was witinessed surving attack by both Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, which also prey upon this woodpecker.


As stated, this is a large, unusual-looking woodpecker with dark iridescent greenish-black back, wings and tail with rather pink undersides and a gray upper breast and collar with a red face rimmed in black which covers the head. Keep in mind, iridescent feather color is dependent upon light; colors can appear to be quite different, even as a bird moves about. I have observed the bird appearing too dark, nearly black, to be this woodpecker…only to have it move about a branch and suddenly showing me it’s beautiful greens and reds. Bill Schmoker discuses this phenomenon here.

The wings are much broader than those of other woodpeckers, it flies at a much more sluggish pace with slow, but even flaps similar to those of a crow…just as its namesake originally observed. In flight they can often be mistaken for crows.

Juveniles, up to several months from fledgling, also have dark iridecent upper parts, but are mottled brown beneath with dark-brown heads and without the gray collar or red face.

  • Medium-sized woodpecker
  • Head, back, wings and tail greenish-black
  • Silver-gray collar and chest
  • Dark red face
  • Belly pinkish or salmon red
  • Wings and tail all dark greenish-black, without white spots or patches
  • Size: 10-11 inches
  • Wingspan: 19-20 inches
  • Weight: 3.11-4.87 ounces

Lewis’s Woodpeckers prefer open forests of pine or cottonwood, west of the Great Plains, with brushy understoriees, groundcover and snags. Ponderosa forests are preferred at higher elevations, with riparian woodlands dominated by cottonwoods in lower elevations. This bird especially enjoys burned pine forests where it appears more productive for the woodpeckers. Winter sites are usually oak forests or commercial orchards.

Like all other woodpeckers, it requires snags (standing, dead or partly dead trees) for nesting, although it is not anatomically specialized for excavating in wood and the trees it selects for nesting are generally well decayed.

Like many semi-migratory birds, within the northern portions of its breeding range, most individuals move south, but generally it is present throughout the year in many portions of its breeding range. In south-east Colorado, about half the breeding birds were resident; other half migrated to western Colorado. Migratory movements to areas outside of breeding range probably occur annually but vary considerably in magnitude from year to year.


This woodpecker is opportunistic in its feeding habits, eating mostly insects in summer but switching in winter to acorns and other nuts, which it often stores in bark crevices for later consumption. Diet varies with seasonal abundance of food items; primarily free-living (not wood-boring) insects, acorns or other nuts, and fruit. The woodpecker feeds in the air, on tree trunks and branches, in bushes, and on ground. It uses snags, telephone poles, fence posts, and other locations with open view for perches, from which it engages in hawking for insects. It prefers insects older than larval stage, principally ants, bees, wasps, beetles and grasshoppers. Vegetable food includes acorns and cultivated nuts such as almonds, various species of cultivated and wild succulent fruit, including apples, cherries, and peaches, serviceberry, hawthorn, dogwood, elderberry, and sumac. Also corn, (but not other cultivated grains), and wild seeds.

Lewis's Woodpecker seldom excavates wood for boring insects; instead gleaning insects from tree surfaces, starting at base of tree or near trunk and working up or out to smaller branches. It uses visual cues during gleaning rather than auditory cues; or…most commonly, it flycatches. Unusually, for a woodpecker, this one also engages in "nonspecific" or "direct" long-duration foraging flights, sometimes amid swallows and swifts over fields and open water, catching insects with its beak. This species has large gape relative to that of other woodpeckers, a giveaway to flycatching behavior.

Aditionally it harvests acorn, shells it, generally breaks mast into pieces, and stores pieces (or whole meat if unbroken) in a natural crack or cavity. Several woodpeckers may use the same tree for storage, but individuals protect their own cache. Diet varies by season; flying insects make up most of the Lewis's Woodpecker's spring and summer diet. In fall and winter they feed principally on acorns, other nuts, seeds, and fruits.


Unlike most woodpeckers, Lewis's does not peck at wood for food and is seen more often on top of a fence post than clinging to it vertically. As with the Acorn Woodpecker, its main method of getting food is catching flying insects; both species also store acorns and other nuts for winter, and sometimes damage fruit orchards. Unlike other American woodpeckers, it enjoys sitting in the open as opposed to sitting in heavy tree cover.

Generally, this bird is quiet and seldom drums except a bit during breeding season.


