Song & Story
By: Pat Fish
Been doing a lot of studying of the downey woodpecker phenomena. This is mostly because of my addition of three suet feeders to my winter bird feeding setup. Goodness, I've got little downey guys everywhere.
They sure are cute little guys. I like to consider them "pocket " woodpeckers, the kind you carry in your purse or person in the event you might need a spare woodpecker. It's hard for me to imagine these little guys are related to the mighty Pileated woodpeckers.
Sometimes they get themselves so involved in pecking the suet offerings they do not even notice my human self just two feet from them, although I'm behind a sturdy window, and regarding their coloring with much interest.
You have to know that God is in His heaven and things are right when observing the markings of a downey woodpecker. Damn, their stripes are so geometrically perfect, a combination of black and white that makes them appear to have come directly from the nearest prison chain gang. And as I watch them I ponder the meaning of the stripes. There's an evolutionary thing going on here, I think, and it's incumbent upon me to figure just what it is.
As one downey girl pecks at a suet feeder hanging from a deck railing and below my sight line, I pretend I am a hawk. All right, go with me on this one. I fly high above this miss and am looking for prey. When I look down, with my excellent hawk eyesight, what do I see? Nothing, actually. For sure I do not see a downey woodpecker having a bit of suet or circling the tree trunks for bug larvae. All I see, and as nature planned, is a series of shadows and sunlight cast upon the tree trunk in the manner of the leaves so silhouetted on the bark. Woodpeckers tend to "walk" vertically on the trees, thus their striping matches the shadows cast by sunlight shining through the tree crowns. Goodness, woodpeckers could never get any food if their coloring did not prevent them from being a hawk meal at their first attempt.
In that manner of Darwin, I ponder that many downeys may have died at the talons of the hawk until one was hatched with a unique black and white coloring that allowed HIM to live while his siblings perished. Then he found himself a mate and his offspring inherited the same coloring. Soon, all the downeys perished save those sprung from the father with the prison jacket feathers.
Of course, the downey girl continued to eat her suet, no mind my thoughts re: her heritage and coloring. And no hawks bothered her either.
Now there is the matter of the ducks, and I have plenty. I've been feeding the birds over three years but this is the first year I recall having such a passel of ducks as my guests. But there you have it, about fifty ducks hanging around my piers and bulkheads when the rest of the quiet cove has none. I wonder if the casual observer would regard this duck hangout and puzzle over the attraction.
It's gotten so that just as soon as I go out on the deck, the mallards begin to quack and the cove is full of ducks heading in to the pier. Of course, I greet them with a loud "Good morning, guys" that they have determined to be their food call. Then I will pour some seed over the rail and the sound of seed striking the concrete patio below really hits a familiar chord and soon mallards are jumping onto the bulkhead to make their trek to the feeders.
Amusingly, they always walk single file and always follow the same route. The leaves along this path have long since been pushed aside from the many duck walks, and I consider that these guys would make excellent garden tools with their ability to "rake" the leaves. They actually, and I'm not making this up, climb the stairs to the feeders. They don't fly or walk across the dirt.There you have it, fifty ducks walking single-file up a steep staircase in what is one of the funnier sights this editress has witnessed. They are quite serious about it though and do not like it when the dog is about.
What's even more humorous -- the ducks really dislike the squirrels and the squirrels are terrified of the ducks themselves. For a duck will, with no hesitation and great annoyance, snap irritatedly at any squirrel that will interfere with their seed gathering. It's a sight for squirrel-beleaguered eyes, let me tell you.
They do fly away from the feeders, and at the slightest suggestion. When this happens, it sounds exactly as if a helicopter is suddenly taking off from our patio, and on one occasion caused my husband to damn near have a heart attack.
Both of us will wander over to our clubroom door and peek through the blinds at the frenzied ducks. It's a sight to behold, about fifty ducks all milling about and scarfing up the offerings. Kind of scary really.
This is an interesting time at the feeders. Even more so due to the prolific presence of the downeys and the ducks that have captured my imagination.
But there is really no season when it is not a fun learning experience to make observations at the feeder.
Patricia Fish was born in 1950 and she claims that while her body has aged, she has never really moved beyond the 1960s. Pat now grows flowers in her gardens instead of wearing them in her hair. She loves to write, especially about the gardens, birds, and critters in her surround.
Pat lives in a bit of paradise on a pie-shaped lot wedged into a small cove off of the Chesapeake Bay. She is a regular contributor to the Song & Story Section of Moondance.
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