Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Downy Woodpecker Chowing Down

Now that the weather has turned quite cold, we've put out suet in a couple of feeders. On Sunday we saw a female downy woodpecker in several locations -- moving up and down the tree out front, at the log-style suet feeder, and at the cage-style suet feeder. Females are all black-and-white; males have a red spot on the backs of their heads. In many bird species juveniles look like the females, but in this case the juvenile has its own distinctive look, with a red spot on the top (not the back) of the head.

Note the tongue showing in the photo below (click on the photo to see it larger). Have you ever seen a woodpecker's tongue before?

In this next sequence you can see the bird excavating a chunk of suet, using an open-beak approach rather than simply chiseling at the suet with a closed beak.

I don't think the first bird above is the same as the one at the log feeder. There are three dark spots showing on the white left outer tail feather immediately above, which is common but not universal for the downy woodpecker, and you can see a hint of a dark spot on its hard-to-see right outer tail feather. I'm pretty sure the bird in the top photo is also a downy, and I would have thought it was the same bird, but there are no spots on the right outer tail feather.

As Dan Tallman noted in a comment to my August 3 post about hairy woodpeckers, an all-white outer tail feather is a good indication of a hairy, rather than a downy, woodpecker. However, the bird in the top photo did not seem to be the larger size of a hairy, and its beak didn't seem to have the length and heft of a hairy's. So it seems more likely we have two female downy woodpeckers hanging around our feeders.

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