Archive for April, 2008

Sapsucker Encounters

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

This morning the song of a Black and White Warbler began the day, a crisp, clean weesa-weesa-weesa-weesa from a treetop. Around ten in the morning, when I went outside for a few minutes, the weather was cloudy, cool and drizzly, but many birds were active, including a Brown Thrasher loudly belting out its song from the tops of trees around the front yard, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers calling speee-speee, and Chipping Sparrows singing, and feeding in the grass, trees, and shrubs, while at the same time a Pine Warbler sang from just inside the woods. The sweet, plaintive songs of White-throated Sparrows echoed through the damp gray air. A bright male Bluebird perched on a low branch near the bluebird house.

A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew into one of our pecan trees and sat quietly for a few minutes on one of the larger branches, just looking around. She was so well camouflaged with her black, gray-brown, and white barring on the back that I might not have noticed her, especially in the gray light, but she also wore a vivid red crown, pure white throat, thick white bar on the wing, and elegant white and black stripes that framed her face. Her breast barely showed a dull, pale gold.

When she began to move, she backed quickly down the trunk, then made her way up it, going around and around, poking into sap holes, one after another. A juvenile Sapsucker flew into the tree, and she immediately chased it away and returned to her work.

This same kind of interaction occurred between two Sapsuckers yesterday afternoon – probably the same two. I had been happy to see them, because I’d just been wondering if any were still around, or if they’d all left us for the season. The female Sapsucker was in the tree first, and when the juvenile flew in, it hopped up the trunk and approached the female. At first she fussed at it stridently, and lunged at it with her wings partially spread. The juvenile backed off, and retreated to a lower branch on the same tree, where it sat still for a few minutes, sort of hunched and looking around. Then it tried approaching the female again. She lunged at it again, and the juvenile flew to another tree.

In only a few minutes, the young Sapsucker came back again to nearly the same spot, and gradually made its way up toward where the female was poking into sap holes. This time, with her neck and sharp bill stretched out, she lunged fiercely, fussing loudly and flaring her red crest. The juvenile backed away, but did not leave the tree.

I assume the female Sapsucker was defending “her” sap holes in the pecan tree, but I’m curious about why the juvenile repeatedly approached her, as if trying to provoke a reaction of some kind. Its behavior didn’t look challenging – it didn’t seem to be trying to chase her away. But again and again it moved close to her, and again and again she flew at it. Finally, after a while, when the female was no longer around, I saw the young Sapsucker poking into sap holes on the lower part of the tree.

A Foggy Morning – Songs Heard – And Not Heard

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

In deep fog early this morning, many birds were singing, including White-throated Sparrow, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Phoebe, Titmouse, Cardinal, Goldfinch, Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Brown Thrasher, and Eastern Towhee. Also heard were the calls of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Crows.

And I was especially surprised to hear the call of a White-breasted Nuthatch from nearby in the misty woods – though it never came into the yard. I wonder if this will be the last time we hear it this season.

It’s notable that I have not yet seen or heard a Blue-headed Vireo, Palm Warbler, Parula Warbler, or Yellow-throated Vireo, and have only heard the song of one Black and White Warbler and one White-eyed Vireo. I’ve been gone a lot, and not outside as much as usual, so maybe I’m just missing them, but I wonder. In previous years these have always been among the earliest migrants to return or pass through.