Five Woodpeckers

moon phase Week of 04/22/2007 Good days to start flower gardens.

Brrrr! It's cold and windy—down to 15 degrees last night and cold enough to freeze a 5 gallon pail of water, solid. I wasn't expecting such below-normal temperatures, so I left a pail of willow branches on the back porch. The ice may slow them down, but I don't think it will hurt them. The willows are much hardier than the spring peepers. this kind of cold is dangerous to the delicate little frogs, and they've gone undercover until it warms up again. Sadly, cold nights mean no frog music. It's hard to believe that a week and a half ago it was 55 degrees at night and every frog worth his name was singing.

Five Woodpeckers

The turkey vultures figured it was too cold for their bare heads, and they moved further south for awhile. I haven't seen the little Phoebe for several days. It's pretty hard for a flycatcher to make a living when it's this cold, so he too decided to head further south where there are insects to eat. He'll be back when it warms up, so I only have to wait for his cheery song, "Phoebee-phoebee."

I've been enjoying the woodpeckers this spring, especially how vocal they are now. There are nine kinds of woodpeckers that can be found here in Southwest Wisconsin. There was a time that they were all seen frequently in the Coulee region, but some of them aren't seen very often these days.

The striking plumage of the Red-headed woodpecker was once a common sight on this heavily wooded landscape, but now they seem to be nearly gone. I've seen only one here in the past three years. For the most part, these beautiful woodpeckers spend their winters further south and return here to spend the summer.

The Yellow-shafted flicker also spends his winters in a warmer climate and returns to Wisconsin in the spring. Their throaty, high-pitched, chattering call is always a welcome spring song—"wick wick wick wick wick." I still see and hear a few of these brightly feathered woodpeckers through the summer, but they are not nearly as common as they were 20 years ago. That's about the same time I noticed the Red-headed woodpeckers were fewer. The third local woodpecker that I don't see as often lately is the Hairy woodpecker. They have the same black and white plumage as their smaller cousins, the Downy woodpeckers. They also have a loud, chattering call, almost a rattle. The males of both species have a rich, red patch at the back of their head.

The Downy-sized Yellow-bellied sapsucker is yet another woodpecker who returns in the spring. The male has a single, high pitched note: "cheerrr!" His pretty plumage includes a blush of yellow on his breast and a red throat patch and a red forehead. They eat insects like all woodpeckers, but they specialize in eating tree sap. By pecking small, shallow holes in the bark, they can feed on the sweet sap that flows from the fresh wound. They have favorite kinds of trees to visit but will eat the sap of most any kind of tree or large shrub. I don't see them very often but they are less conspicuous than some of the other woodpeckers. Like flickers, the sapsuckers are on the shy side and don't really show up at the bird feeders.

The fifth woodpecker in the center of my drawing is the other woodpecker that's somewhat shy. The crow-sized Pileated woodpeckers aren't quite a rare sight here in the Coulee region, but they tend to avoid human activity. This is their time to be vocal: "kik-kick--kikkik-kik-kick," etc.

Life in the Kickapoo River valley just wouldn't be the same without all the woodpeckers' songs and antics. It bothers me that there aren't as many as there were and makes me wonder if there will ever again be room for all living things.

Naturally yours,
Dan

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