Something to do on a snowy day: Learn the difference between hairy and downy woodpeckers

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Hairy Woodpecker clings to a suet feeder as snow falls in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Hairy Woodpecker clings to a suet feeder as snow falls in Jan. 2015.

If you live in New England you’re about to buried in snow so why not studies these photos and learn the differences between the hairy and downy woodpeckers. Beginning birders often confuse the two species. I know it took me a long time to be able to tell the two woodpecker species apart with confidence. Hopefully this posting will help some of you distinguish between the two.

The two species are hard to tell apart because they basically look exactly the same, hence the confusion. The major difference is the size. The downy is a dainty six inches, while the hairy is a beefy nine inches. That’s enough of a difference that you’d think it would be easy to tell one from the other. But if you’re new to this birding thing and don’t have a point of reference to judge size, it’s tough. I know, I’ve been there. Plus, like any birds, there can be size variations within a particular species. There can be smallish Hairy Woodpeckers and largish Downy Woodpeckers. So size can or can’t be a good way to tell them apart.

For me, the biggest difference is the size of the bill. In the most simple terms, downys have small bills and hairys have big bills. Beyond that, the bill of the downy just looks small and rather fragile. It isn’t fragile, of course, it’s quite strong. It just looks small and fragile. The bill of the Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, looks more sturdy and substantial. If one or the other lands on your feeder, check out the bill — dainty downy or hardy hairy.

Below is a side-by-side comparison. (Males of both species have a red patch on their heads. Females do not have have the red patch. Both birds below are females.)

Photos by Chris Bosak Side-by-side comparison of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers' bills. Female Hairy on the left, female downy on the right.

Photos by Chris Bosak
Side-by-side comparison of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers’ bills. Female Hairy on the left, female downy on the right.

A couple winter birds

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Downy Woodpecker perches next to a birdfeeder in New England, Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Downy Woodpecker perches next to a birdfeeder in New England, Jan. 2015.

Yesterday (Saturday) coastal southern New England had its first significant snow of the year. And even so, it wasn’t that much of an event as we woke up to about four inches of snow and nothing else fell during the day (except some light rain off and on). But it was nice to see snow finally (I’m sure not everyone shares that opinion) and, for me, that always means checking out the feeding stations for photos opps.

I didn’t do so well in that department as the birds were surprisingly somewhat scarce. White-throated Sparrows were the most plentiful species, with 10 to 12 under the feeders at all times. A Downy Woodpecker showed up frequently, too. There were infrequent visits from cardinals, juncos and titmice. That’s about it. The Carolina Wren Continue reading

Carolina Wrens come a’singing — even in winter

Photo by Chris Bosak A Carolina Wren perches on a feeder in New England in January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Carolina Wren perches on a feeder in New England in January 2015.

I was sitting in my bedroom doing some work on the computer when I heard a familiar song behind me. It wasn’t coming from the clock radio. It wasn’t even that type of song. It was a bird song, of course, and it was being belted out richly by a Carolina Wren.

“Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle!” Loud and strong.

It was nice to hear the song. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard a lot of birdsong in New England. I’ve heard plenty of bird calls — non-melodic chips often coming from cardinals and White-throated Sparrows — but not a lot of songs. But this Carolina Wren was in full voice. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I’ve heard Carolina Wrens sing in the winter before, plenty of times. My guess is that it’s territorial posturing. That’s part of why birds sing in the spring, mostly over breeding territories. I think this wren was protecting his feeding station.

(Story continues below, with more photos, too.)

Continue reading

Great Backyard Bird Count set for Feb. 13-16 (press release)

Photo by Chris Bosak

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Black-capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker share the suet feeder, Nov. 16, 2014.

Here’s a press release about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project for birders of all ages and levels. My next For the Birds column will focus on the Count.

NEW YORK (Jan. 21, 2015) —Give Mother Nature a valentine this year and show how much you care about birds by counting them for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The 18th annual count is taking place February 13 through 16.

Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of Continue reading

Clearing out my 2014 photos: Meadowhawk dragonflies mating

Photo by Chris Bosak Meadowhawk dragonflies mate in Selleck's/Dunlap Wood in summer 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Meadowhawk dragonflies mate in Selleck’s/Dunlap Wood in summer 2014.

Here’s my next photo in the series of 2014 photos that I never got around to looking at and posting. This will be the final one. It’s time to move forward and let go.

I got this shot in the summer 2014 when trying to add to my meadow close-up collection. I liked the shots based on the quick look I took on the camera’s tiny screen at day’s end, but never took them further than that. In fact, I had forgotten about them until I found the photo folder buried inside another folder the other day.

This shot shows a pair of meadowhawk dragonflies mating in a “wheel” position. The male is the red one.

For a fascinating article on how dragonflies mate, click here.

I like photographing dragonflies in the summer. The birding gets slow in July/August and bird photography even slower. So my attention often turns to the smaller creatures of the meadows, which are around and active on even the hottest days. For many more of my meadow close up photos, click here.

 

Clearing out my 2014 photos, take 10: Great Blue Heron

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron stands on a piling along the Norwalk River, fall 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron stands on a piling along the Norwalk River, fall 2014.

Here’s my next photo in the series of 2014 photos that I never got around to looking at and posting. (Don’t worry, I’m almost done. Then I can focus on 2015 and finally put 2014 behind me.)

I ran a similar photo to this in the fall, but this one never made it out of the “look at” folder. I was walking into work one fall day when I noticed this Great Blue Heron standing on a piling within the small marina by my work’s building. It looked so stately and the fall colors in the background prompted me to stop and get the camera out of the bag. Usually in moments like this, the bird takes off as soon as I stop, get the camera out, take the lens cap off and start the focusing process. But this guy (or girl) stayed put for me.

The photos published earlier may be found here.

Repurposing Christmas trees

 

Christmas trees for repurposing at Cove Island Park in Stamford, Ct.

Christmas trees for repurposing at Cove Island Park in Stamford, Ct.

Most discarded Christmas trees end up in a landfill somewhere, or if they are lucky, as mulch in a local dump. For the last couple of years, many of the old Christmas trees in Stamford, Connecticut, have been placed by the city in big piles at Cove Island Park. From there, volunteers, led by David Winston (shown below), have moved the trees to places in the park where they can continue to be of value.
Last year they were placed to protect the dunes by the beach. This year, despite the icy rain falling, volunteers placed the trees, hundreds of them, in two spots around the park. One spot was in the wildlife sanctuary to more clearly delineate trails. The other spot was in a wooded area that had become cleared and was likely going to be used for purposes not intended in the park. So the volunteers, including myself, filled in that clearing with old Christmas trees. Now that area can be used for birds and other wildlife as shelter and protection.
Not a bad way to reuse all those Christmas trees that are enjoyed so much around the holidays, and then placed curbside.
Also not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday morning.