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

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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Feast

Every so often someone will ask, which bird is your favorite? This usually stumps me. I stutter and start without saying much. When I finally start speaking coherently, I often mention Pileated Woodpeckers or Bald Eagles or Osprey. I thoroughly enjoy these three species, but picking one of them makes me feel disloyal to all the others. As of this morning, I have decided that my favorite species is whichever one is in front of me. Currently, my  focus is on this well-groomed Downy Woodpecker.

I photographed this little fellow in the Arboretum earlier this year. Downy's are so small that one of them could pretty well hide behind a dollar bill. The hint of red on the back of his head told me he was a male. 

Compared to the average Downy in Western Washington, this bird seems abnormally white on its underside. I have been told their light-colored tummies reflect light into hidden nooks and crannies, which may help them locate their prey.

Here is a different male with a darker chest which is closer to the normal color in our area. East of the Cascades, Downy Woodpeckers often have the brighter white bellies. 

It is interesting to see the tiny barbs on this woodpecker's tongue. Their specialized tongues help the birds reach deep inside a hole and extract whatever tiny creature it has been pursuing. 

Here is another local example of a normal dingy Downy.

Returning to our flashy little hero, we find him deeply involved in his search for food.

Usually the food which a Downy extracts is so small that it passes out of the tree and into the bird without seeing the light of day. I suspect, this wormy little morsel was larger than average.

Like all creatures who eat, the process is 'First In, First Out'. More food requires more space.
After which, our bird continued its highly focused search for sustenance.

I suspect that once again our little Downy found food. But in this case, all we get to see is the thread of a sticky substance connecting the bird's bill to the tree.

At the next location, our pint-sized hero allowed the chips to fall where they may.

No doubt he could taste his prey, but he couldn't seem to get a grip.

In a surprising change of tactics, the Downy switched sides.

The creative approach paid off.

Our hero took a breather before undertaking the next challenge in the process.

The little Downy found a feast. In the past, when I have seen a wood-boring beetle larva consumed by a woodpecker, the bird involved was a Pileated Woodpecker - our largest woodpecker species. 

Never before have I seen a Downy Woodpecker - our smallest woodpecker species - consume anything this large. 

 The brave little Downy starts the swallowing process.

 His effort is obvious.

 Unfortunately, the larva appeared to be stuck. Was it just a tad too big?

The Downy made a second effort.

He even closed his eyes to focus on the task at hand. It almost seemed like swallowing this feast was a greater challenge than catching it.

Ultimately, the Downy prevailed. I am uncertain if his tongue hanging out indicated exhaustion or not. In any case, I bet he felt like he just ate a Thanksgiving Feast.

Downy Woodpeckers prefer to forage among deciduous trees, often near water. In this case, our hero was working in a large elderberry, which I would normally consider a shrub. Not surprisingly, I found this bird fairly close to Elderberry Island.

Also, Downy Woodpeckers generally nest in dead trees where the wood has started to decay and turned soft. I have seen them nesting in dead Alder trees. Often, the chosen trees were only half-grown at the time of their demise. Given the petite size of Downy Woodpeckers, medium-sized Alders are not a problem. 

If you or your offspring might someday enjoy sharing your lives with Downy Woodpeckers, and especially if you have a home near water, you might try investing in Elderberries and Alder.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!



Next weekend, the 2018 City Nature Challenge begins. This looks like an exciting opportunity to find and identify the lifeforms which surround us. My friend Kelly Brenner, author of The Metropolitan Field Guide, did the challenge last year and highly recommends it. This will be my first chance to participate. Click Here to learn what all the excitement is about.

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 our local environment and 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 respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

What species of bird is this? Is it native to Union Bay? Does it differ from our hero?

Scroll down for the next step.


This was a bit of a trick question. The bird above is a Hairy Woodpecker. Downy and Hariy Woodpeckers are very similar. They are both native to our area. photographed this bird two years ago in the Arboretum. Hairy Woodpeckers tend to reside among mature native trees, often coniferous, unlike the Alder and Elderberry where we find Downy Woodpeckers. 

Depending on your perspective, Hairy Woodpeckers are roughly fifty percent larger than Downy Woodpeckers or Downy Woodpeckers are about two-thirds the size of Hairy Woodpeckers. Besides size what other key difference do you see between the two species? 

We should be aware that when we cut down large native trees we are eliminating preferred habitat for a variety species. Hairy Woodpeckers are an example of a native species which loves our mature native forests.  

Hint: For both species, compare the relative size of their bills with their heads.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net

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