Downy Dating Tips

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest of all the North American woodpeckers, a compact and handsome little bird, often found in urban backyards.

The male wears a jaunty red cap, while the female restricts her fashion palette to a crisp and dapper black and white.

They are firm believers in the saying “good things come in small packages.”

I was out walking the dog a few mornings ago and heard what sounded like a small jackhammer. A bit rude to be working on a construction project so early, I thought.

But, getting closer to the hammering, I realized the source was the top of a Hydro pole. I then assumed that it was the usual suspect — the amorous male Northern Flicker looking to impress the ladies.

I stared at the pole for quite a while without being able to spot the percussionist. It took my camera lens finally pick him out — a tiny, but talented, male downy woodpecker.

He was exploring the whole T-bar of the pole, testing here and there to find the best reverb. And he’d found the sweet spot for sure, making a noise that echoed richly around the neighbourhood.

So impressive did he sound — he finally attracted a  female Northern Flicker to his perch.
They both looked at each other as if they’d arrived on a blind date . . . and both parties had stretched the truth in their dating profiles.

You can see Mr. Downy trying to look inconspicuous on the far right.

After an awkward moment or two, the downy made a quiet exit stage right — off in search of his true love.

Here’s the actual object of his affections, taking a little spa time at our bird bath. I’m hoping they’ve sorted the confusion out now and that we can look forward to some even littler downies later in the season.

Incidentally, my very first blog post, written in spring 2014 was about a Downy Woodpecker. You can read it here: Downy Woodpecker Drama

Two big things to take away from the 2014 story:

  1. Keep your cat indoors
  2. Donate to your local wildlife rescue centre. Nesting season is always an extra busy time for these volunteer run organizations, especially as they try to work through the Covid-19 complications, so help them out if you can. The organization that saved the downy in 2014 (and countless other birds and other wildlife before and since) is Wildlife Rescue BC.

 

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Just Another Day

It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).

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Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.

Dawn bird

Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.

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I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.

Downy Woodpecker male

I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.

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Suddenly, trouble in paradise.

Eric and his family of crows dove into the lilac tree where all the small songbirds like to be.

I thought the crows had suddenly and unexpectedly decided to start dining on full-grown sparrows and chickadees.

But no — the crows had spotted a juvenile Sharp Shinned Hawk darting into the lilac.

No doubt the hawk had certain designs on the songbirds, snack-wise.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

The hawk fled, pursued by Eric, his family and the neighbourhood watch committee of concerned crows. They flew around the neighbourhood all day.

Hawk soaring, crows cawing.

Hawk on High

A crow keeps a wary eye on the hawk from the top of street sign.

 

So, now we have a new kid on the block, adding to the daily excitement. Another hazard for smaller birds, like the bald eagles and ravens that already cruise the skies. But another thrilling ingredient into the mix of wildlife that calls East Vancouver home.

Free as a Bird!

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Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue Association of BC out at Burnaby Lake, the female downy woodpecker is back on home turf. A volunteer called me this afternoon and we headed over with the same box I used the transport her to the refuge two weeks ago. Then she was unable to fly, quiet and still in box as I drove to Burnaby. She’d been attacked the day before by a cat, suffering bruises and abrasions.

Today, after two weeks of care and medication from the fine folk at WRA, she was deemed fit for release. She was certainly a lot more feisty on this drive, thrashing about impatiently in her box.

Let me out of this wretched box!

Let me out of this wretched box!

The moment we took the lid off she was off. First of all she hopped about in the snowbell tree and then the corkscrew hazel, before stopping for a refreshing drink at the birdbath.

Downy at Birdbath

Then she flew over to the other side of the garden and rediscovered the suet feeder.

Getting her bearings

Getting her bearings

Now this is looking familiar!

Now this is looking familiar!

Yum.

Yum.

Currently she’s flying around in the garden getting reacquainted with things. No sign so far of baby and dad downy woodpeckers. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a reunion and report back.

