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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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Northern Flicker Gymnastics

The Squirrel Buster bird feeder is an ingenious contraption. When anything heavier than a small bird (say, a squirrel for example) lands on the perch to get at the food, their own weight causes little doors to close on all the seed ports. Northern Flickers are also, technically, too heavy to use this feeder but, even though they have a couple of other food options to chose from, they clearly take this a personal affront.

Luckily they have their secret weapon, the mindbogglingly long tongue they keep neatly wrapped around their brain and ready for instant deployment. All woodpeckers have very long tongues, usually with barbed ends for catching prey, but the Northern Flicker has the longest of all of them, and their tongue tip is flattened and comes with extra sticky saliva for collecting the ants that they find so delicious.

So, back to the Squirrel Buster conundrum.

This male Flicker (you can tell by the red “sideburns”) has figured out that by hanging from the perch he can j-u-s-t get his tongue into the the gap at the bottom of the closing door. I was a bit worried he’d get his tongue stuck and we’d have a difficult conversation with the Wildlife Rescue team, but it seems he’s done this before.

Not only did he get the food out quite handily, he managed to also pick up the bits that fell out of the feeder and landed on his belly. This is where the really impressive gymnastics come in.

I’m pretty sure I saw these two, taking a break from digging up ants, exchanging bird feeder foiling tips on my dog walk the other day.

And, just in case you think it’s only the males who have figured this out, here’s a female I saw doing it in back February, so perhaps she passed on the technique to her mate.

Speaking of ingenuity I’ve been scanning the internet for COVID-19 mask making patterns, as it seems that medical advice here in North America is now pivoting in favour of mask-wearing for all to help “flatten the curve”.

So, just in case you’re also thinking about making your own mask, I’ve looked at a few and made a couple of versions for when someone from our family needs to go out for groceries. The one I like best is this one from the University of Minnesota. It seems to have a good fit, and it has a pouch to put replaceable home-made filters in (suggestions for filter material you can find about the house are included in the instructions.)

If you don’t have a sewing machine, these instructions for a no-sew mask using only a bandana and a couple of hair ties looks promising.

Stay safe and healthy everyone, and remember to take a break from the news and the graphs from time to time with some daily #birdtherapy.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flicker Family Saga – Part One

This gripping tale is a repost from nesting season 2017 … enjoy!

Northern Flicker profile close up, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

I didn’t realize it was going to turn into a saga, but now I’ve accumulated about a hundred photos of our local Northern Flicker family, chronicling their ups and downs over the last few weeks.

I kept meaning to post some as things unfolded, but it turned into such a roller coaster, I didn’t want to start telling the story until I had an idea of how tragic (one a scale of one to three) the ending would be.

Now the number of images is just out of control. I feel as if I have the makings of a small novel! And, besides, who knows what the conclusion will be in any family’s story?

So here is part one of the Flicker Family album.

It began earlier this summer when I noticed a lot of flicker calling going on all around the house and garden. This handsome fellow was to be seen, with his mate, working away with their beaks at a hole in the plum tree right in front of our house.

Northern Flickers are a type of woodpecker, and quite common in Vancouver. In fact, they were the runners-up in the recent vote to elect an official bird to represent the city. You can tell the males from the females by the dashing red “moustache” at the base of their beaks.

After a few more weeks, strange noises began to come from the tree.

The flicker pair were on ferocious guard at all times. Here’s the dad, holding the fort against a marauding squirrel. The squirrel eventually gave up and snuck away down the far side of the tree trunk.

Below, you can see the female flicker on the lower part of the tree. If you look closely, you can see also the male’s head peeking out from the nest hole further up.

Northern Flicker profile pair at nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Here’s Mom visiting the feeder in the garden. She was usually in the nest and you can see that her feathers were getting a bit dishevelled in the confined space.

Dad on guard, nest bottom right.

 *** PART TWO OF THE FLICKER FAMILY SAGA COMING TOMORROW ***

*** STAY TUNED! ***

PART TWO now published. Read on HERE.

 

Meanwhile – in an unrelated Flicker incident, we had the …

FLICKER IN THE STUDIO FIASCO

In late June a neighbour brought me a flicker that she saw hit by a car as she was waiting for a bus on a main street near here. The bird was stunned and in danger of getting hit again, so she and her son braved the pointy beak and picked him up to bring to me.  The plan was I’d keep an eye on him and see if he needed to go to the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue for treatment.

I put him in a covered box and I moved it into the studio to keep warm. But then I noticed that the scrap of towel I’d put in the box to pad it had become a bit unraveled, and a thread was wrapped around the flicker. I tried to carefully untangle it and … of course … the bird got out of the box and suddenly regained his powers of flight.

Part bird, part Swiffer, he scooped up some cobwebs from the skylight.

Understandably scared, he took cover behind just about every counter and work table in the place, then flying up the skylight (and doing a bit of dusting for me as he went.)

Luckily he finally made its way to a window that I could open for him.

