Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

The downy woodpeckers continue their amusing routines at the bird feeder as the seasons shift.

Among the various feathered visitors to my bird feeder, two downy woodpeckers have become regular guests, delighting our cat Alphonso Mango with their playful antics. These two woodpeckers are inseparable, always arriving together at the bird feeder several times daily. Their synchronised flights are comical, soaring through the air before landing on the sturdy branches of the Sassafras tree. From there, the real show begins.

Like acrobats, the two woodpeckers chase each other up and down the tree's branches, darting around with incredible agility. It is as if they are engaged in a secret game. Their antics add a touch of amusement to the backyard.

But the most amusing part of their routine is how they approach the bird feeder. The first downy woodpecker has a peculiar preference. Upon reaching a branch close to the feeder, it pauses momentarily, contemplating its next move. Then, comically, it would begin a slow and deliberate "walk" up the tree, pecking at the bark with measured steps. He tries to maintain his dignity while clambering up the trunk.

On the other hand, the second woodpecker is the embodiment of efficiency. Determined, it would land on a branch and immediately fly towards the feeder, swooping in like an expert aviator. There is no time for dilly-dallying or theatrical antics. This bird is all business.

This contrast in behaviour never failed to bring a smile to my face. I find myself drawn to these two feathered characters, each with their own unique quirks and charms. Their presence adds something special to the simple act of birdwatching.

Downy woodpeckers play a role in controlling the invasive European corn borer. Although they look similar to the hairy woodpecker, they are not closely related, and their resemblance is due to convergent evolution. One way to distinguish them from hairy woodpeckers is by their black-spotted white tail feathers and shorter bills.

Downy Woodpecker

The weather this week has been uncharacteristically warm for February. The air temperature has ranged between 8°C and 22°C. Normally we would expect cold, windy and wet weather. It feels more like late Spring than late Winter.

I was ill all last week, since last Sunday. Usually, I am not sick this time of year. I have a relatively strong immune system. I also usually get a flu shot. This year I didn’t take the time to get it done. I think my system was overwhelmed by exposure to sick people. My wife's best friend had returned from India and debarked the plane with the flu, and my wife had gone over to bring her some food. The next day my wife was sick, and two days later, when her symptoms worsened, I took her to urgent care. I think everyone in the waiting room was ill.

I've stood at the window all this week looking out at the incredible weather. I was upset that I could not enjoy it. I wanted to get out into Sourland Mountain for a hike in the woods. I wanted to feel the sunlight on my face. I wanted to hear the sounds of nature. I had listened to the whir and whoosh of the central heating and cooling system all week. I'm not too fond of that sound.

Yesterday I opened the sliding door, grabbed my camera, and sat outside on the steps at the back of our home. I sat there enjoying the almost quiet. In the distance, I could hear the leaf blowers. Short gusts of wind caressed the tops of the trees. The aches and pains in my back were uncomfortable. I lay back and watched the higher-up winds push the clouds through the sky.

The bird appeared and hopped from branch to branch above the bird feeder. I sat up and followed its travel for a bit. Then I remembered I had the camera. I fired off a few bursts of the shutter. The bird hopped to another branch. Then another. Each time, I captured a burst of images. It seemed to be confirming that I was not a threat. I grabbed a few more shots, and then I stopped. I watched the bird eat. Having had its fill, the bird then flew off.

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I have no what type of bird this is. Do you?

UPDATE: According to my Instagram contacts, this is a downy woodpecker.

Birds in Flight

The series of photographs depicts backyard birdlife around the bird feeder suspended from the branch of a sassafras tree.

  1. A black-capped chickadee and dark-eyed Junco are featured in the first photograph. On the feeder clings a Black-capped Chickadee, identifiable by its distinct black head and throat, white cheeks, soft grey wings and back. A Dark-eyed Junco is seen departing the feeder. This bird's slate grey plumage and white outer tail feathers are characteristic of its species, making it easily recognisable.
  2. The second image portrays a Dark-eyed Junco flying towards the feeder, identifiable by its slate-grey plumage and white belly. The motion of its wings is frozen by the camera, giving us a glimpse into the bird's agile flight.

  3. The third image features a Black-capped Chickadee, recognisable by its black "cap" and bib, white cheeks, and light grey body feathers, perched deftly on the side of the tree. The second bird, captured in mid-flight with wings outstretched as it approaches, is another Black-capped Chickadee. Its dynamic pose, with wings and tail feathers spread, showcases the agility and speed with which these small birds navigate their environment.

  4. The fourth image captures a solitary Downy Woodpecker. Recognisable by its white belly, black and white spotted wings, and the distinctive red patch on its head (if it's a male), it's seen in a dynamic, wings-extended posture approaching the feeder.

  5. Captured in mid-motion is a Dark-eyed Junco, identifiable by its slate-grey feathers on the top parts of its body and white belly. Its wings are fully extended, showcasing the white outer feathers characteristic of the species, as it lands on the green wire suet feeder.

Each photograph showcases these birds' beauty and agility against the soft-focus backdrop of my backyard.

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Dark-eyed Junco · Sunday 5 February 2017 · Nikon D5100 at 1/1000 sec · AF-S Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8G at f/1.8
Blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata)
Black-capped Chickadee · Sunday 5 February 2017 · Nikon D5100 at 1800 sec · AF-S Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8G at f/4.0
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) · Sunday 5 February 2017 · Nikon D5100 at 1/1000 sec · AF-S Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8G at f/5.6
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) · Sunday 5 February 2017 · Nikon D5100 at 1/1000 sec · AF-S Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8G at f/5.6