The Pileated Woodpecker, 17 inches top to tail tip, is Ohio’s largest woodpecker. Conversely, the Downy Woodpecker is Ohio’s smallest at a mere 6.5 inches long.* The two are seldom seen together. If they happen to arrive in the same area, the Downy quickly knows its place. It is no physical match for the impressive Piliated.
I recently was watching and photographing a male Pileated Woodpecker feed on the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs in my backyard. Imagine my surprise when a male Downy Woodpecker suddenly dropped onto the feeder and seemingly challenged its mega-sized cousin. It was both a once-in-a-lifetime moment and a David vs. Goliath situation. I was extremely fortunate to capture this brief confrontation before the Downy decided to wait its turn.
“David and Goliath” is my Photo of the Week.
*Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, Kenn Kaufman, p. 214 & p. 218.
For years, my wife had to endure me jumping up from the table morning, noon and night to respond to emergency calls. I served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Holmes County, Ohio for 27 years.
I can’t tell you how many times I must have interrupted a meal to respond to an emergency. Neva always understood that someone else needed my assistance more than our family, at least for that critical moment.
Now we’re both mostly retired, and I no longer respond to fire and EMS calls. I look forward to her delicious cooking, salad to dessert. However, pleasant surprises still occasionally interrupt our meals. Birds are usually the cause.
Recently Neva announced from the kitchen that lunch was ready. I knew to be prompt. I hadn’t even taken the first bite when I spied through a window some commotion. A hawk had perched on a thick pine tree branch in our backyard.
I raced for my binoculars as if I were answering a fire alarm. Even without the optical aid, I could see the feathers flying as the hawk plucked its prey. The hawk was having lunch, too. I watched the small accipiter briefly and then grabbed my cameras. I clicked and filmed away.
By its size and features, this beautiful bird was either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk. Both are notorious for stealth flights in search of unsuspecting songbirds at backyard birdfeeders.
Clearly, I had just missed the capture. The hawk focused its full attention on plucking the feathers from its victim. Other birds gradually returned to the feeder buffet, oblivious to the hawk’s presence.
I consulted my favorite bird guide and compared my photos with the renderings in the book. All the while I continued observing the bird of prey. The bird’s physical characteristics best fit a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are tough to identify in the field. I had the advantage of perspective, comparing the bird in the pine with the branches around it. Its size appeared too small for a Cooper’s Hawk.
I checked other identifying markers, too. The bird’s rather flat head made its eye look large. The bright yellow legs were pencil thin. The brown streaks on its breast also said juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.
I posted one of the photos I had taken of the bird on the social media’s Facebook’s Ohio birding page. Others, including the author of my guidebook, confirmed the ID. It’s always nice to get affirmation from an expert like Kenn Kaufman.
Not surprisingly, my wife’s delicious homemade butternut squash soup had cooled. Neither of us complained. We were mesmerized by the aviary activities outside.
Satisfied with the photos that I had taken, I returned to my meal. From where I sat eating, I could still see the young hawk pulling at the meat of its capture. Though seemingly gruesome, it was an everyday act of nature, and we got to see it.
I took another slurp of soup, looked up, and the hawk was gone. After I had finished eating, I went out to verify my suspicion of what the hawk had had for lunch. The feathers I found were indeed from a Mourning Dove.
Timing is everything. Had I not responded to the call for lunch when I did, I might have missed the unfolding action outside.
I didn’t mind this lunchtime interruption at all. I imagine the poor Mourning Dove would strongly disagree.