Pair of Pileateds

2015-12-23 08.35.50

Just before Christmas, this amazing couple made a joint appearance at my peanut butter suet feeder in the backyard. I felt extremely fortunate. Pileated Woodpeckers, Ohio’s largest woodpecker species, usually don’t frequent close to buildings. Apparently, the grove of trees that line the western boundary of our property provide enough protection for this pair of Pileated Woodpeckers that frequent the suet feeder. Seldom, however, do they feed together. The female is on the left, the male on the right. Can you make the distinction?

Fortunately, the Pileateds usually announce their arrival with a loud call meant to discourage other birds away from the feeder. That also allows me to grab my camera and be ready for just the perfect picture.

“Pair of Pileateds” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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

A day in the life and near-death of me

Pileated Woodpeckers at dawn
The Pileated Woodpeckers beat all the other birds to the feeders on my memorable day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been known to exaggerate. Believe me, there is no exaggeration in this story.

The day dawned bright and cheery. An orange sunrise quickly transitioned into a rare cloudless January day in northeast Ohio.

I was glad for that. I had a wide variety of activities planned. However, I could not begin to imagine how an unforeseen incident would impact not just the day itself, but my life, too.

First and foremost on the agenda was to complete a final draft of yet another newspaper column. Lunch would be early since I had a 1 p.m. appointment in my hometown, Canton, Ohio.

I am fortunate that I married a woman who loves to cook. She rules the kitchen. I help where needed, usually cleaning up afterward. Not this Saturday.

I arrived at my appointment right on time. An hour later I was visiting with my friend and barber, Paul, who was recovering from a severe stroke at a rehab facility near where I had been.

I had a marvelous visit with Paul and his wife. It was great to have him on the road to recovery. Their congeniality energized me.

snowy trail
The Audubon’s Warbler I was in search of was nowhere to be found. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Next I went in search of a couple of rare birds reported in the area. On the way, a small flock of American Robins flew across the road in front of me and landed in a crabapple tree loaded with fruit as orange as the birds’ breasts. I imagined the birds devoured the aged apples.

Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t locate the wayward warbler near Massillon. It should have been in tropical climes by now. With the sun shining brightly, I found the cold, sharp January air refreshing.

Next up was my third attempt to locate a Snowy Owl in Sugarcreek. Others had seen it only a few minutes after arriving. Not me. This visit was strike three for me.

I arrived at my final destination near dusk. The friendly property owner, who happened to be outside, graciously welcomed me. I asked his assistance in finding another rare bird near his home.

First though, the glowing sunset caught my eye. Even if I missed this bird, the view of the setting sun from this kind man’s backyard was stunning.

With the light growing dim, my new friend suggested we look for a pair of Short-eared Owls that he had seen on the farm just east of his home. Sure enough, there they were, majestically coursing the snow covered pastures for four-legged varmints. When one of the owls caught one, it buzzed by the other one instead of eating the critter. Was it showing off?

Back home, my wife, Neva, and I basked to the crackling of the fireplace while watching college basketball. It had been an eventful day.

Of course, none of these fulfilling proceedings would have happened if it hadn’t been for my wonderful wife. I failed to tell you that at lunch I choked on a piece of chicken.

Fortunately, Neva was nearby, and her instincts kicked in. With three thrusts of the Heimlich maneuver, the chicken dislodged, and I could breathe again.

Neva’s quick action enabled me to fully appreciate every moment of that day, and all that has transpired since then. Clearly, that is the very model of understatement.

Words are too cheap to express my utmost gratitude. Neva definitely saved the day and my life. There is simply no better way to put it.

winter sunset
The magnificent sunset on my eventful day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Pair of Pileateds

Pileated Woodpeckers, Bruce Stambaugh, birding,
Pair of Pileateds. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

When I hear that distinctive, penetrating squawk outside, I usually grab my camera and head to a window at the rear of our home in Ohio’s Amish country. A Pileated Woodpecker, or maybe two, is brashly announcing its arrival. As a birder, I have been fortunate to have Ohio’s largest woodpeckers coming to the feeder regularly year-round. They especially frequent the feeder in the summer when the parents bring a juvenile to the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs from the backyard sugar maple tree.

I have had all three birds near the feeder at the same time, but never on the feeder simultaneously. As you can see, I can no longer say that.

When I glanced out a window recently after hearing that call, I was pleasantly surprised to see both the male and the female on the feeder opposite one another. Even as an average birder, I knew this was a very rare event. Most birders long to even see a Pileated Woodpecker, much less have them as a yard bird. Pileateds are normally shy birds that keep to the deep woods. Why this pair feels safe in visiting my backyard, I don’t know. I’m just glad they do. I know I was extremely fortunate to have both the male and the female together in the same photo.

“Pair of Pileateds” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014