Saturday, January 10, 2009

RED-BELLIED IN REVERSE…

One of my favorite birds here along the river is the red-bellied woodpecker—though I’d be the first to admit I’ve never yet met a woodpecker species I didn’t like. Red-bellies are good-sized birds with striking black-and-white zebra-striped backs and colorful red-orange heads (nape and crown in the male; nape only in the female.) Still, don’t let their name fool you, because the red-bellied woodpecker is arguably the most misnamed bird around. Yes, there is a pale orange-buff wash on their bellies. But this namesake marking is often difficult to see afield. Even when one is working a feeder eighteen inches beyond the windowpane, you still might fail to see this orangish patch unless the woodpecker is turned just right. The bird’s most prominent feature is their red head area—but, of course, we already have a “red-headed” woodpecker. And “zebra-backed” woodpecker might cause confusion since several woodpecker species sport fairly similar back markings. Alas, I suppose we’re stuck with this misleading moniker, though I still think it badly misses the mark and shows a decided lack of naming creativity among the ornithological set. However, I’ll also conceed that in practice, the issue is usually moot, since even a beginning birder quickly learns to recognize a red-bellied from, say, a downy or hairy. Red-bellies are said to be expanding their numbers throughout their range. They’re certainly common here along the river. One or more are usually hanging around from dawn until dusk, either working the seed and suet feeders, or clambering up and down a nearby tree. This morning I spent perhaps half an hour watching a pair of red-bellies. The male arrived first. Though the suet feeders had just received a fresh cake, this breakfasteer preferred to take his meal from the cracked corn I’d scattered on the ground. Not unusual, since red-bellies are omnivores, eating everything from berries and fruit to bugs, and in winter, a wide variety of nuts, grains, and seeds. What was unusual was this particular red-bellied’s pre-feeding maneuvers. As I said, the cracked corn was on the ground beneath a big box elder near the cottage. The woodpecker would land about eight feet up on the tree’s trunk. Most woodpeckers are wary, and this red-bellied was no exception. For a minute or so he looked carefully about—turning his head this way and that, peering across the stream, at the house, looking over the yard, scrutinizing bushes and boulders, checking in every direction for potential danger. The perfect picture of pessimistic woodpecker paranoia. When the bird was finally satisfied the coast was clear, he headed for the corn on the ground—not by dropping for a flap-fly landing as you might expect, though, but via backing. Herky-jerky reverse all the way. Yes, I know nuthatches are the down-the-tree-face-first experts among local birds, and that all woodpeckers typically back down trees when feeding. But this one wasn’t feeding, just heading to where the food was, which—as mentioned—was a fair distance away. Plus there were obstacles in the form of two big limbs which the backing bird had to negotiate around on his way earthward. What I found interesting—and more than a bit amusing—was the way that red-capped fellow kept craning his head, trying to look behind at where he was heading, checking the path he had to take to swerve around the blocking limbs on his way to the free eats. More than once he was forced to pause, pull forward, make a correction in angle, and try again. I swear, that little woodpecker looked for all the world like a first-time boater trying to back a trailer down the launch ramp. And I kept thinking what that goofy woodpecker really needs is a good set of rearview mirrors. Once he’d set up on the corn, the red-bellied would feed voraciously for maybe two minutes. Then, as if alarmed at something, he’d suddenly take off. A few seconds later the female would land on the trunk of the box elder, at more or less the same landing spot as her mate. After going through her version of a red-bellied security check, she also came down and fed a minute or two on the cracked corn before abruptly flying away. The interesting thing was, when the female red-bellied had done her look-around and it came time to eat, unlike her mate, she took the quick route down—a simple (and far more graceful) flap-drop. Now, if I were sexist, I’d suggest the female red-bellied (being, so to speak, a “female driver”) wasn’t quite so adapt at executing the long-haul reverse maneuver all the way down the tree to the ground. But my money says she—like a lot of females, and not just among woodpeckers—was simply more practical, less a time-waster and show-off, and smarter than her mate. Whatever the reason, when she’d done her look-around and it came time to eat, the female woodpecker took the quick route down—a simple (and far more graceful) flap-drop. I watched the pair take a dozen turns at their feeding routines: the male always backed down the tree’s trunk to the corn, the female always flew. I hesitate to bring this up, but I do believe there’s a lesson in there….

19 comments:

forest wisdom said...

Well sir, no comment on what I think you may be suggesting is the lesson here, but I will say this: That is a stunning photo of the red-bellied. Thank you.

(My laptop crashed right at the second I was sending this comment a first time, so if this a duplicate then please delete this one. Of course, if this isn't a duplicate then this will make no sense at all :)

forest wisdom said...

Grizzled,
You so often leave me smiling and chuckling gently. Awhole blog post (and a good one too!) in a reply to my paltry attempt at a comment.

I take my hat off to you sir. :)

giggles said...

Beautiful picture....beautiful bird....

And sexist feminist that I am...well... you can extrapolate from there......!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Nope, I'm not saying anything about anything.

Thank you for reading, though.

The Solitary Walker said...

Liked your story about the Harley gal... LOL...

The female of the species... Deadlier than the male? Or 'graceful' and 'practical' like Mrs Woodpecker?

I don't know the answer either, but I shall stop here else I fear I may land myself in the deep waters you and Forest have so skilfully avoided!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Forest:

We all takes our lessons where we finds 'em.

As to worries about your missive not being duplicated…and thus the directive regarding possible deletion thereby not making sense, I can assure you confusion is the silly-putty matrix within which my life plays out.

There are, however, those poor souls among us whose passage of this mortal coil is apparently conducted in astonishingly greater befuddlement. To wit, I offer what I assure you is a verbatim conversation overheard during a visit to Wal-Mart yesterday.

