Friday, January 21, 2011

C-c-c-c-cold! (And look who's back)

It was somewhere between -25 and -29 F. early this morning in Northfield, Minnesota. Up north, -46 F. at International Falls was the coldest reading in 43 years. At about 5:30 a.m. our house made a couple of sharp banging/popping sounds that people on Facebook were calling "cold booms" today; it sounded and felt as if something very heavy were abruptly dropped upstairs. I've lived in the upper Midwest for almost 30 years now but I grew up in much more moderate climes, and it still feels new to me when we get conditions like this. I guess maybe unless you live somewhere like International Falls, you never really get used to it.

The last time we had temperatures almost this cold here in Northfield, I believe, was January 15, 2009.  According to this blog, that morning the temperature was -25, and that was the only time a red-belled woodpecker has ever visited our feeders (to our knowledge)... until this morning!

I was working from home this morning and I kept one eye on the feeders, expecting it might be a particularly busy or interesting morning because of the cold. There was no action at all until after 10 a.m., when I saw our little red squirrel and shortly thereafter a small group of chickadees, a female cardinal, and one pine siskin. (No house finches at all, which is quite unusual.) And then I saw the rare visitor.

The red-bellied woodpecker is a bird of the eastern U.S.; we're not far from the western edge of its range. At 9" long and with a 13-16" wingspan, it's huge compared to our more typical feeder visitors. Below for comparison is a photo of a downy woodpecker (5.5"-6.7" long) and a chickadee (4.5"-5.9") at the same suet feeder earlier in the season.

Photo for size comparison

As you can see in the photos, woodpeckers use their stiffened tails as extra support (usually against a tree, of course) while they excavate.

It's interesting to me that the red-bellied woodpecker has been such a rare visitor. (Of course, it could be visiting regularly on weekdays when we are not usually at home, but we never see it on the weekend and it's not likely that it knows its days of the week quite that well.) I take it to mean it is a very competent forager and can generally manage quite well on, and probably prefers, naturally available foods. But on these numbing, coldest-of-cold days, a little extra help from a local suet feeder is, apparently, quite welcome.


Kelly said...

Wow! Now that's cold. No wonder he showed up for some winter fuel!! Stay warm... :-)

Sue at EcoStrides said...

My house has been making some popping noises too in this cold.

It must have been exciting to see the red-bellied woodpecker so close up!

Mary S. said...

When I was a kid in Minnesota, the house "cracked," as we called it, fairly frequently in severely cold weather. Our house did not do it this week, but it's a newer house and that may be a factor. Great shots of the woodpecker. He's really got his chest puffed up.

RuthieJ said...

They're such pretty woodpeckers, aren't they? I have a female who visits regularly....sometimes she even visits the seed feeders!