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My Life’s Birds: #72

March 5, 2008
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July 6, 1993- Christian Co, Mo- The fact that it took nearly a month to pick up my life Downy Woodpecker was probably due to the fact that half of that time was spent in Florida, in areas where Downies are unlikely, than any statement to their abundance in southwest Missouri. They are certainly, the easiest of the woodpeckers to find nearly all year round, and often visited our feeders.

What is it about woodpeckers anyway, that makes even the most common of them so interesting? For me, I know that even now, thousands of Downies after that first one at the Linden House, I’m always buoyed when I inevitably find that little woodpecker with the impossibly small bill in mixed flocks. Woodpeckers, while often in the company of perching birds, are different than the little dicky birds you might see on any given trip out. Their foraging techniques and the unique physical adaptations that make those techniques possible are fascinating to any one with an interest in bird evolutionary biology or comparative physiology.

But it’s something more than that. Even those individuals who limit their birding to the backyard birdfeeders prize their woodpeckers above nearly all others. There’s something to be said for the oddity of woodpeckers that adds to their appeal. The fact that Downies, in particular, are that intriguing mix of peculiar but accessible undoubtedly has something to do with it. My wife, for instance, will stop what she’s doing and check out the Downy that comes to my suet in Chapel Hill for starters, not something she’ll do for anything else that shows up (with the possible exception of bluebirds), and my in-law’s new feeding station didn’t feel “official” until the first Downy swept across the gap between the stand of hardwoods in the back and the feeders on the deck.

Perhaps this is part of the reason that the Ivory-bill dream dies so hard. That woodpeckers, with all their charm and charisma, have some hold on us more than other birds might. Surely, all of that is evident in the little Downy Woodpecker.

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4 Comments
  1. Jochen permalink
    March 5, 2008 12:25 pm

    The Ivory-billed dream dies so hard because you can’t extinguish what’s always BEHIND the tree trunk, remember?

  2. slybird permalink
    March 6, 2008 12:09 am

    I love woodpeckers! I can totally appreciate even the common Downies.

    Regarding IBWO… I have some more photos. A couple are posted on facebook, more will wait until I get back to blogging in a month or so. Did you know they had white spots on the outer retrices? Would be nice to get some fresh specimens to check that feature out.

    ~ Nick

  3. Nancy permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:52 pm

    I would like to know how to keep this beautiful bird from pecking holes into the side of my house

  4. Nate permalink*
    September 8, 2009 6:04 pm

    @Nancy- I can only suggest patience, they’re looking for resonant wood to communicate with others and they’ll eventually stop.

    That or aluminum siding… 🙂

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