Lady in pet-foods aisle talking to unknown caller who'd just rang her purple cell phone:

"…yeah…I'm over here, not finding them things I didn't look for…no, if I knew where, it wouldn't be the right place…yeah, I'm sure they do, but probably not…uh-huh, I will but I can't…"

At this point—fearful that if I continued eavesdropping, I'd be unable to stifle myself and would audibly, however inadvertently, offend. I hightailed it for the sporting goods department.

The gal with the purple cell phone pressed against her ear had that look—a familiar narrow, beady stare I recognized from similar gals from the old neighborhood and a misspent youth. I didn’t need to see this one’s Harley-Davidson tee-shirt and tattoo collection (not her entire collection, I’m willing to bet!) to know that should I become hysterical with uncontrolled laughter—and should she take personal offense (does a bear…?…well, you know), I'd also become incapable of fleeing—a sitting (well, rolling-around-on-the-floor) duck, helpless in my own defense, a sublime target upon which she might vent certain assault-type frustrations, like those occasionally perpetrated against the poor snake in that old B.C. comic strip.

Yes, I know…a real journalist would have stayed and listened. What I did was cowardly, journalistically speaking. But survivors are the ones who live to tell the tales—and now you know any tiny hint of confusion you might have invoked is a mere trifle.

Things could definitely be worse.

forest wisdom said...

The order in which these comments are posted is all wrong. Your long comment to me should be up there between my first two comments.

Now this is really confusing. :)

And something tells me that fact will make you smile, Grizzled. :)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Forest…

Well, you're right…confound it! I do not understand this blogging stuff.

Yesterday, when I tried to post the woodpecker shot with the text below, it kept coming up with like three words, each on their own line, to the right of the shot, and the remainder of the paragraph and text below the pix. Yet, if you checked it on the "preview" it looked fine. I knew how to fix that because I'd had the same problem, more or less, with that photo and poem I did for Christmas day, except on that go-around, I never could fix it except by just deleting the entry and pix and reposting, time and again, moving the text down one line at a time until it came out right.

Can't explain this one, and have no idea whether or not I could rearrange the entries (don't think so) which means we'll just have to fix the order in our heads and anyone who's confused can just join the club.

It is kinda funny, though, given your original comment about your letter. :-)

Val said...

Your post and the comments made me laugh out loud. Literally. No "lol" here. I had a big 'ol belly laugh with this.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

You mean you thought I was trying to be funny?

Val said...

See...now you're gonna get me in trouble because, even though I have a generously sarcastic sense of humor myself, every once in a while (at least once a day or so) I have the tendency to take myself or others too seriously. AND I can't stand to let down or offend people, so now you've got me wondering...

Do we have the same sense of humor or did I just offend you? I'm pretty sure I know the answer but, ahem, humor me.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Why, you’ve cut me to the bone!

(Gasp!)

I’m appalled that you could somehow read my serious and thoughtful reply to fellow serious and thoughtful readers, and somehow…

(Gasp! Gasp! Gasp!)

… SOMEHOW not see in them the serious and thoughtful and, I daresay, erudite outpourings of my serious and thoughtful heart.

(Gasp! Sob! Gasp!)

I am wounded beyond repair…

(Sob! Gasp! Sob!)

…offended to the core…

(Sob! Sob! Sob!)

…incapable of carrying on another moment in my serious, thoughtful life. I see no recourse left to my meaningless existence except to slink outside and fling myself into the river!

AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!

(Waa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!)

*********************

There, is that a sufficiently sarcastic answer to your question? Are you satisfactorily humored? Will you please quit worrying and go have an ice cream cone? ☺

Val said...

I ate a brownie.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Excellent substitute, more fiber, and can be consumed on the go with your only worry being crumbs rather than drips.

I hope it was chocolate.

The Solitary Walker said...

Jesus! I'm geting outta here before I end up as an extra in Groundhog Day!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Coward! :-)

giggles said...

Oh this thread is LOL funny!!!!!!!

I'm gonna have a brownie , too!!

And I meant for you, Scribe, to extrapolate inside your head...not out loud, for goodness sake.... Wouldn't want to offend anyone else!!!! ;-)

Have to share my excitement...today at feeders; a red-bellied, WBN, a pair of flickers, (although I caught but a glimpse) lots of slate juncos, a downy and a few tufted tit-mice.... Lots of fun activity! (Now that I'm paying attention again....thanks!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Confound it! Why does everyone keep insisting this is funny?! Life is too serious to be funny. Woodpeckers aren't funny. Birdwatching isn’t funny! (Okay, it is sometimes, and birdwatchers can be exceedingly funny…but let’s not dwell on exceptions.) And now, here you are, peering out your windows at the feeders, looking at birds not being funny…and—

Say, I just noticed a brown creeper creeping brownly up the box elder. Funny? Nahh-h. Funny would be me trying to creep up a box elder.

As I was saying—funnily, you seem to believe—we are a staid, serious lot here on Riverdaze. To think that we might demean our conversations by stooping to mere merriment…well, it just goes to show you how crafty and subtle we can be—no, not devious. You see, while in the midst of mistakenly believing we were funny, you became curious (bored?) and checked your own feeders and saw, “a red-bellied, WBN, a pair of flickers, (although I caught but a glimpse) lots of slate juncos, a downy and a few tufted tit-mice....” Your words.

So…ha, ha, ha! The joke’s on you. We made you look and you saw stuff and liked seeing it, and you never would’a done it if you hadn’t thought we were funny.

Now. Eat another brownie, for me, because I'm still hungry. And that ain't funny neither.

giggles said...

Yes..."thanks" was one of my words too!

Heh, heh..........