MAPS Banding: Day 4

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:

Species New Recap Total
Common Yellowthroat 1 0 1
American Goldfinch 1 0 1
Downy Woodpecker 1 0 1
Tufted Titmouse 1 0 1
Orchard Oriole 1 0 1
Gray Catbird 2 3 5
Northern Mockingbird 2 0 2
Blue Jay 1 0 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 0 1
Song Sparrow 0 1 1
Total 11 4 15

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.

In this bird’s wing you can see molt limits where flight feathers and median and lesser coverts are being replaced.

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).


This guy showed up in one of our meadow nets.

Adult orchard oriole

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.

Young male orchard orioles are yellow like females, becoming more darkly colored as they age. This was an adult bird, so he was already well on his way to a nice, rusty orange.

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.


*hem hem*

Anyway. Let me get back to other things.

Like this new species for us: a Red-bellied Woodpecker!!

This was a male – a female’s red cap would not extend beyond the back of the head, as it does in males.
The tongues of red-bellied woodpeckers are at least three times the length of their bills, and while it’s a little out of focus, you can sort of see the tongue’s barbs. After drilling into deadwood, red-bellies will use that super long tongue (which is also highly sensitive and sticky) to find invertebrates, and then use those barbs to grab them and pull them out. Males have slightly wider tongue tips than females, which means they can forage in slightly different places on the same tree.

Based on my really confusing explanation of woodpecker molts a couple minutes ago, how old would you say this bird is???

Mixed feather ages among the ppcovs
With a couple of retained, very old feathers, and some nice new ones.

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:

It’s not visible in the field, but the belly is suffused with a brilliant scarlet. In females, this area is paler and more washed out.
Also they don’t discriminate between wood and hands, fyi.

Here was a nice, calm bird to end the day on. 🙂


Happy birding!


































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