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What’s with the woodpeckers? February 20, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood welcome woodpeckers. (Well, except for the one that tried to hammer its way through the bedroom wall one year. Our friend Ben finally resorted to hammering loudly with a fist on the exact opposite side of the wall when it began excavating. Sure enough, after three or four of these episodes, it remembered a pressing engagement elsewhere.)

Typically, we have downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers here, as well as those other woodpeckerish comedians, the white-breasted nuthatches*. We have rarely—far too rarely, for our taste—seen red-headed woodpeckers, northern flickers, and red-breasted nuthatches here as well. (Where have all the flickers gone, anyway? When we first moved to Pennsylvania, we often saw them.)

We have, sadly, never seen a pileated woodpecker in our yard, though our friend Ben saw an ivory-billed woodpecker once. (Until, that is, Silence pointed out that it was actually a plastic bag that had blown in from the street and gotten caught high up in an evergreen. OFB has seen all manner of rare birds over the years, but they inevitably prove to be, not misidentified birds, but normally inanimate objects that have found themselves in unexpected places. But we digress.)

Point being that we love hosting woodpeckers here at Hawk’s Haven, but around here, they don’t act very woodpecker-like. What do we mean? Well, during breeding season, we do indeed hear them drumming for mates in the trees and see them scouring trunks and branches for insects and insect eggs. But in winter, woodpeckers are supposed to eat suet, right?

So we set up our little suet cage and slide in a square of some enticing suet cake studded with mixed seeds and sporting a name like Citrus Delight, Berry Delicious, Peanut Butter Supreme, or even Energy Bar. Pleased with ourselves for helping the woodpeckers fuel up, we return to the house and wait to see them enjoying their high-cal treat. And wait. And wait.

True, we’ve seen birds eating the suet cakes. Crows especially seem to appreciate them. But woodpeckers? Never. Instead, they seem to favor the same black-oil sunflower seed we set out for our other winter visitors. The small birds—the downy and hairy woodpeckers and the nuthatches—eat them right from the tube feeders. The red-bellied woodpeckers prefer to take them from the cabin (“hopper”) feeder. What’s up with that?

Today, our friend Ben finally spotted a red-bellied woodpecker on the gigantic maple tree where the suet feeder is hanging. “At last!” I thought, calling for Silence. But did the woodpecker actually go to the feeder? Nooooo. Instead, it flew all over the branches, checking them out for pupating and hibernating insects.

Mind you, it’s not that we have the least objection to woodpeckers decreasing our surplus insect population. And we’re happy to keep them well stocked with sunflower seeds. But why aren’t they eating the suet cakes?!

* Silence would like to note, for her fellow stinkbug-haters, that white-breasted nuthatches are said to eat stinkbugs. She’s trying to figure out how to lure a nuthatch into the house to deal with the upcoming annual stinkbug invasion…


1. GrafixMuse - February 20, 2010

We have downy and hairy woodpeckers that DO frequent our suet squares often in the winter. We see northern flickers only in the spring when the snow melts and they usually bob along the yard in robin-like fashion as they look for tasty grubs and treats in the ground.

Ha, maybe we have gourmet woodpeckers around here who are finding more flavorful suet blocks in a neighbor’s yard and turning their beaks up at ours! How I envy you the flickers, GrafixMuse. They’re such handsome birds and are so much fun to watch.

2. Gail - February 20, 2010

We used to have a pair of pileated woodpeckers in our garden. Last year I saw them across the street on a dead tree. They have never come to the feeders…like the smaller woodpeckers do. Love, love, love the ivory billed that OFB saw! I am so hoping they find them, it’s heart wrenching when species go extinct.~~I was visiting the Cornell site just a bit ago. gail

OFB grew up with a whole family of pileateds in the abandoned field beside his family home, Gail, so it’s very hard not to ever see them here! Glad you enjoyed the ivory-billed sighting, only one of many humiliations. And we too love the Cornell website and visit it often.

3. Tatyana - February 21, 2010

Citrus Delight? Berry Delicious? If I was a woodpecker, I’d love to live in your garden!

Ha! Thanks, Tatyana! I did see a tufted titmouse enjoying the suet cake yesterday, and that cheered me up.

4. Victoria - February 23, 2010

I agree, the suet does not seem to be what the woodpeckers want.

The flickers are here in Idaho!

Enjoy them, Victoria! I’m so jealous!!!

5. Jen - February 25, 2010

Odd. My woodpeckers are lovin’ the suet – they and the nuthatches are the only ones who eat it. I have mostly hairy and red-bellied. But I’ve also noticed that they’ll go for the seeds if I run out of the suet. This is the first year I’ve used it and the first year we’ve seen them, so it’s pretty exciting!

That IS exciting, Jen! I love seeing woodpeckers. Just this afternoon, I saw a red-bellied woodpecker on the ground, eating seeds as happy as you please among some cardinals and juncos. Too funny!

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