Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elderberry Whine

In early April, Goldie was looking well kept and healthy. I call her Goldie because of the golden feathers on her forehead. I find her to be a rather mysterious bird. In Birds of North America (BNA) it states, 

'Female...forehead to mid-crown generally appearing grayish or brownish but possibly tending toward yellow-brown in older birds.' 

This seems to imply that Goldie is an older bird. 

Note: You can view the BNA citation and credit at the end of this post,

Chip and Goldie feeding near their potential 2017 nest site.

Goldie is Chip's new mate. She's also new to his, and now their, Union Bay territory. His  previous mate, Storm, was mysterious in her own right, primarily because of her bright red irises. 

Thank You to the many readers who responded to my earlier request for photos showing the iris color of mature female pileated woodpeckers. Your responses have helped me to document that red-eyed pileated woodpeckers (including one male) exist between Union Bay and the Alderwood Mall area. All other documented photos and sightings I have been sent, both inside and outside of the Alderwood-to-Union Bay corridor, show only yellow irises on mature pileated woodpeckers. 

The primary exceptions are:

a) Very young birds with blue/gray irises which generally appear very dark except when in bright sunlight.

b) Brown or yellow-brownish irises in apparently juvenile or first-year females and

c) Goldie and Storm

In BNA the following statement is made regarding iris color, 

'Brown in Juveniles and first-year females; brownish yellow in first year males (B.L. Noel pers. comm.); yellow to golden in adult males and some females. Not known when iris in some females changes to yellow.'

I have photos showing that Storm's irises were red for at least three years. During which time she was obviously mature since each year she laid eggs and raised young. This is a situation which is at the least undocumented in BNA. You can see more photos of Storm and her young by clicking here.

Goldie's mystery is, how can she have a yellow/golden forehead, which is supposed to indicate she is an older bird, while she also has brown irises which, theoretically, indicate she is a first-year bird. I am trying to catch photos of Goldie on a regular basis so we can watch to see when and if her eye color ever changes to yellow or red.

In late March, Chip showed Goldie his progress on his partially finished new nest site.

In early April, Chip continued the construction process. You can read more about how important woodpeckers and standing snags are to our local wildlife by Clicking Here.

Here is one of my best, well-lit photos of Goldie's brown irises from around the same date.

A few days later, Goldie was in the nest and inspecting the surroundings. I suspect she laid her eggs sometime during the next few weeks.

It was the end of May before I actually saw a young bird. I am thinking it takes about a month for incubation and a few days after hatching for young birds to gain enough strength to stand at the entry hole and begin begging for food.

The next day I saw Chip leaving the nest with a very large fecal pouch. Clearly, parenting was under way. At this point I had only seen the one young bird and I was curious if there were more.

Within a couple of days, the young bird appeared to grow stronger and his colors became more vibrant. From the distribution of the colors it was obvious he was a male.

Two days later all three siblings appeared at the entry and began begging for food. The size and brighter colors implied to me that one of the males was clearly the elder sibling.

In this photo we can see some of the differences between the two young males. The red on the lower and larger bird is slightly brighter. There are also differences in the white of their superciliums, e.g. eye-lines. In the older male, who I started thinking of as 'Lewis', the thin white markings end behind the eye. In the younger male, who I call 'Clark', the white line actually terminates above the middle of the eye.

The same markings are consistently visible in this photo. We see Chip feeding Lewis on the left, while Goldie is feeding Clark on the right. This was the first time I ever remember seeing two adults feeding two different young at the same time. I think this may have happened because of the size of this snag. The mostly dead tree is large enough that both adults can perch and feed the young without being hidden behind the curvature of the trunk.

On the same day Chip also fed the young female. I have been calling her, 'Gawea', short for Sacagawea. Gawea has had a challenging time competing for food with her brothers. This was also the first time I have ever seen a young pileated turn upside down in a bid to be fed. There is no arguing with success.

The next day, in another first for me, I found Chip collecting red elderberries.

My immediate thought was, Is he eating the little red berries or collecting them to feed to the young?

Twenty minutes later, I saw Goldie bringing food to the nest. She was looking decidedly wet and unkept. The strain of finding food and feeding three young looked like it was beginning to show.

Ten minutes later, Chip answered my earlier question. Beside the white remnants of larva on his bill, he had also clearly regurgitated at least one of the red elderberries to feed to Lewis and Gawea. If you have not noticed, the female pileated woodpeckers do not have red on their foreheads or cheeks.

In this particular case, Gawea is pinned down and unable to get her share of the food.

My biggest pileated surprise happened last Saturday morning. I was laying in bed when I heard the call of a pileated outside my window. I rushed to the back deck and followed the sound, which was repeated multiple times. Across the fence, in the back yard of my neighbor, was Lewis the young pileated. He was clearly calling for his parents to bring him food.

This was my first notice that any of the young woodpeckers had fledged e.g. learned to fly. I knew he was at least a quarter of a mile from the nest. I doubted the parents could hear him, especially if they remained near his potentially unfledged siblings. I put a few blueberries out where Lewis could see them, but they only attracted crows.

An hour later I headed for the pileated nest hoping to determine if Clark and Gawea had also fledged. Two blocks from home I heard a pileated again and turned to find three of them on a telephone pole.

A closer inspection showed it was Lewis who was being fed by Goldie. You might want to notice the difference in the color of their red top knots. I find it is also interesting to see the difference in their 'black' feathers as well. Being fresh from the nest, Lewis has not been exposed to much sunlight or weather. This, and that fact that he and his feathers are much younger, has kept his feathers darker and obviously more fresh than Goldie's.

I found Clark in the nest. He was calling for food on an average of about once every thirty seconds. 

After about an hour, Chip finally arrived with food. Apparently Gawea had already left the nest. At this point not only do the parents have to feed themselves and three young, they also have to locate the young and potentially fly to three different locations to deliver food. An end to their ordeal is almost in sight. The young will now slowly begin to feed themselves, however I have seen young in the field being fed by parents as late as August.

On Saturday afternoon, I once again heard Lewis on my neighbor's property. This time he was on a telephone pole in the front yard - still begging for food.

Within two days Clark was gone and the nest has been silent ever since. I think the frequency of the young pileated calls for food steadily increases as they get closer and closer to fledging. The begging wasn't exactly a whining sound to me but it certainly seemed emotionally similar, which is why I titled this post, Elderberry Whine.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where woodpeckers whine in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 


Scroll down for the answer


Red Elderberry

This is one of my favorite native plants. Lately, I have seen band-tailed pigeons and crows eating the berries, as well as the pileated woodpeckers. You should read the literature very carefully before deciding whether or not to eat the berries. It seems to me nature made them red for a reason. I choose to leave them for the birds.

Recommended Citation

Bull, Evelyn L. and Jerome A. Jackson.(2011).Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/pilwoo