Woodcocks strut their stuff

At last there are patches of ground free of snow all over this island. Right in front of the ranger’s station on Route 102A is a good place to listen for and see woodcock doing their “sky dances” in early evening and on through the night. These shore birds are very comical to watch as they strut about, all the while making a strange non-musical buzzing sound. When the mood is right they suddenly rise up in the air to quite a height, produce a very musical twittering and then descend to almost the very spot from which they took off. The dance then begins again. It is well worth the effort to go out and witness this bird’s courtship. I’m glad that areas are opening up for them to dance and wet ground is visible so they can find food. They are very fond of earthworms.

Wild turkeys are unusual to see these days on Mount Desert Island, but this week, I heard of several piebald turkeys on our island. Piebald animals have a mutation that causes them to be all white or to have their bodies splotched with white. Piebald deer are frequently seen all over the island, and they are quite beautiful and unusual. Keep watching for one of these turkeys. Nature is full of surprises. Often, any wildlife that looks different in coloration from the norm will not last long, for they stand out and are easier-to-see prey for their enemies. Please let me know if you see a piebald turkey.

You can’t ignore a pileated woodpecker if it comes your way and makes itself known. Everything these very large woodpeckers do is done with flair. This large, flamboyant woodpecker with its flaming red crest and loud whooping call is actually a fairly common sight on Mount Desert Island. Until recent years, pileated woodpeckers have been known only as a bird of wilderness areas, but unlike some bird species, these crow-sized woodpeckers have adapted well to the presence of humans and are now seen all over this island, even along busy highways and in yards and gardens where dead trees can be found. Although they still need large tracts of woodlands in which to live, they have adapted to second growth forests and younger trees.

The birds’ loud “yuk-yuk-yuk” rapidly repeated call is exciting to hear and really attracts your attention to their presence in the woods nearby. If they nest near your home, you will definitely hear them. Their babies also call loudly and insistently for their parents’ attention. Both parents take care of the young – they are devoted parents.

Contrary to the opinion of some people, these birds do not kill the trees. They are actually like tree surgeons drilling into a tree for the insects they know are there. They do not do exploratory surgery, and if the tree is basically healthy when they drill into the tree, the holes made by their drilling will soon heal up. You can easily recognize the large, oblong drilling they make if you watch for them. Nesting holes are quite different from their feeding holes.

Courtship and territorial activities for pileated woodpeckers take place as early as December and January. The eggs are laid in April and May. Nesting cavities are excavated by both parents and will be from 15 to 70 feet above the ground in either a dead limb or trunk of a living tree. This excavation may take 25 days to complete. After the eggs are laid, both parents take turns with the 18-day incubation period. These duties are exchanged every two hours during the day, and the males occupy the nest at night. Family groups remain together until fall. Watch for these special woodpeckers as spring unfolds.

Someone reported see a large bird sitting in a tree with a snowshoe hare dangling from its talons. They were not quite sure whether it was an eagle or an osprey. The one thing they told me in their description of the large bird was that it had brightly colored feet, which makes me think that they saw an immature eagle with its successful catch. Eagles have yellow feet, and young eagles in their first few years do not have a white tail and white head. It takes about four years for an eagle to become an adult bird. Ospreys usually appear in May, and they do not have colorful talons.

Maine is the last stronghold of bald eagles in New England. We residents sometimes forget that and take them for granted. Eagles feed mostly on dead fish or fish stolen from an osprey. Although the eagle is quite capable of catching its own fish, it can be considered a “lazy opportunist.” An eagle will often wait until an osprey catches a fish. Then it will intimidate the osprey until it drops the fish, and the eagle then grabs it and flies off to enjoy its meal. Beside fish, bald eagles also feed on carrion, water fowl, squirrels and hares. The only rabbit-type animal we have living on Mount Desert Island are snowshoe hares. In the winter, they have white fur, and in the summer, the fur is brown. Unlike the cottontails of lower New England, snowshoe hares do not have a burrow in the ground but rest on the ground in what is called a “form.” Young hares are born fully haired with their eyes open.

As spring unfolds, please tell me what you are seeing and send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.



Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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