Lewis's Woodpecker: Breeds from southern British Columbia and Alberta south to central California, northern Arizona, and northern New Mexico. It spends winters from southern British Columbia and Oregon to Colorado and south to northern Mexico. Open pine-oak woodlands, oak, or cottonwood groves in grasslands, and ponderosa pine country are preferred habitats, especially for breeding. It begins nesting in mid-spring, earliest in the southern and latest in the northern part of its range. Pairs appear to be monogamous and may re-form each year on the same territory, which the male defends with calls, like the rapid "churr." A weak roll followed by several taps, drumming is done only in courtship. A raised wing display flashes the male's pink underparts, to attract his mate and to warn intruders. Nesting is sometimes colonial.

It excavates soft, dead tree trunks and large branches, usually pine or cottonwood, making holes often in as much as two feet deep between chest high and extreme heights. This woodpecker will accept nest boxes similar to those used for the Flicker, Pigmy Owl, Saw-Whet Owl, and Grackle.

The nest is constructed mainly by the male, though both participate; it is lined with wood chips. The female will lay six to eight (more or less) eggs, which are plain white in coloration. Incubation is done by both sexes – the female sitting during the day and the male sitting at night – and lasts approximately 12 days, after which the young will hatch. Naked, blind, and unable to regulate their own temperature, the hatchlings require constant care. The young leave the nest 4 to 5 weeks after hatching. After another week or so of feeding, the family joins flocks of other woodpeckers until winter, when individuals and pairs maintain their own food supplies.

One recent study indicates this species will usurp active cavity nests of Hairy Woodpecker and Western Bluebird. Old nest holes may be used as roosts during all seasons of year.

Young exit nest and explore around nest tree two to three days before leaving nest tree, but do not reenter nest hole. The largest bird (most often the first to hatch) is first to leave, some young may remain in nest for up to two days after first departs. As stated, there can be heavy predation by American Kestrel on recently fledged juveniles

Juveniles remain near nest site for at least ten days. They beg for and receive food from adults during this time. Young follow adults and give begging calls when adults approach with food. In some broods, adults separated after young fledged; each adult took part of brood.

The plumage of youngsters is similar to adult plumage but duller; lacking silver on collar and upper breast, and with only traces of red on face, and feathers of hindneck can have white subterminal spots not present in adult. There may be white spots on tips of outer secondaries and outer primaries. Considerable variation apparent in plumage coloration among juveniles in postbreeding flocks: some individuals are entirely dusky gray and black, others have limited red on facial region, pinkish red on breast, and silvery gray collar.

Interesting Facts

This species is poorly monitored in many parts of its range, but exhibits a significant long-term decline overall. Populations may have declined by as much as
50% since 1966.

The Lewis's Woodpecker seldom, if ever, excavates wood for boring insects. Instead, it gleans insects from the tree surface, or most commonly, flycatches. It spends long periods of time watching for flying insects from the top of a pole or dead tree, and then flies out to catch them in flight; a behavior called ‘hawking’.

A group of woodpeckers has many collective nouns, including a "descent", "drumming", and "gatling" of woodpeckers.


This bird is quiet compared to other woodpeckers, with varied calls that are mainly soft. Sounds include a shrill ‘jeeer’ and chattering; with a squirrel-like series of ‘jee’ notes. Also: "chee-up", "ick-ick-ick" and a series of "churs". Listen to songs of this species here.


The American Natural History by William Temple Hornaday
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America
by David Allen Sibley
Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Ted Floyd
A Field Guide to Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson
The Big Year – A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
by Mark Obmascik

Photos, as noted, from popular Colorado photographer Bill Schmoker
all others from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March Bird Walk and February Totals...

I had a blast on Sunday, in spite of the wind which made things VERY cold! I went on a little birding trip to Lathrop State Park...and stopped later with some of the folks at Lake Maria (a private lake where we had to peer over barbed-wire fencing, quite a ways from the water.) The swans I've seen there before were seen again, but were too far to ID (again)...probably Trumpeters, though, Dave Silverman, an espert birder said. A couple weeks ago, when I was there last, I saw three Bald Eagles, too. Always a thrill! Lake Maria is apparently a staging place for Canvas-backs; there were lots there, too.

At Lathrop, I especially enjoyed seeing the Pintail (first duck-type photo here), Shoveler (silly, I know, but I like 'em; they make me think of Jimmy Durante), Cinnamon Teals are awesome and it was fun to here the peep-peeps of the Green-winged variety (the last picture here.) Way cool! Nobody saw the Rail, or the Wren...but some heard it. The Prairie Falcon circled low, right over-head, so a really good view was had by all; pretty much like the photo here, but without the gloved hand of a bander.

