May 20, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 01 March 2012 11:43
“A funny thing happened this afternoon in my backyard,” Heather Burford of Ridgefield wrote recently.
“For about two hours a huge, red-headed woodpecker worked away at an old tree at the back of my lot. After watching him for some time, I noticed he became very still on the tree so I took a walk out towards him.
“With every step I expected him to see me and fly away. No such happening.
“I stood within four feet of him and still nothing. I made a noise and finally he saw me. At that point his head feathers came up, he screeched at me and reluctantly flew away.
“I’m convinced he had fallen asleep on the side of the tree. That or he was suffering from a head injury after two hours of banging his noggin on my tree.
“Do woodpeckers sleep in the ‘ready’ position? Very funny. He was very large and very beautiful, especially up close.”
Heather was probably watching a Pileated Woodpecker at work.
There are some birds that will nap in the daytime, but not a lot has been written on the subject, and I could find no reports of Pileated’s taking 40 winks while on the side of a tree.
More likely, there was a hawk in the area, and the woodpecker had frozen to avoid being seen. I have often seen various “feeder birds” freeze for minutes at a time when a hawk is in or near the yard. The other week, I watched a Gray Squirrel stand up motionless on the ground for several minutes as a Cooper’s Hawk rummaged around the brush in the back of the yard.
Dr. John Alcock, a professor of biology who is an expert on animal behavior, writes in The Handbook of Bird Biology, “Threatened by a predator such as a hawk, many birds flee to the nearest cover, where they ‘freeze’ — stay motionless with feathers sleeked, head in line with body, one eye cocked in the direction of the predator, and legs flexed for a quick take-off. Birds on the ground crouch to eliminate shadows cast by the body. Birds with cryptic coloration commonly respond to danger by freezing in place, a habit that no doubt accompanied the evolution of their concealing coloration.”
You may not think of the red head of a Pileated Woodpecker as being “cryptic” or “hidden by camouflage,” but its black back and black-and-white face blend in with the tree bark to which the bird is often attached. We cannot be certain how other birds view red — it may not be as “flaming” to them as it is to us. (More on that in a future column.)
Remarking on the recent column discussing the name of “Ring-necked Ducks,” Jason Kessler of Ridgefield observes, “The ring that gives the Ring-necked Duck its name looks to me more like purplish iridescence than the ‘lighter color’ Mr. Choate would have you believe. It’s best visible in strong sunlight, as opposed to the white-tipped bill, which can likely be spotted from the space shuttle.”
First Sunday Bird Walks at Greenwich Point (Tod’s Point), March 4, 9 to 11 a.m., spotting scopes available, free, sponsored by Wild Wings, Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, for info, Meredith Sampson, 203-637-9822.
Family Bird Watch, review winter birds, bird feeding and first returning migrants Saturday, March 10, 1 to 2 p.m., Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, RSVP to Ted at 203-869-5272 x230.
Family Nestbox Workshop, hosting bird families in your yard, kits can be ordered, Saturday, March 17, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, Ted at 203-869-5272 x230.
Woodcock Watch, one of the rites of spring, Saturday, March 17, 6:45 to 7:45 p.m.,$5, RSVP to Jeff at 203-869-5272 x239.
Annual Meeting, Connecticut Ornithological Association, with sessions on gull identification and watching, interesting lives of local species, innovative approaches to birding, more, Saturday, March 24, all day, $20/$25, open to public, but registration required, Chapman Hall, Middlesex Community College, Middletown, ctbirding.org.
Seals and Seabirds cruises, two and a half hours around Norwalk Islands, Saturdays, March 17 at 1:30 pm, March 31 at noon and Sunday, April 1, at 1 p.m., $20.50, Maritime Aquarium, Norwalk, 203-852-0700, ext. 2206, maritimeaquarium.org
Eagle Viewing Trips, on Connecticut River, through March 18, 9, 11:30 and 2 on weekends, and 10 and 1 on Thursdays, $40, Connecticut Audubon, 1-800-996-8747
Copyright 2012 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] gmail.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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