The woodpeckers most often seen here in the Kickapoo Valley of southern Wisconsin are the little downy woodpeckers. Except for having barred tail feathers, its plumage is the same as its larger cousin, the hairy woodpecker. Their striking black and white feathers make them standout against a dark tree trunk or limb. The males wear a rich red cap that is small but can't be missed.
The downy woodpecker is the least shy of all the woodpeckers and will come right up to the house without fear. They may even land in your hand on a cold winter morning, if you quietly hold out some sunflower seeds.
Like most of the larger woodpeckers, the little downy does most of its feeding by searching the bark for insects and their eggs or larva. They are equipped with pointed and very stiff tail feathers that help balance them while holding on to the tree trunk with their sharp talons. The bird's small size lets him land and forage for weed seeds on wild plants such as coneflowers, goldenrod and asters. They are very fond of corn so I like to put out several dried ears of field corn where I can watch them from the window.
For those of us who do much of our bird watching from a window the downy woodpecker is often seen in the cheery company of chickadees and nuthatches as they are all busy around the bird feeders.
Like other woodpeckers and nuthatches, the downy can't hold on to a seed with its feet while pecking it open. They take one seed at a time and place it in a crack between some bark or dry wood. This is a slower process than that of most birds but they get the job done.
While other larger woodpeckers, like the hairy, red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers are busy searching for food in the woods, the downy may be seen in a cornfield, a marsh or brushy fence row. There are no idle hours for these busy little birds. They are always searching for food and their rapid tapping can be heard anywhere there might be food.
With the coming of the new year, there are many of us who may make resolutions to try and better the quality of our lives. For me, it comes with an ongoing promise to do more to bring wildlife around me. Each new year I resolve myself to planting more flowers, trees or bushes which will attract birds and insects. I may build some new birdhouses and feeders that will add more joy to my life in the coming year. A new brush pile will give shelter for small animals and birds.
In essence, what I'm doing is allowing myself the opportunity to learn more from mother nature by bringing her closer to me. My yard therefore, becomes a classroom which grows a little larger and better year by year.
So I would ask everyone to remember how important it is to add nature to your list of New Year's resolutions. There is no better way to bring happiness and pleasure into your life in the coming year.
On behalf of all the farmers and employees of Organic Valley, I wish the very best for everyone and a healthy happy New Year.
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