the big birding question….


Okay for me there were two big questions; one, who will abandon me with the fear of ice and snow and who is going to hang? and two, should I wander through every page of Sibley’s Guide to Birds or just wait for migration and be surprised by what I just find in the woods? Answer to one is below (so far) and answer to two is wait and be astonished.

First, we have a male and female Pileated Woodpeckers deciding to make our yard it’s territory. We are honored for the company as we don’t get very many visitors from here until the spring thaw.  Now I saw a Mountain Chickadee who is still feeding on the seeds in my feeder but the little guy was much too fast to photograph. However, I managed to get a photo of an American Robin, some Black-Headed Grosbeaks and then looked them all up. And yes! these guys hang around all winter long.  This made me pretty happy actually because learning the sounds of these birds are actually easier now that I don’t have to distinguish above all the noise. (I adore spring but those birds can make quite a racket.) Then I realized one more guy… this one was a surprise as I’ve done all I can to identify these fellows this summer but they were so high in the tree tops I never got a good look at them. Turns out there are quite a few European Starlings as well. Suddenly the winter seems to be more of a challenge to get better photos of those who are faithful to the area. Like it’s been said, “if you can’t do the winter you haven’t earned the summer.” (That’s my quote I say to other’s about tourists – however, in all fairness I happily want the bird tourists over the human kind.)

Well no matter what you can see that all the birds are having quite a time in the little chokecherry bush in my yard.


American Robin (Turdus migratorius)


Black-Headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)


European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Now onto a few comments on the pileated woodpecker. Two personal observations. First, I am going to attempt to get a little film of one of these guys walking. It is probably even more comical than watching a penguin walk. It seems (by simple observation) that the tail that is intended to hold them up in trees also works on the ground. Creating this stumbling strut in which the woodpecker himself seems shocked by gravity. I’ll do my best to get a visual one day to show you what I mean. The second observation is that this is one magnificent bird. He didn’t win my affections at first, what with the pounding at five am but has soon became the one bird that was able to take the place of the hummingbirds in the family. In the summer it was, “Oh you got to see the hummingbirds….” Now it’s “that bird is out there again he was watching me split wood!” Usually the story told by one of the kids involves laughter – summary? this guy is not a bad trade off!  Later if I get lucky I might be able to get better photos and there are some more on my flickr page but this should be solid.


Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)



And FYI a great site on anyone trying to find more information about the pileated woodpecker. Cheers!

Cornell Lab’s info on Pileated Woodpeckers

And for my last comment; if your wondering …”do I have these guys hanging out in the woods by my house?” …but haven’t seen them then checking out snags works pretty good. They produce a oblong hole or rectangular hole when feeding for bugs. You can see a prime example of how the hole looks on this photo I took up on the mountain.

photo here


15 Responses to “the big birding question….”

  1. Wonderful shots Lori, I really like the Pileated Woodpeckers, we have them here but I have never attempted a shot at one. Definitely one of the must subjects I want someday. I like the one shot with the bird silhouetted against the sky, I just wish that one branch wasn’t there, still a cool shot.

    If I ever do a book I am going to have you write the forward for me, you humble me with your comments Lori, but I have a long way to go before I will ever be ready for a book. I really appreciate all the kind words, hope you have a great evening:)

  2. 2 montucky

    Very nice shots of these birds! You are indeed fortunate to have the Pileated Woodpeckers in your yard: I have not seen them around here. I have also been thinking about who will stay and who will go for the winter. Already conspicuous by their absence are the hummingbirds and swallows. Our robins are still here, busily stuffing themselves for their trip: I will miss them this winter. The Chickadees stay with us all winter here and they know there will be food (which they share with the sparrows) in the feeder for the worst days later on. Most of the othere are now forming big flocks and getting ready to depart. It’s always a little sad, kind of like when close relatives come to visit and then have to go back home.

  3. Hi Bernie – those are some of the nicest thoughts I’ve read in a really long time. Thank you. (I agree with the comment on the frustrating branch… uggg… it’s a shame we can’t pose these little buggers isn’t it?) I giggle at the thought of you being a long way from a book – you produce some of the finest work I’ve ever seen. His silhouette is actually quite regal. It’s a far cry from woody woodpecker!

  4. Hi Montucky, thanks for visiting. At first I was a bit corn-fused about your comment about the robins leaving but when I looked at the migration map and they do leave your area. How odd is that? Now that just produces another of the million questions that already swim around in my head. I had read a little article about the chickadees staying put in the winter (and how resilient they are for such a small bird) not only was I impressed I was so happy with the news because I never got a shot of them that satisfied me and I’m curious about the shot. Snow produces a whole new set of issues and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I appreciate your comments it gives me an idea of what to look forward too – thank you.

  5. Interesting picture of the pileated,expecially the one in the (cherry ??) bush. By any chance did you see the bird eat any of the fruit so visible in the picture ?? One wonders why that bird would be in such a bush unless it was to have a meal on those berries.

    Though not in your back yard, the Wood Thrush ( Hylocichla mustelina) is common in the East. If you would like to see a picture of one you would not believe, see the blog: Natureremains. blogspot for a real treat.

  6. I sure wish my Pileateds would stay around the yard more often! The only time I see them is when they are passing overhead!

  7. Great shots Lori and nice article. The woodpecker shot is amazing! They truely are a phenomenal bird. Lots of personality like a bluejay! A little quirky.

  8. Hi Cestoady, Thanks for visiting. I think one shot on my flickr page was him munching on a berry (so yep, your theory is completely correct) and another of him running up the telephone pole looking for ants in the cracks in the wood. So far that little chokecherry bush is the most popular for almost all the birds. I’ll check out the nature remains blog thanks for the tip!

  9. Hi Monarch – Who knows why the fella decided to come but he now offically visits everyday. (Even when other birds don’t come around.) Oh by the way – there is a lot to be said for watching on of these guys fly. They are so neat to watch in the sky.

  10. Hi Painting artist, yep, quirky now that’s just about the perfect word. (It’s funny in my case I fell in love with the personality not really his looks. But don’t mention that he might fly away and not come back. A guy with a trim job on his hair like that just may carry around an insecurity or two.) 🙂

  11. You never know Lori.:)

  12. cool photos of some interesting birdies…

  13. Lucky you to have a Pileated nearby! It’s not a bird that I see often, and when I do, they don’t cooperate for photos. Your shots of it are quite nice!

    Chickadees are indeed pretty tough to photograph. We have Chestnut-backed Chickadees commonly here, but I have yet to get any fine photos of one.

    I’d agree about the winter earning the summer, except that the winter weather in SF is about the same as the summer weather, except that there’s less fog 🙂

  14. Thanks Ankush, I’m a big birding fan. Slowly over the summer I’ve been getting aquinted with them and really adore these guys alot. (It’s nice to know the sounds in the forest.)

  15. Hi Adam, I did get really lucky actually. Had this fellow not decided that we were okay the photos just would not exist becaue like you I’ve found these guys are really really shy. Over time of not bothering him is what led him into stopping by more and more often. (It took him a few photo shoots to realize that was not dangerous to him as well.) Unlike most times where I got pretty agressive to get the shot – I tried patience and it seemed to work out really well. (It probably depends upon the species tho) Your last comment made me laugh.

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