No, we didn’t have a vagrant Gila Woodpecker turn up in south Georgia – actually I have a couple photos to share that I took in August, the last time I was in southern Arizona. Two weeks from today I’m leaving on a quick trip out there for Thanksgiving (having missed turkey day last year due to being on the far side of the globe in Australia), so my favorite Sonora Desert birds are back on my brain.
Since moving to their current house, my parents have created a little bird oasis in their backyard that they (and I, when I’m there) get a lot of enjoyment out of. There’s a water dish, a seed feeder, and a hummingbird feeder that brings in a steady stream of Anna’s Hummingbirds. Last time I visited, though, one of the visitors to the hummer feeder was rather atypical.
Okay, this photo isn’t going to win any awards, but it is the result of sustained effort, keeping my camera within arm’s reach at all times waiting for the culprit to turn up. It’s a Gila Woodpecker! For those of you less familiar with birds of the desert Southwest, these guys are (as you could probably guess from their appearance) close relatives of our Red-bellied Woodpeckers, but they like to hang out in saguaro cactuses.
A Google search for “gila woodpecker on hummingbird feeder” reveals that this isn’t exactly an unusual behavior. Still, August was the first time I’d observed it myself, and the acrobatics involved in a good-sized woodpecker getting a drink from a feeder built for tiny hummingbirds are pretty amusing.
It has to cling to the rim with its feet, which must be a bit awkward with feet built for scaling the vertical sides of saguaros, and brace its tail against the bottom, then crane its neck as far inward as it’ll go. This cannot be comfortable! The bird must have a big sweet tooth to make the sugar water in the feeder worth it.