For the Birds Radio Program: Quality Time with Pileated Woodpeckers
Last week I spent a little time watching a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers at a friend’s house in Wayzata, MN. I was watching from the warmth and comfort of Elizabeth’s kitchen, but it was bitter cold outside-double digits below zero. The birds were so fluffed out that their bulgy backs appeared soft gray rather than black as the down feath_ers showed through. They spent a few minutes feeding on frozen insect eggs and pupae, whictt’htgh energy items, and then the female flew off, leaving the male alone in a spot of the tree that was both in the sun and out of the wind.
Birds have a very hard time dealing with the extreme cold we’ve had in the past weeks. The shortest days of the year fall right when birds need to burn the most calories to stay alive, and they need as much time during daylight as possible to feed. That’s why so few birds sing in winter- it wastes valuable time that could be spent feeding. Chickadees start whistling and woodpeckers drumming in earnest on sunny days in February, when there’s more time for that sort of thing.
The male I watched through Elizabeth’s window wasn’t only feeding-he was also soaking in sunlight and conserving energy in his little spot out of the wind. The micro-climates found in little nooks and crannies like he found can be extremely important for birds in winter. He didn ‘ t stay there too long-after about ten minutes of basking in the sun, he moved on. Flying to a new spot was also important for his energy budget-flapping wings itself warms up the body with the mechanical energy of muscular movement. Birds like pigeons start their day with a morning flight to heat up after a long night’s sleep-that’s why when it’s 20 below during a rush hour in Duluth, you can usually see pigeons in flight over downtown and the high bridge. Pileateds don’t flap as hard or as fast, so flight doesn’ t warm them as efficiently, but it helps a little as they move from place to place in their quest for food.
And, speaking of bird food, here’s a word from our sponsor.
That’s Baker’s Blue Jay Blend-it’s unimpeachably delicious. I’m Laura Erickson, speaking for the birds.