Monday, June 1, 2009

Breakfast with the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers

I got up early Saturday morning and headed north to W. G. Jones State Forest to look for woodpeckers. There had been reports of nesting activities up there on the TexBirds listserv, and I wanted to get out to see the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers while I had the chance. (By the way, thanks to Bill Godley of Brazos Bend State Park for the detailed directions on finding the nest trees!)

I stopped about halfway to the park to enjoy the beautiful sunrise, arriving at the ranger station about half an hour later. Following Bill's directions, I found the nesting tree and entrenched nearby to wait for this rare bird. And apparently I had timed it just right, because within fifteen minutes I began to see plenty of activity.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker - 5/30/2009
Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis)

An adult woodpecker stuck its head out of the nest cavity briefly, then plunged from the tree and winged quickly away. I could immediately hear cries and squeaks coming from the tree, so there were obviously youngsters inside — and from the amount of noise and the sheer number of trips the parent made to and from the tree over the time I spent watching, I would guess there were several present in the nest.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker - 5/30/2009

Judging from the behavior at the cavity entrance and some (perceived) slight differences in facial markings, I'm pretty sure there were at least two adults participating in the breakfast foraging service, possibly more. One had a tendency to dive dramatically from the tree trunk — plunging sometimes six to ten feet before extending its wings to curve back upwards — while the other would often loop directly around the tree with hardly any dip in altitude. On at least two or three occasions, the departing adult would fly away with what seemed to be rejected bits of food (see above). They kept it up continuously, with a visit to the cavity at least once every five minutes or so.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker - 5/30/2009

Unlike most North American species of woodpeckers, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers build their cavities in live pines rather than dead trees. Their cavities can be found by the streaks of greenish white pine sap that run down from the holes they drill, which when hardened help to protect the nests from tree-climbing snakes. They often nest in small clusters and may have several adults that help the breeding pair in brooding and feeding the young.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker - 5/30/2009

Unfortunately, the babies were apparently not yet old enough to venture out of the nest, but it was still a fantastic morning of birding with plenty of activity. For a couple more shots of the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, click here.

There were more sights to enjoy at Jones State Forest on this beautiful Saturday morning, including plenty of Red-headed Woodpeckers and an abundance of wildflowers scattered through the forest, but the Red-cockaded feeding frenzy was by far the most enjoyable. I'll add some more pictures from the morning's excursion in the next day or so.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #40.

Bird Photography Weekly


dAwN said...

Great shots Kyle! When visiting North carolina we go to Weymouth woods for the cockaded...I never did get any action photos like!

Will be in Texas next spring...might plan a Birders who blog, tweet and chirp get together. Would you be interested.. I am hoping to get some of us together in Arizona as well.

Nate said...

The rejected bits of food are more likely the parents doing a little cavity keeping and removing the chick's waste from the nest.

Baby bird waste comes out in little self-contained packages that make it easier for the parents to take away.

I've seen it done in perching birds but it makes sense that it'd be more important for cavity nesters as before long the young ones would be sitting in a pile of their own feces. Not a happy situation at all.

Nate said...

Oh, and great pictures, by the way!

Bob and Cynthia Kaufman said...

Outstanding series of photographs, Kyle! I missed this species when I visited Florida. I'm glad you easily found yours.

MaineBirder said...

Beautiful Woodpecker and excellent photos!

Christopher said...

GREAT photos you lucky son of a gun. I especially like the flight shots and the one with the fecal sac.
Red-cockaded AND Red-headed WPs - I'd be in heaven!
Have your RHWOs got their full red head yet?

DaveABirding said...

Great shots, as always. Thanks for sharing.

mick said...

Great photos of a very interesting morning watching all that activity. It would definitely be worth getting up early to see!

Anonymous said...

Holy Cow, Kyle. That new lens is really workin' for you. When I was there those birds were way, way up in the trees. Gorgeous shots!

Neil said...

Great photos worth getting up early.

Larry Jordan said...

Excellent series of photos of the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers Kyle! According to Peterson's Field Guide, these guys are an endangered species!

The bird diving out of the nest definitely has a fecal sac in its beak. When the chick is fed it immediately triggers an ejection of fecal matter in the form of an enclosed fecal sac that the adult removes from the nest to keep everything tidy.

I love the last in flight shot too. Imagine, getting all these super shots of an endangered species. Bravo Kyle!

Kelly said...

Wow! Fantastic photos of the woodpecker flying in and around the nesting cavity. Love them! Lucky you for seeing a Red-cockaded Woodpecker too! Would be a lifer for me...

Arija said...

Great series of shots, the downward flight is just lovely!

Jeff said...

Those are some great photos the the Red-cockaded. I think I've got to replace my little superzoom with a DSLR!