Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bird Nerd Alert!

I think I've admitted before that I'm a total nerd in many ways. I get lost in the dictionary; I'm making sure Boy sees every episode of Monty Python and Star Trek (original and Next Gen); and I spend way too much time looking up into trees and saying, "Hey, what kind of bird is that?"

Now, I'm not a true bird nerd. I don't buy books listing birds of every area I visit and check them off when I see them, like the gentleman I met during our Antarctica trip. (Although to be fair, I think he was a retired professor of natural resources, if not an actual ornithologist.) But I can tell a house finch from a house sparrow, a grackle from a cowbird, and a mourning dove from a rock dove (aka skyrat er, pigeon). I have a well-thumbed copy of Birds of Michigan Field Guide, which is helpfully organized by color and size for ease of looking things up. I think I've mentioned before that although we live in the middle of suburbia, we see all sorts of wildlife around us. Egrets and blue herons make use of local retaining ponds and wetland projects, and I often see raptors on the road between here and Ann Arbor. (And occasionally in my yard, thanks to my birdfeeders.)

So when I hear a strange tapping sound nearby, my ears prick up. This weekend was not the first time we've had a visitor to our corkscrew willow tree; besides strewing branches over our lawn at the slightest wind, it has a really nice hollow branch that woodpeckers really love. I've learned to look there when I hear drumming, so it doesn't take me five minutes to catch a glimpse any more. This time I found the little guy within a few seconds, and with my binoculars and field guide handy, I tried to figure out what kind of bird he was.

White front, black-and-white back, red tonsure: it had to be a male woodpecker of the Picoides genus. But a downy woodpecker (Picoides pubecens) or a hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus)? Luckily, my field guide has a "compare" section that suggests how to tell them apart. The downy woodpecker is 3 inches smaller than his hairy counterpart, and has a shorter bill and black spots on his tail. I took a picture so I could zoom in and look more closely. Unfortunately, I can't see this guy's bill or tail very well, but from a distance I thought he was more likely the larger size woodpecker.

I tried checking pictures online, but except for the tail and beak, the two species are almost identical. I tried listening to bird calls for the two, but all I discovered was that playing bird calls on your computer is an awesome way to confuse and torture a cat that's walking across your desk. So I'm going to trust in my ability to judge size from a distance and tentatively say this picture is of a hairy woodpecker. But I could be wrong.

1 comment:

  1. How about this to get a closer view of the bird:
    Take cat outside
    Tie long rope to cat's tail
    let cat climb tree, catch bird
    Pull rope
    Whaddya think?