Friday, July 22, 2011

Red-headed Crossbill?

... Or "Wicked-billed Woodpecker" — I just couldn't decide.

First let me just say, July in Houston is just plain hot. And muggy. And while I used to do "hot" without any problem, I've become spoiled in my dotage. I like air conditioning much more than I like sweating. So I really haven't done much in the way of birding in a while.

But one day last week, I dropped by the neighborhood park where I often spend my autumn, winter and spring lunch breaks — just to see if the usual Texas-summering birds had come to their senses and left for cooler climes. I expected to find the place pretty quiet right in the heat of the day but boy, was I wrong.

As I pulled up in the parking lot, I immediately spotted the brilliant scarlet streak of a Red-headed Woodpecker flitting between the trees in front of me. I watched from the driver's seat as it zipped back and forth, busily catching grubs and insects to feed a youngster who was following it around, apparently "learning the ropes" (trying to copy the parent but not having any luck catching food on its own). This industrious fellow was presenting a veritable feast for his young fledgling, who gulped down every morsel that was offered.

But when I pulled out my binoculars and took a closer look, I discovered something even more interesting than the action itself. The adult woodpecker was "handicapped" with a deformed bill which appeared to be at least twice the size of a normal RHWO bill, thinner than normal and curved to the extent that it must cross the tips in order to close its bill.

Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)


I was amazed at how adept the adult woodpecker was at catching food even with its "handicap." It definitely appears to have adapted to the deformity quite well.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera in the car that day; when I returned a couple of days later and got these shots, the juvenile was nowhere to be seen and the adult was just hanging out, taking a break from its hunting. However, I have been back once more since and once again spotted this distinct adult, so I assume it is at least a temporary resident of the area.

Here are a few more shots I snapped of this unique bird. Click on any of the thumbnails to see the full-sized image.

Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill     Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill

Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill     Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill


I hope to get back over there early next week to see if the woodpecker is still around, and hopefully to spot and get some pictures of the juvenile as well.

22 comments:

KaHolly said...

Utterly amazing!!

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Amazing find and great images.
BTW - I'm not sure if they're interested in bill deformities in woodpeckers, but there was some research going on in Alaska about bill deformities in chickadees. You might want to google "Alaska chickadee bill deformities" to find the group and find out if they'd be interested in seeing your woodpecker.

Christopher said...

WOW!! I have seen a few woodpeckers with slightly deformed bills, but nothing ever like this!! Nice find, and great pics to document it!

Gary said...

Amazing shots!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

MaineBirder said...

Simply incredible that this bird can survive with such a deformity. Fantastic captures!

My World Bird Wednesday post: Hummingbird Elegance

holdingmoments said...

Fantastic shots. Good to see he's not letting his deformity get in his way.
I hope he lives a long life.

Andrew said...

A wonderful bird to see, such a brilliant colour and apart from it's apparent disability looks a healthy bird. Great images.

joo said...

Fabulous photos!

Modesto Viegas said...

well done!

Springman said...

Amazing Kyle. I'm glad the bird photography bug has bit again. Just look what you captured! Hopefully this poor birds condition is an isolated occurrence. Very scarey. This is a wonderfully written post too. Hope your weather moderates soon, on our news up North here they simply show a blazing sun over the panhandle of Texas. The drought sounds horrible! I hear folk are praying for a hurricane, True?

eileeninmd said...

Wow, what a great sighting. I am glad it is doing well. The bills reminds me of the red crossbills. Great photos.

missing moments said...

Great shots of that guy! I'm always amazed at nature and how critters seem to adapt to their handicap. He is one tough guy!

Larry said...

Great captures of an amazing bird Kyle! It must be very tough for this bird to hammer out a nest site. I wonder if it uses old cavities created by other woodpeckers for nesting?

Stewart M said...

Hi there - what a great set of pictures. So much for the perfection of nature!

Does make you wonder how the bird copes.

Cheers - Stewart M - Australia

Neil said...

Very interesting with the bill the way it is. Hope it goes alright.

Arija said...

Thank you for this great photoessay. It really is amazing how the bird has adapted to it's unfortunate malformation, even managing to preen.

Pat said...

Wonderful series! It is amazing to see how some animals survive and even thrive despite their infirmities.

Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

What a find! Well done.

Hilke Breder said...

Wow! Great shots! The bird looks so well fed - it's hard to imagine how it manages. But reading up on it often forages on the ground, eats insects, berries, fruit... so not a typical woodpecker.

AshleyJackson said...

looks cool :)

KaHolly said...

Hey there!! Where have you been? Hope everything is okay. {Hope you haven't "dried up" like the rest of TX :)} Won't be long before I'm baaaaack! Tx bound 12/17!!

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