Apart from never wanting to be in a studio again, he seemed fine as he soared off in the direction he’d been rescued from.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Best Laid Plans

One of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting beside my mother where she’d tripped and fallen on the sidewalk while rushing for the bus to go shopping. “More haste, less speed,” she said, through gritted teeth. She had a pithy saying for every occasion, my mum, and most them were/are very true. We never did go shopping that day, or for many days thereafter, as she’d sprained her ankle quite badly.

I had great plans for this festive season. Finish up the local sales events early,  leaving lots of time to update my online shop, go for long walks and catch up on the local crows and maybe even get some snowshoeing (ravens!)  in before Christmas. Leisurely holiday shopping in the local shops, baking,  …

Well, you can see how I was asking for trouble.

Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, here I am this festive season.

It seems to be a family tradition now, the pre-Christmas disaster. The worst was Phillip’s concussion from a bicycle accident a few years back. The most hilarious (although only in retrospect) was 2016 when Lily’s dog got sprayed by a skunk at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

The sore foot I noticed the week before the studio sale turned out to be a stress fracture. What with one thing and another, it took quite a while for the x-ray results and to get fitted for the stylish new boot, with a few days when I really could hardly get about at all.  I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself.

But, another one of my mother’s favourite sayings was “worse things are happening at sea,” and this seems to fit well into that category. We do have the Christmas tree up, and as long as I can hobble as far as the garden, or even the deck, I have some spectacular company.

It was a bit wet this morning, but Marvin and Mavis were, as always, on hand to say hello.

Moist Marvin

Mavis

I think Mavis holds me partially responsible for the change in weather.

In the garden on the weekend, there was a positive Who’s Who of bird visitors coming by to cheer me up.

The most handsome Spotted Towhee

Towhees are new to the garden this year. Always a thrill to see that oh-so-stylish and dotty colour combination.

The world’s most winsome White Crowned Sparrow.

Sweetest Song Sparrow.

Cheery Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

Jolly Junco

I’m noticing that some of the juncos I’m seeing lately have more chestnut on their hoods than I remember in the past. I always thought they were more uniformly grey or black, so I wonder if there is some sort of avian gene pooling going on there.

Heavenly Hummingbird

For years we’ve had one single Anna’s Hummingbird visit the garden all year round. Recently she has found a friend with whom to squabble about the hummingbird feeder.

Natty Nuthatch

I’d never seen a nuthatch until this one started frequenting the garden a couple of months ago. I can always tell when he’s around by the honking sound. At first I thought it was someone’s car alarm going off!

Rosy House Finch

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a couple of house finches with eye problems in the garden. Internet research revealed that there is a very contagious eye disease that spreads among finches, and advice was to bring the bird feeders in for a week or so, meanwhile cleaning them thoroughly with a bleach solution (rinsing well.) I just put the feeders out again a couple of days ago and the birds are celebrating, but I’m keeping a close watch on the finches — and planning on cleaning the feeders every week from now on.

Fabulous Flicker

Flicker Face Off

Probably a stern Flicker look for her old nest rival, the starling.

And, when my foot is starting to throb and it’s time to head inside for a sit down, there’s even more great company in there.

Can I get you a cup of tea …?

Festive Feline

The human company is pretty good too!

Finally, in late breaking news, Marvin has declared that the City Crow Calendar, 2020 Edition has passed the all important corvid taste test!

Hmm, could use a little ketchup, but otherwise, not bad …

www.junehunter.com

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Conflict Resolution

Well, I’m not sure if they did it by guile, by force, or by consulting the Office of the Housing Ombirdsman, but somehow the Northern Flickers have regained occupancy of their nest.

As you may recall, it wasn’t looking good for them in the last post, Battle of the Nest. The Starlings had moved right in and were even installing  their own furniture.  And yet, when I went by the next day, this familiar head was defiantly sticking out of the nest.

I check every time I go by and almost every time there is a  Northern Flicker sentry at the door. Mom or dad are on duty 24/7 to ward off future home invasions.

Oops, looked unguarded for a minute there, but a closer look reveals mother Flicker on the upper deck keeping an eye on things.

Still some last minute renovations going on too.

Meanwhile, what of the starlings?

I must admit I was rooting for the Northern Flickers, given that they were in the nest first and had done all the hard work of digging it out. Fair play and all, right?

It can be hard to sympathize with the starlings, and yet . . .

It’s really not the Starlings’ fault that a well meaning, homesick, but misguided English immigrant (human) released a bunch of them in Central Park, NY in 1890. His goal was to eventually introduce every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America, but the starling was his great “success.” A great example of “be careful what you wish for.”

Neither is it their fault that they’re tough and adaptable birds so that now there are many millions of them in North America, competing with native birds for habitat, food and nest sites.

A few other things in defence of the Starling:

  • If you still really think you can’t appreciate starlings (and remember, a lot of people felt that way about crows until quite recently . . . ) I really recommend reading Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

So . . . what happened to the Starling invaders of the Flicker nest? Well, it seems they just moved one tree over and took over the tree cavity that was used by Flickers for the 2017 nesting season (recorded in Flicker Family Saga Part One and Part Two. ) It’s been vacant since then, so they moved in without any drama and everyone seems to be getting along for the time being.

Just to be on the safe side, the male Flicker makes regular and  emphatic pronouncements regarding property and tenancy rights.

