Winter is for the birds, big and small

male pileated woodpecker, pileated woodpecker feeding

Male Pileated Woodpecker feeding. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

At our house, winter is for the birds. Well, so are spring, summer and fall. We feed the birds that frequent our backyard year-round.

My wife and I enjoy watching the various bird species that visit at the assortment of feeders we put out for our feathered friends. Consider it our preferred entertainment.

The birds also take advantage of the little garden pond near the feeders. The water runs down the small waterfalls all year for the birds to bathe and drink. That’s especially important in the winter when most water sources often freeze.

But it’s the feeders that the birds flock to, excuse the pun, especially when the temperatures are extreme and the ground covered with snow. Natural food sources are often limited.

Eastern Bluebird, bluebirds, Bruce Stambaugh

Male Eastern Bluebird. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The feeders help out the birds and bring color and fun activity to our backyard. To meet the various needs of species big and small, a variety of feed stocks an assortment of feeders.

Dark-eyed Juncos prefer to scratch at cracked corn on the ground. Northern Cardinals are more versatile, feeding on the ground, from hopper feeders and will even perch on the oil sunflower feeders.

The faithful American Goldfinches prefer the chipped sunflower seeds from the tube feeder by the kitchen window. Eastern Bluebirds will join them.

Several kinds of woodpeckers visit the suet feeder, filled with peanut butter suet cakes. The sturdy wood and wire contraption hangs from a limb of the sugar maple tree that dominates the backyard.

We are fortunate to have nearly all of the kinds of woodpeckers that live in Ohio, Downey, Hairy, Red-bellied, Redheaded, and even Pileated. We’re particularly grateful for the latter.

Pileated Woodpeckers, Ohio’s largest woodpecker, are giant, usually secretive birds that often live and feed deep inside dense woodlots. We’re glad the ones that visit our backyard are an exception.

white-breasted nuthatch, Bruce Stambaugh

White-breasted Nuthatch. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

For the last couple of years, a pair of these incredible birds has regularly visited our backyard suet feeders. We live in the country. Nearly 200 trees and shrubs populate our little slice of land. The small grove apparently is enough to satisfy the Pileateds.

The desire to dine at our free buffet must overcome their instinct to be reclusive. Often we know when they are coming. Their harsh call warns all other birds that the big boy and girl have arrived, and to make way. The others regularly oblige.

As big as they are, the Pileated Woodpeckers don’t seem that aggressive toward the other birds. Surprisingly, it’s the opposite. The smaller woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches play it safe until the Pileateds retreat.

I’m pleased that the big birds feel safe coming to our feeder every season. With the maple tree dense with leaves, the birds can easily hide. The huge woodpeckers even bring their fledglings to the feeder in the summer.

Without the leaves in the winter, the Pileateds are much easier to see. They always arrive from the south, usually landing on the same limb. They shinny down the big branch and flop over to the heavy-duty feeder.

Both the male and female are striking in their size, shape and coloration, a vivid red and contrasting white and black. Their thick, chisel-like bills taper to narrow, blunt points.

My wife and I are grateful for all of the beautiful birds that visit us, whether it’s once or daily. The Pileateds, however, are a most revered treasure.

Ohio's smallest and largest woodpeckers feeding together, female Downy and female Pileated. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Ohio’s smallest and largest woodpeckers feeding together, female Downy and female Pileated. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

11 Comments

Filed under birding, column, Ohio, photography, weather, writing

11 responses to “Winter is for the birds, big and small

  1. Our feeders are a big source of entertainment for us too. We moved last summer so we have new birds to feed and learn about. Right now we have a lot of cardinals. Come spring we will be feeding hummingbirds — a first for us.

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  2. Judith

    beautiful pictures..thanks for sharing them. I enjoy your posts and photos

    Like

  3. Boy, I am very impressed! Can’t believe the two Pileated on the feeder!

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  4. Just saw my first of the big Woodpeckers up in Minnesota. Beautiful birds. Great shots and great post!!

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  5. I love the picture of the smallest and largest woodpecker picture. I haven’t seen a Pileated lately, but it’s always a lovely sight.

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