Last night I saw my first Downey Woodpecker at the suet and again this morning drumming high up the side of the Silver Maple.

Picoides Pubescens - high on the right, looking down at me

On Castenada Lane our major birds were the Acorn Woodpecker and the Western Scrub Jay and they’re both raucous neighbors who make their presence most apparent.  A lot of people find them both a nuisance – pecking on their house beams or aggressively rousting other shyer birds.  I must admit they make me laugh.  They’re both birds with attitude.

The Acorns live communally in a large extended family with a breeder pair and the aunts and uncles all pitch in with child rearing as well as keeping the grainery stocked.  They allowed us to inhabit THEIR territory and always regularly made their presence known with their Woody Woodpecker Song – ah ah ah UH ah!

We also had a Nuttal Woodpecker pair who were the height of reticence and propriety but loved our suet.  I suspect the Downey will be our Minnesota Nuttal.    The Nuttal and I think, the Downey is shy and mate for life.

As for the Scrub Jays on Castenada Lane,  they seemed to know if they heard the coffee grinder going in the morning it was almost time for peanuts on the deck. By the time I got outside they were already gathered in the oak tree jousting for first position.

Aphelocoma Californica - grabbing a peanut, far right side of railing

But I knew just how much they were capable of real bully aggression the day I heard an extreme  ruckus and rushed outside to witness the bird version of the playground fisticuffs.  One oak tree was filled with woodpeckers and jays – all shrieking holy bedlam with their particular versions of – “GET HIM!” “GOOD ONE!”  “GO!” “GO!”  “YAH!” “BLOOD!”  Or thereabouts.  It was deafening.

And on the ground – or play ground, if you will – one jay was beating the tar out of another.  And at one point the aggressor let up a bit and the aggressee had just a moment to fly up the drive in a desperate attempt to escape but within moments the entire entourage followed and took up positions in the adjacent tree, hollering for blood, and the fight went on.  Until it was suddenly over and everyone flew away as the broken and battered jay scuttled beneath the adjacent bush.  It was brutal.  Wonder what turf battle or romantic impropriety that was about?

It has me wondering about the “true” Blue Jay I see here at Mt. Faith.  I’ve yet to discover his personality except that I have read in my bird books that he likes to mimic other birds, particularly the hawk scream – just like the Stellar’s Jay which kept me company at work in Big Sur and competed with my special raven friend for peanuts, and stole my sandwich whenever possible, and screamed like the red tailed hawk if he couldn’t get my attention.

In California our birds were particularly happy with our “water features” and especially liked the water drips, often waiting in line in the trees for a drink.  We had tubing which we ran up the trunks of trees and across a branch so the water would constantly drip down into a birdbath. But of course, there were endless possibilities to tap off the extensive garden watering system. It’s going to take some “doing” on Mt. Faith which only has one outside spigot! But to duplicate somewhat our offerings in that regard,  I got a good idea from the local paper in an article about the importance of providing water even over seed for birds in the backyard. They suggested hanging a receptacle with a hole punched into the bottom, filling it with water, and hanging it over a birdbath.  No real “drinking fountain” but at least a splash of water.  I found an old rosemaled milk can in an antique mall (how Nordically perfect is that!) and I’ve yet to punch a hole, but we’ll see how it works.

P.S. My three baby wrens fled the nest.  Hope they’re okay.

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2 Responses to AVIAN SOCIOLOGY 101

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