Friday, May 2, 2014

Woodpecker Tree

Red-headed Woodpeckers have arrived at Blue Jay Barrens.  I saw a juvenile several years ago and I spotted a couple of adults in the area last year, but this year I’ve seen three at once and they seem to be staying around.  Now I have all six resident woodpecker species living on the property and all six are visitors to my feeding station.

A component of my feeding station is what I call the Woodpecker Tree.  This Silver Maple once had large, sprawling branches that reached completely across the house.  To prevent future roof damage, I had the upper part of the tree removed in 2005.  The lower portion I left as a place to hang feeders and as a source of dead wood for foraging woodpeckers.  For about two months after having it cut, I performed a weekly removal of sprouts growing from the cut stumps.  It only took a few minutes each week and without leaves, the tree quickly ran out of energy and died.  Insects soon colonized the dead wood and the woodpeckers went to work.

The root buttresses have just about disappeared, but the tree still seems very sound.  Woodpeckers and various mammals have spent a lot of time foraging in this part of the tree.

There are still a few patches of bark clinging to the stout branches.  Where the bark has long since fallen away, the exposed wood has taken on the weathered appearance of driftwood.

Each limb has a couple of woodpecker nest holes near its summit. 

There are plenty of small holes from woodpeckers searching out burrowing insects.

Larger excavations provide evidence of Pileated Woodpecker feeding frenzies.  The insect supply in the tree must be diminishing, because the woodpeckers now use the tree as more of a feeding platform to which they bring food. 

The Red-headed Woodpeckers have adopted a common feeding strategy.  First there is a visit to the feeder to get a sunflower seed.

The seed is taken into the tree and lodged into a crack of hole.

With the seed securely held, the woodpecker cracks the shell and removes the meat.  Sometimes there’s a line waiting for access to the best holes.

The Red-bellied Woodpeckers use the same strategy.  A single seed is removed from the feeder and taken to the tree.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are responsible for most of the nest holes chiseled into the tree.

Downy Woodpeckers follow the accepted pattern.

Although, they prefer to open the seed in a more sheltered location.

Downy Woodpeckers leave more debris behind than do the larger species.  Chickadees often come in and clean up once the Downy has moved on.  I don’t know how much longer this tree will last, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having it outside the window.

Note:  The six resident woodpecker species at Blue Jay Barrens are: Red-headed, Red-bellied, Northern Flicker, Downy, Hairy and Pileated.


  1. You have some very lovely visitors!

  2. Hi Lois. They certainly brighten up the yard.