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Ohio winters provide colorful characters AT YOUR BIRD FEEDER

Published: Thu, December 28, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Stephanie Hughes

Ohio certified volunteer naturalist

Every winter we are treated to an array of beautiful and interesting birds that live in our part of Ohio.

At my house, we have a mixed seed feeder outside the back patio doors, a finch feeder next to it, and our favorite, a suet feeder 5 feet from our family-room window. It is like television for our cats and quite entertaining.

There are seven kinds of woodpeckers that come daily and bully away the sparrows, starlings and blue jays.

The first is the downy woodpecker, the smallest, with black and white. The males have a red patch on the back of their heads. They are sparrow-sized, and are gentle and friendly.

The larger hairy woodpecker is almost an exact match, but they are bigger, and their bills are as long as their heads, making them look exaggerated (same red dot on males).

The red-headed woodpecker is robin-sized and is immediately known for his totally red head and tuxedo black and white body.

The red-bellied – our personal favorite – is beautiful with his red stripe down his head (females have a red patch) and his barred wings. He is bigger than a dove, and rowdy, picking a fight with any bird that gets in his way. We have had one male bring his young, teaching them to cache seeds in tree bark.

Lastly, we have had the privilege of watching a pair of pileated woodpeckers check out our yard for nesting sites, though never at the feeder.

Woodpeckers are so interesting. Their skulls have a fluid surrounding the brain to absorb the pressure of the drumming (repeated strikes for that characteristic “woodpecker sound”), along with sponge-like bone to protect from the blows. The energy from these blows is distributed throughout the body. Black box research and engineering is modeled off these adaptations.

Woodpeckers have long sticky bristled tongues to dig out and catch larvae, insects and worms hidden in trees. In fact, woodpeckers can hunt out 85 percent of the emerald ash borer larvae of an ash tree.

The eyes and nostrils are protected from the chips from drilling, and the tail is made of stiff, bristled feathers and used as a prop, or rudder to maintain balance. The feet are four-toed, with the first and fourth toes facing backward, the second and third facing forward to grasp and grip tree branches and trunks.

With a distinctive flight pattern of undulating series of rapid flaps followed by a swooping glide, these birds are easily spotted in flight.

They eat berries, bread crumbs, seeds, suet, lard, peanut butter, grubs, nuts, oranges, grapes, apples, sunflower seeds, jellies, mealworms and dried sunflower heads.

They nest in tree cavities and holes and in the winter they sleep in these.

What a colorful winter treat at my feeder.

A guidebook to identify birds, including the woodpeckers, is available at http://go.osu.edu/birdguide.

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