Two weeks later: I spotted a male and female adult and a juvenile downy woodpecker in the garden. I choose to believe that this is our original family, united at last.

Downy Woodpecker Rehab

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI called the Wildlife Rescue refuge out at Burnaby Lake again yesterday to check in on our little downy patient. The news is still good. She’s lively, off  medication and flying around in a large enclosure. They are keeping her a while longer so she can build up her strength and agility and not be easy prey for another cat once she’s released. They did tell me that’s she’s very lucky to be doing so well. Most bird/cat encounters do not end this well for the bird!

I’m told to check back next week when it’s likely I can go and pick her up to return her back to her own neighbourhood and, hopefully, her downy family.

Downy Woodpecker Update

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An update on the downy woodpecker, injured last week by a cat and taken to the Wildlife Rescue clinic at Burnaby Lake: she’s doing much better! She has abrasions and bruising and they expect her to recover. Even better, when she’s ready to release, it’s likely that I’ll be able to go get her and release her back in our neighbourhood. I’ve seen the two males in the garden over the long weekend. I’m pretty sure they’re her mate and the baby and that they’ll be happy to see her!

While doing a little downy woodpecker research on the weekend I came across these two descriptions of these lovely little birds.

Audubon, in 1842 remarked that” it is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity”.

Another 19th century ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, in 1832 said that “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity, perseverance” and describes a pair of downys woodpeckers working at their nest “with the most indefatigable diligence”.

I feel quite thrilled every time I see one of these wonderful little birds, especially right here in my East Vancouver garden, so really rooting for Mrs Downy to make a full recovery and come home.

 

Downy Woodpecker Drama


Downy Woodpecker mother and baby
The week started so well for the downy woodpeckers in the garden. I captured this lovely moment when the mother downy, hardly any bigger than her offspring, carefully feeds him some suet from our feeder. Baby can fly a little but hasn’t quite figured out how to gain entry to the inner sanctum of the squirrel proof “suet palace”.

Baby Downy Woodpecker at Suet Feeder

Things began to go wrong for the family yesterday morning when the mother downy woodpecker ran into the neighbour’s cat. Luckily the neighbour was nearby and rescued her from the jaws of death. Meanwhile the baby downy woodpecker seemed at a loss and was sitting immobile in our lilac tree. We decided to try and reunite them. At first it seemed as if it might be a happy ending. Mom fluttered out of the box the neighbour had put her in, and made in the direction of her baby. Unfortunately it was soon apparent that she couldn’t fly. She did, however, manage to scoot up the lilac tree and even, after a major struggle, get into the suet palace for some food. Darkness was falling and I began to consult my more bird-savvy friends on the best course of action.

Injured Mother Downy Woodpecker

The consensus was that the mother woodpecker needed to be rescued because injuries caused by cats almost always become badly infected. Unfortunately she had disappeared into the high branches of the lilac and it was quite dark. Also I worried about what would happen to the baby without his mother. I hadn’t seen any sign of the male parent all week. A wet and fretful night followed, with midnight, 2am, 5am and 7am checks on the stranded birds. As soon as it opened at 8:30am, I called the Wildlife Rescue Association in Burnaby. As I was on the phone to the lovely volunteer there, a miraculous thing happened. The male woodpecker suddenly appeared. It would not in any way be an overstatement to say that their reunion was rapturous. It reminded me of one of the clips at the beginning of the movie “Love Actually” where long separated family and loved ones reunite at Heathrow Airport. Anyway, two good things came out of this. One: there was another parent so junior would not be alone with his mother gone. Two: the female was so exhausted after the excitement of her mate’s return that she fluttered to the ground. My daughter and I had a box and sheet ready and quickly scooped her up.

Injured Downy Woodpecker in boxOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So now we wait to see if she will make it. I have a case number and will call the rescue people tomorrow to see. If she does recover we can bring her back here to hopefully reunite with her family. If not, at least she’ll have been spared a lot of suffering.

Story continued:

Downy Woodpecker Update,  Downy Woodpecker Rehab and Free as a Bird