Downy Woodpeckers are smart little guys — and cute too!

Isn't he cute?


The trick is to have one foot on the perch, one clinging to the "window" and brace with your tail.


Male downy woodpecker feedinng a piece of nut to his duaghter


Young male downy waiting for "dad" to hurry up!


The young male is sitting closer to the source of food this time!


In the winter of 2008-09 we had extreme amounts of snow for here — although all the prairie people will iundoubtedly wonder what we were complaining about — and we decided to put up a birdfeeder to help the residents through the harsh conditions.  We experimented with a variety of seed mixes, and ended up using one with 20% mixed nuts, at that time for the chickadees and nuthatches.The snow melted, and my plans to take the feeder down evapourated because we were enjoying the show outside our window so much.One day, we noticed this little black and white woodpecker with a red cap around the feeder.  It was obvious that he thought there was food there — in fact, he could see some big, yummy-looking nuts through the clear plastic of the silo-style feeder.  Unfortunately even his sharp little beak wasn’t gettng anywhere.  After a bit, he figured out that you could get to the nuts through the hatches — but the perches were designed for finches, and not wor how woodpeckers clasp onto vertical surfaces. 

Gotta give the little guy credit, though, eventually he figured out how to hang on.  After that it was funny watching him sort through the seed, sending out a spray of sunlower and millet seeds. until he hit paydirt. 

At first, he just flew off with the nut in his beak.  Now I think he was taking it off to his mate who was sitting on her eggs.  One day I noticed that rather than fly off with the nut, he was taking it to a nearby garden arch and setting the nut into a notch (our garden arch is constructed of “rustic” branches and bits of wood we salvaged from here and there).  The downy then proceeded to peck at the nut to break it up into little bits.  It would eat some, then fly off with more. 

It didn’t take very long for the rest of the birds around to notice that downys are messy eaters — and check the notch for leftovers.  I have seen not only the little birds you would expect such as chickadees, nuthatches and Juncos, but also towhees,, squirrels, hairy woodpeckers and even, once, a flicker!  It seems counter-intuitive that a little downy woodpecker would be providing food to something a big as a flicker. 

The next generation

It wasn’t very long before I saw another downy arrive with one we were accustomed to.  The new arrival was clearly just out of the nest — she was still a bit fuzzy and seemed very nervous — she just sat still on a branch near the feeder where her “dad” had put her while he went mining for a nut.  As soon as he found one that met with his approval, he flew over to the arch.  The youngster seemed uncertain for a moment, then followed. 

Very shortly she was rewarded — “dad” would chip some pieces off the nut then hop over and feed her.  )If you’ve never seen a woodpecker feeding it’s young, it is a somewhat disturbing sight.  The parent looks like he is trying to peck down through the back of the youngster’s throat.  Apparrently he is a lot more gentle that when he is pecking ar wood, though, as the youngster is very pleased with the result. 

For a few days we observed “dad” bringing a sequence of both male and female young to feed, one at a time.  Then one day hed began bringing two, then three.  

The day finally came when “dad” had apparently had enough.  He would arrive with one or more young birds, find a nut, and then just fly off with it.  The first few times the young looked really confused.  It didn’t take long for them to figure it out, and then we had five woodepeckers using our feeder — “mom” showed up periodically, too. 


"Dad" has two children waiting for lunch.




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