Beat The Heat, Bird-Style

It’s going to be a scorcher this week in Vancouver. The news is full of dire sunstroke warnings, and tips on how to beat the heat.

The birds know what to do, and here is one of our backyard Northern Flickers to do a little demo for you.

Stick to cool, shady places. Preferably near water.

If the thermometer is really sky rocketing, it’s time to take the plunge.

Get thoroughly soaked. Feel your core temperature go down.

Aaah. Now that’s better.

This part of the flicker post-bathing behaviour might not be so advisable for humans.

I ❤ Flickers

NOTE: In this hot dry weather, the birds may need a little help from us to stay cool and hydrated. If you have a bird bath, keep it clean and full. If not, a simple shallow container of water put out for the birds is a big help when there are no puddles to be found.

Apart from enviously watching the bathing birds, I’m working feverishly on putting together to 2018 City Crow Calendar. It’s coming together well. In fact, it would be done if not for the little anecdotes and smaller pictures I’m adding to spare spaces in the grid parts of the calendar.

Anyway, it should be off to the printer soon, and available to purchase on my web site by the beginning of September.

The cover model for the calendar will be … guess who?

Frazzled Mabel, naturally!

www.junehunter.com

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Flicker Family Saga – Part Two

This is a quite long story, with many pictures, and some emotional ups and down. You might need to arm yourself with a cup of tea and take a comfy seat before settling in to read. OK, here we go …

By the end of June, the flicker nest was the talk of the street. Everyone was keeping a discreet eye on the plum tree goings-on and neighbours would discuss the activity over the garden fences.

baby flicker looks out of nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Each morning I was checking the tree to see if the sounds were still in there. Sometimes it was quiet (I guess there was nap time) and sometimes the little murmurings were there. Then, one morning in early July, I was rewarded by this adorable face at the “window.”

Note: If you missed PART ONE, you can read it HERE.

That’s a great big world out there …


Baby Northern Flicker, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Hey, I’m hungry over here!


Baby Northern Flicker with Parent, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Ah, here comes Mom with lunch.

Northern Flicker mother feeds baby, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

TRAGEDY STRIKES

Everything was looking so good for the little family. The parents were such fierce guardians, and the babies seemed safe in their tree fortress.

One morning I got up very early to see what was new.

What was new was this: absolute silence at the nest and a sad pile of flicker feathers around the base of the tree.

Further exploration revealed the remains of a baby flicker on the road.

I’m not sure if the culprit was the returning squirrel, the neighbour’s cat, or my buddies the crows. I try to put in the perspective of the circle of life and all that, but I must say I was pretty sad.

The flicker parents were still around, but no sign of any babies. I wondered if they’d lost their one and only fledgling for that year.

Northern Flicker in Bird Bath, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Dad at the bird bath.

FLICKER SURPRISE

The following day I took a cup of tea out to the front of the house and was startled by a great flapping in the windowed end of the porch. It was a baby flicker, vainly trying to fly to freedom through the glass.

Luckily, I still had the “rescue box” from the last flicker episode on hand. I grabbed a towel (not fraying at the edges this time!) and put it over the head of the baby. She immediately stopped flapping and I put her in the box with the lid on.

I was somewhat torn about releasing her, worrying that whatever killed her sibling would get her too. However, I took a deep breath and let her go in the back garden, where there’s lots of cover.

Failed picture of release – but you can see her tail feathers as she exits the frame.


Baby Northern Flicker, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

She sat for a minute in the lilac tree, getting her bearings.

I was worried that there were no sign of the parents. After a few moments to collect herself, the baby flicker took off and flew away north.

Over the next few days I’d hear calls of adult and baby flickers around the garden.

I heard the soft thud of baby flicker flight mishaps a few times.

FAMILY PHOTOS

My husband was sitting quietly in the garden and spotted the two adults and the fledgling flicker all together at the bird bath. I was happy to think that at least the surviving baby was gathering skills and under the guardianship of the parents.

Yesterday it was my turn. I saw both parents and, not one, but TWO baby flickers in the garden — one male, one female. Below is a video of the mother feeding the female fledgling on the roof of my studio.

Here are the siblings playing around in the lilac tree.

Northern Flicker fledglings, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

EVEN MORE BABIES!

This morning I actually think I spotted THREE fledglings – one male and two female. Now I’m starting to wonder how many baby flickers can fit into the trunk of a medium sized ornamental plum tree. No wonder there were so many sounds coming out of there!

Male Flicker fledgling on roof, photography by June Hunter, © June Hunter 2017 www.junehunterimages.com

Male Flicker fledgling


Sisters in the lilac


Sleepy Flicker fledgling in tree, photography by June Hunter, © June Hunter 2017 www.junehunterimages.com

There are few things cuter than a sleepy baby Flicker.

So, the Flicker Family Saga continues. As is the way of life, tomorrow may bring a sad pile of feathers, but for today things are looking pretty promising for the Flicker Family of Parker Street.

I have so many northern flicker images to work with now, I hardly know where to start.

For now, I have this print available in my online shop.

If you missed Part One of the FLICKER FAMILY SAGA, you can read it HERE.

www.junehunter.com

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