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 (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.
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.