In approximately 85% of bird species, both the male and female of a mating pair contribute to the feeding and guarding of their offspring. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are of this ilk. Both members of a pair help excavate a nest cavity, incubate the eggs, brood the young and feed the nestlings for up to 10 weeks after they fledge. As seen in this photograph, when tending to their nestlings, one member of a pair wastes no time in departing as soon as its mate appears.
Thanks to the extension of the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s range northward, even northern New Englanders now have the opportunity to observe the nesting behavior of these medium-sized woodpeckers. (Photo: female Red-bellied Woodpecker leaves nest as food-bearing male arrives. Note continuous red crown on male, which is broken in female.) (Thanks to Sadie Brown for photo op.)
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Red-bellied Woodpeckers have extended their breeding range northward and westward over the last 50 years and are now breeding in northern New England. Many are year-round residents here, while some individuals move further south during particularly harsh winters. This range extension allows for observations not possible even 10 or 20 years ago.
While watching a Red-bellied Woodpecker this summer, I witnessed behavior I had never observed before. The bird flew repeatedly to the same tree branch, flattened itself on the branch with its body facing the sun and then fanned its wings out while cocking its head, raising its crown feathers, opening its beak and appearing to look at the sun. This behavior is common enough to have a name – the woodpecker was “sunning” itself. While preening, stretching and calling often takes place intermittently while the bird is engaged in sunning, it may also enter a stupor or state of lethargy. (Thanks to Cindy Lawrence for photo op.)
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There are many birds, such as waxwings, that have a frugivorous (strictly fruit-eating) diet. The only time they usually expand their diet to include insects is during the breeding season, when growing hatchlings require high amounts of protein for proper development. Others, such as orioles, show a marked preference for fruit but also eat significant quantities of other foods. All of these birds play an important role by spreading fruit seeds to distant areas either by caching food or distributing the seeds through their droppings.
Bird lovers often put out seed to lure birds in for a closer look (a practice discouraged during the summer in black bear country), but there is an equally effective magnet for some species, and that is fruit. (Due to the high sugar content, little nutrition and potential bacteria growth in jelly, it may be best to provide fruit over jelly.) Grapes often attract Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, House Finches and American Robins. Raisins and currants (soaked in water overnight) appeal to Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and Eastern Towhees. Species that find orange halves hard to resist include Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Gray Catbirds and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. (Photo: Gray Catbird (left), female Red-bellied Woodpecker (middle) and female Baltimore Oriole (right) enjoying breakfast at The House On The Hill Bed & Breakfast, Greenfield, MA.)