Alternate title for this post: “Woodpeckers!!! and an Orchard Oriole”
Not because we caught a hundred woodpeckers or anything, but because one of them was a new species for us. And orchard orioles are always exciting. 😀
Here are the totals:
One of our first birds of the day was a recently-fledged downy woodpecker.
Which of course necessitated some group discussion (you know, cause woodpeckers).
If you haven’t seen too many of them, woodpecker molts can freak you out. They have strategies that, when you first learn about them, are a little bit confusing to wrap your head around. Especially when you are used to passerines and their strategies.
To quote a friend, it’s all about the primary coverts (ppcovs) with woodpeckers.
You can see pretty clearly that this bird’s primary coverts are juvenile – they’re browner than his newly-replaced lesser, median, and greater coverts (where limits occur between new, formative feathers and juvenile ones), and have a somewhat “see through” quality characteristic only of hatching year birds.
This fall, he’ll replace almost everything but those ppcovs, so if/when we catch this bird again in a year, he’ll have very, very worn coverts and be aged as a second year. Then in the second fall of his life, he’ll replace everything except the inner ppcovs, replacing only 1-2 of the outers. The following spring he’ll be aged a third year (TY) and in the fall during the 2nd adult prebasic molt, will replace either all, or a random selection of the ppcovs. So, while some ASY/AHY birds can have mixed feathers of different generations in the ppcovs, they can also have feathers of the same generation, like hatch year birds will have – Pyle warns banders to be aware of this and that HY and ASY/AHY birds can look surprisingly alike.
That’s not confusing at all though, right?
You can also *kind of* see in the above photo that its eye is more of a brownish color than it is a deep red; this is another feature only a hatch year bird will have, along with pointier retrices (tail feathers) and a buffyish wash on the flanks.
But enough about woodpeckers (for now).
IN OTHER NEWS:
This guy showed up in one of our meadow nets.
We caught a female orchard oriole (as you may remember from my post so very long ago…), and at the time I had seen her flying with a male a little while after her release.
It could have been any male, but I like to think it was this guy and that they are a pair. In which case, it’s likely that they nested on the preserve (both were in breeding condition when caught).
Orchard orioles belong to the genus Icterus, New World orioles, of which there are five species. The genus name comes from the Greek word for ‘yellow’ – makes sense, since each species is largely or partially yellow- or orange-plumaged.
By now, this bird likely already left and began his long-distance migration; he’ll fly all the way down to either Central America or northern South America. He might end up in Panama, Columbia, or Venezuela – a reminder that birds connect the world. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Hemisphere solidarity is new among statesmen, but not among the feathered navies of the sky.”
They are a shared resource, acting as pollinators, pest controllers, and bioindicators for us all. And, of course, giving us something beautiful and inspiring to see every day.
We tend to think of neotropical migrants as our birds, since they breed in North America. But really, they spend far more time in a single year of their life in other countries (flying north to us in the summer because they need to go somewhere where there is less competition for resources, including food and breeding territory).
Perhaps that’s partly what makes birds, and birdwatching, so enchanting – when you’re looking through your binoculars at a species like an orchard oriole, you’re seeing a being that has traveled thousands and thousands of miles in its life, that sees more of the world than many of us ever will. That realization can fill you with awe.
And make you want to go birding CONSTANTLY ALL THE TIME AND SEE ALL THE BIRDS EVERYWHERE WHY AM I SITTING AT A COMPUTER.
Anyway. Let me get back to other things.
Like this new species for us: a Red-bellied Woodpecker!!
Based on my really confusing explanation of woodpecker molts a couple minutes ago, how old would you say this bird is???
After second year!!! 🙂
If you’ve ever wondered why they’re called red-bellied woodpeckers (since it looks like they have red only on their heads), here’s why:
Here was a nice, calm bird to end the day on. 🙂