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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Elvis Impersonator?

Nesting is the most delicate of times. The parents are constantly on alert.
Just like human parents they have multiple responsibilities. First there is selecting a mate, then building a nest and then guarding & raising the young. Each year, primarily, the male woodpecker builds a completely new nest. This can take from 3 to 6 weeks according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. After the nest is complete and the eggs are laid the work is not over. The birds take turns warming and defending the eggs. This of course cuts their feeding time in half.  Per Cornell it takes a bit over two weeks for the eggs to be incubated. Once the young are hatched it takes in the neighborhood of a month before the nestlings fledge (e.g. learn to fly). During this time not only must the parents defend the young and feed themselves but in addition they must gather and provide food for the young. This roughly six week period from eggs laid to fledging is the time of greatest risk and responsibility.

Predators, like crows, would love to consume the eggs or the nestlings. The photo above, taken yesterday, shows the male on alert. He is apparently warming the eggs while the female feeds. The following sequence of shots shows his constant vigilance.

When he hears crows in the area his call brings the female back to the nesting site.

Female pileated outside the nest.

After she leaves to continue feeding the crows fly almost directly over the nest. The male leaps outside the nest while loudly informing the crows that they are not welcome. 

See and hear the video here.

Feeling like he has made his point he returns to the warming work. 

Is this Elvis? or An Impersonator?

If you look closely it looks like this male may be the woodpecker we have been calling Elvis. He seems to have the distinctive mark on his left shoulder, however it is hard to be sure given the distance and the angle. If this is Elvis it is the first confirmed siting since early March. This would mean he would have had about five weeks to be focused on nest building, which fits well with the timing mentioned by the Cornell Lab.

If you would like to learn more about his distinctive mark it was covered in previous Elvis posts:

Elvis is in the Park

Elvis and the Redhead

Given the delicate situation and the heroic efforts of the parents it is important that we do not cause any additional stress during this time. When you are out and about if you happen to come across the nesting birds please remain a respectful distance. 

Just for fun here is one last photo. The light was just right, or just wrong depending on how you look at it, and the crest on the head of the female is nearly invisible. Someone mentioned yesterday that they saw a large silver bird with a red crest in the area. Given that pileated woodpeckers are the only large, red-crested birds in the area it seems likely that the light was playing tricks, kind of like this.

Have a great week!


Odds and Ends:

My friend Marcus and I visited the Ship Canal bridge yesterday to see if we could spot any activity in the Peregrine Falcon nest. The nest was empty however Marcus spotted one PF that landed on the power structure southwest of the bridge. Hopefully, a second falcon will show up in the near future.

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