Monday, March 31, 2008

She's back.....

.....but without her mate. The female pileated woodpecker (March 26 post) came back Sunday for a brief visit to one of the suet feeders, but the male wasn't with her. What does this mean? Well, it probably means that they are nesting, but taking turns on the eggs. (In this photo, taken in January, the male is on the right. He has red moustaches along the side of his face, but they're hard to see here.)

My reference book of choice, for all questions relating to woodpeckers, is
Woodpeckers of North America, by Frances Backhouse (Firefly, 2005). According to Backhouse, pileated woodpeckers mate for life and stay close together all year long in their permanent territory. When they nest, they excavate a cavity in a mature tree and the female lays about 4 eggs. The parents take turns on the nest; they may trade off several times a day, but the males always stay on the nest at night. Woodpecker chicks hatch in 10-14 days. They're naked, blind and pretty helpless, but they double their weight in 24-48 hours. (No wonder it takes both parents to keep them fed!) Pileated chicks leave the nest in about 27 days. After the nesting season is over, those old holes are still useful--the woodpeckers don't reuse them, but about 38 species of birds and animals do.

I've filled the suet feeder favored by the pileateds with peanut & berry-flavored suet, everybody's favorite. I hope someday they'll bring the kids by for dinner. Until then, I'm studying my book, a gift from my own mate-4-life, and enjoying their visits.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The hummingbirds are coming!

The hummers are coming! Hummingbirds are making their way north from the south where they've spent the winter. You can see their progress on this site:

For the last couple of weeks, they've been in northern Georgia & Alabama. This weekend, they've moved into Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, and they're not far from Kentucky. They should reach Bloomington, Indiana around April 15, give or take.

It's a long and exhausting journey, and there aren't many nectar plants in bloom just yet. They really benefit from all the feeders people hang from their porches or in flower beds.

Last year, we had many hummingbirds in our yard. They're not shy -- if you stand still near the feeders, they'll buzz around you without paying you much attention. They can be very territorial about feeders, especially the males. Last year, we had one male who chased off every other bird until we put out a second feeder.

In our area, the bird everyone sees is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Mature males have the red throats; females and first-year males are green and white. We make hummingbird nectar as follows: put 1 part white sugar and 4 parts water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cool, and fill the feeders. No need to put red coloring in it, but most feeders are made with red plastic, which helps to attract them.

Hummingbirds are attracted to red or orange flowers, especially those with trumpet-shaped flowers, like honeysuckle. In our garden, the hummingbirds were enthusiastic about my zinnia bed. The photo above was taken in my zinnia bed last September. But the red petunias everybody said would attract them were a bust--I never saw a hummingbird near them, and hardly any butterflies.

It looks as though we'll need to put out feeders in about 2 weeks. I can't wait to see them again!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Signs of Spring

I've never written a blog before, though I've kept a journal for years. I thought it might be fun to put together some of the things I've learned, read, wondered about, gotten mad about, or otherwise encountered. In any case, if you're an actual reader, welcome!

I only see my garden on the weekends. We have 8 bird feeders in the yard, and all week I look forward to watching many types of birds come and go. They perch on the feeders, or in the branches of the pine tree, or on the trunk of our walnut tree. They chase each other through the branches and zoom by the kitchen window. It's like watching a game of musical chairs.

This past weekend, I saw the usual assortment of chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, blue jays, cardinals, house finches, and -- best of all -- woodpeckers. But the big news was the absence of the female pileated woodpecker. For weeks, we've been thrilled to see the male and female coming to the suet feeders together. The male goes to the suet first, while the female waits on the tree trunk below, calling and watching. When he moves up the trunk, she takes his place at the feeder. They may stay for as long as 15 minutes. (And I hang out the kitchen window with the camera for as long as they're here.) But this weekend, he came without her. WHERE IS "MRS. BIG BIRD?" To my ever-hopeful mind, there can be just one explanation: maybe she's on the nest! Pileateds are early nesters-- they can nest as early as February. Last year, the 2 parents and 1 fledgling visited our yard in June. So I can't say for sure, but I imagine her keeping eggs warm somewhere deep in the trees. Perhaps "Mr. Big Bird" is feeding her bits of suet gathered from our feeders. Live long and prosper!