Fledgling antics at bird feeders are fun to watch

  • By Sharon Wootton / Herald Columnist
  • Friday, June 30, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

When the avian babes are in learning mode, it’s a time for smiles. The kingfisher young one has been learning to fly and dive. The chickadee child was pouting because mom wouldn’t feed it, even though it was standing on sunflower seeds.

The nuthatch fledgling didn’t have enough sense to leave the railing when the giant approached, just hopping an inch or two away. The one that used a shoulder for a landing strip recovered quickly and flew to safety.

It took awhile to realize what I wasn’t seeing: fluffy crossbill babes (or any crossbills). Was it something I said?

While there have always been hairy woodpeckers year-round at the feeders, this was the first hairy fledgling that I’ve recognized as a young one.

Mother would fly onto the bird feeder, maintain a tenuous grip because it was not built for woodpeckers, grab some seed and return to the tree where Junior was waiting for his meal.

“Like this, Junior.” Swoosh to the feeder, pick up a seed, eat it. Pick up another and bring it back.

“Be sure to scatter as much seed as possible before finding just the right one. The ground-feeders have to eat, too.”

Junior takes delivery of the seed.

After a few more demonstrations, the mom left. When it became apparent that she wasn’t coming back with food, Junior gave it a try.

Swoosh, land (sort of), hang on for dear life as the feeder swung back and forth from the force of the crash landing. Scatter seeds. Find one. Try to eat. Whoops, regain balance. Eat. Take another and fly to the steady tree.

The best act came a few days later. The young hairy, now a pro at landing, scattering and eating sunflower seeds, noticed the hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder. It apparently did not notice (or care about) the size difference between a hummingbird and a hairy woodpecker. It just wanted some of whatever the hummingbirds enjoyed.

It approached cautiously; after all, it was outnumbered 5-to-1. Landing in the pine tree, it watched the competition. Watch, come closer; watch, come closer. Where’s Mom when you need a demonstration?

With more bravado than tactics, the hairy fledgling threw itself at the bird feeder. Touchdown! Defying design principles, the hairy hung on, bouncing and swaying with the feeder, which was hanging from a skinny branch.

Now a hairy woodpecker’s approach to food is not always the smartest. This one had already proved that by hammering on the screws that hold the metal swing arm for the bird feeder.

Or was it thinking: “OK, get these screws out, the feeder falls to the ground, and I can eat without the trapeze-artist routine.”


Back at the hummingbird feeder, the hairy had scared away all the hummingbirds but one, who sat on a branch about 10 feet away and watched the show.

It could hang on, but getting a drink was another matter. The hummingbird feeder’s holes are covered by little yellow plastic grates designed to let narrow bills get through to the sugar water but little else.

Befuddled by the grate, the hairy whacked away, eventually flipping the grate out to the ground, then contorting its body to get the tip of its large bill into the little hole where it could use its tongue.

I couldn’t tell whether it tasted the sweet stuff. It wasn’t long before it flew away. I’ve seen it there again, but the plastic grate is back in place.

Maybe it’ll just start whacking on that branch until it breaks off and the hummingbird feeder falls to the ground.


Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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