Here is the list of what we found:

Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Swan sp., Northern Harrier, Prairie Falcon, Virginia Rail, Northern Flicker, American Crow, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Bushtit, Bewick's Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, American Robin, European Starling, Spotted Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, House Sparrow.

I'd say it was a Ducky Day!

In my own yard, the February birds included:

White-throated Sparrow - tan variant, (which I discussed here) Rock Pigeon - Checkered variant (dark), American Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Blue Jay, Common Raven, Hairy Woodpecker, European Starling, Northern Flicker - Red-shafted, Downy Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Dark-eyed Junco - Oregon, Pink-sided, Slate and Gray-headed, House Finch - red, yellow and orange variants, White-winged Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove

Photos from Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Dirty Little Story...

This is the story of what happens when I give my dog, Zeus, a bath.

First let me say, he's big...about 30" at the shoulder, so bathing is best done on a warm day...outside.

Zeus does not like baths. He likes smelling like a dog. Thankfully, most of the time he doesn't smell bad, either. Well, unless he's found some really putrid scat to roll in.

But, that was not the case this time. This time, I thought I could bath him to remove some petroleum-based salve I'd put on a couple small hot-spots he had above his hips. The spots have healed, but his long hair remain greasy and yucky to touch...not to mention filthy, in those spots.

So, out come large buckets of warm water and a pitcher with which to pour water over his coat.
Yeah, he's spoiled...but ya know, Colorado water is
C O L D !!! I used baby-shampoo so as not to risk stinging his eyes, and soaped him up good. He was not happy, even though even the rinse was with even more buckets of warm water. I always make sure to get all the soap out. But still, he does not like baths!

Immediately after emptying the last bit of water over his butt and removing the leash I had tied to a stake so he couldn't run away...this is what happens:

I didn't even have time to put the hose away; he'd dug up a patch in the 'lawn' to fine powder and rolled:
and shook,
and rolled again!
I'm not sure he was finished yet...but, this is how he looked
five minutes after his bath:

The cool thing is though, that he has a long, flat outer-coat; when the mud dries and flecks off, looks like this:

Ya know, he does the same thing when he gets skunk-sprayed. He coats his sticky-self in mud and when it dries and flecks off; he's all clean and hardly stinks at all. Really! I can even let him in the house!

Yeah, that's Zeus...the Mighty Dog!

Oh, did I tell you my dog, of ancient Turkish ancestery (he's an Akbash Dog), thinks he's Hispanic? Yeah, I've got to quit stepping outside to call him for dinner: "Yey...Zeus!"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

STOP 'feeding' the ducks!

I found this the other day: Posted January, 2009 by Darren Naish
I don't know about the rest of the world, but in Britain there is a very entrenched tradition of 'feeding the ducks'. People go on walks (usually at the weekend), and they take with them bagfuls of bread (sometimes even whole loaves). They then proceed to throw all the bread in the water. After a while the ducks and other birds at the pond get bored or full, and they stop eating it (see photo, taken over the weekend at Southampton Common's Cemetary Lake). Then more people come and throw in more bread. More people come, and they throw in more bread. Then more, and so on and on. On any given day, the most popular 'duck ponds' are polluted by, literally, kilos of bread.

Feeding ducks and geese has been a pastime for generations, but the more we learn about wild waterfowl, the more we realize how detrimental feeding them is.

Ducks and geese like bread, and will clamor for it much like a child will ask for candy. But bread has no nutritional value for waterfowl, it fills their stomachs up so that they do not eat the foods they need in order to remain healthy. Birds without proper nutrition will quickly succumb to disease and death.

Nutrition is not the only reason we shouldn't feed wild ducks and geese. Feeding ducks causes many problems, for the ducks and for the environment as well. Here are just a coupleof them:

Overcrowding: Where birds are fed, more birds will come, usually leading to a crowded situation. More birds mean more droppings. Excess feces cause water pollution, create an unsanitary environment for human recreation, and lead to the spread of disease in the bird population. As Mr. Naish points out, water quality degrades so much that the pond dies. The most popular 'duck ponds' are all entirely devoid of macroscopic life: no plants except for algae.

Disease: There are documented cases of waterfowl dying from enteritis, aspergillosis, and avian botulism, all due to excess food left floating in the water. These diseases spread quickly throughout populations due to the overcrowded situations that feeding waterfowl causes.

Here are a couple more links to information about 'feeding' ducks. Please, don't do it!