A good day for me this week started with the sighting of a pileated woodpecker. The bird swooped across the road in front of me and landed on a small tree right next to the road. It certainly attracts your attention. This handsome and largest of our resident woodpeckers is about crow-size and has a crimson red crest and a sizeable bill. Their posture is very erect, and they have a confident look about them no matter what they are doing. You don’t have to see them to know they are in the neighborhood, for their call is a loud whooping sound.
Courtship and territorial nesting for this interesting bird take place as early as December and January with eggs being laid in April and May. Territorial rituals include drumming and “wukking” calls. There also is a lot of head swinging and crest raising.
These special woodpeckers are seen all over the island. At one time, this large, flamboyant woodpecker was strictly a bird of the deep forest away from people. Through the years, it has adapted to living near houses and people and now seems comfortable in towns and villages. When they bore into a tree, they know it is infested with some sort of bug, and they drill into it to get food. They do not do exploratory surgery, so the holes they make are not injurious to a tree. If the tree is basically healthy, it will heal over after the insects have been eaten, and the tree will be better for it. As you explore the island, watch for trees that have holes in them and the ones that have healed over. There is a prime example on the trail near Sieur de Monts Spring. If you walk on the boggy boardwalk in one direction and come back on the wider path to your left, you will see pileated woodpecker’s excavations on your left. They are very interesting. Keep watching carefully, and you find places where the trees have healed after the woodpecker’s work.
A column reader sent me a question about an unusual looking hairy woodpecker on his feeder this week. The bird was stained with yellow but otherwise a proper hairy woodpecker. Both the hairy and the downy woodpeckers come to feeders regularly on this island. This color variant seems to have come from staining in the nest hole. Sometimes the bird has yellow staining and sometimes even red. Sap and vegetation in the tree seem to be the cause.
Parula warblers are nesting near my house. I hear their buzzy trill often when I am outside. They are busy with nests activities and feeding their young with spiders and insects. When occupied with family affairs, they often have no fear of humans, and you get to see them very well. The male is blue-gray on his upperparts and has a noticeable black-and-rufous collar of dots across his breast. He is quite beautiful.
All warblers are now in their best plumages and much more easily recognized than in the fall. This is the time to seek them out. With binoculars at hand and lots of patience, you should have some nice observations. Keep your cameras or phones handy to capture them digitally for identification later if you can. I’d like to have a device to carry along with me that would record the song I’m hearing right at that moment and tell me what bird is making it. Is there such a thing? Your comments would be appreciated.
Many times in the last few weeks, I’ve seen our island’s smallest owl flying across in front of my car after dark. The little saw-whet owl really is a small bird, about the size of your hand from wrist to finger tips. This tiny owl has no ear tufts, and when sitting, it seems about the size of a fat sparrow. In flight, it looks bigger; its wingspan is about 20 inches. With a short, fat body and large wings, the owl imparts a bat-like appearance, especially when seen at dusk.
The voice of a saw-whet owl is most unusual and has been described as sounding like the beeping sound made by a truck when it is backing up. Although shy and strictly nocturnal, one may be seen resting in a thicket, and you might be tempted to touch it. Never give in to this urge, for this small bird has sharp talons, and it is not as innocent as it looks. Just take photos. They can kill a mammal as large as a cottontail rabbit, and they have great patience in waiting long periods of time for prey to reappear. Trails near woodland streams are good places to see them.
This is the month for pink lady slippers to be found, and they are well worth looking for. This gorgeous flower is one of our native orchids. Maine does have quite a few. The single blossom is one of the most beautiful flowers on this island. The single pink blossom borne on top of the stem resembles a pink slipper-shaped pouch. Unlike some orchids that slump together, the pink lady slipper often is found singly but near others. Never be tempted to dig one up and plant it at home. They need special soil in which to grow. Lady slipper leaves are large (6-8 inches long and 2-3 inches wide), and they are veined. These basal leaves are well worth noticing. Deer find the flower quite delicious.