Asking the, er, Expert

My cranky old laptop has been replaced by a (literally) shiny new one so posting will be returning to its normal regularity soon.  To tide you over until the fabulous post I have planned for tomorrow, I thought I’d share an email I received today.

In the upper right-hand corner of this page, underneath the header, you will note a link that says “Contact.”  Until today no one had ever actually used it to contact me.  Then this afternoon I found the following in my inbox from a man named Jim Brown.

I live in Columbus Ohio and was eating lunch today looking into the backyard and saw a strikingly beautiful bird about the size of a Bluejay, red strip on the top to the back of its head and a beautiful black and white rough striped back. I searched the web and came across your site. I’m almost certain the bird was a Gila Woodpecker. Unfortunately wasn’t able to get a photo but will keep my eyes open. From what I read these reside in the American Southwest. No clue how this guy got up here. Are you aware of any other birds that look about the same?

My stats page tells me that someone came to my blog today by searching the phrase “is there another bird that looks like the gila woodpecker”; presumably that was Mr. Brown, who would have been led to this recent post.  Anyway, I wrote him back and told him that his bird was probably the closely-related (and abundant in Ohio) Red-bellied Woodpecker.

To be honest, I was quite tickled by the whole thing.  Me, an online expert on bird identification!  Ha.  In any case, I hope Mr. Brown emails me back to tell me whether or not he decides his bird was indeed a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Who knows, maybe this avian encounter will be the spark that sucks him into the world of birdwatching.  Next thing you know he’ll be spending money on field guides and feeders and binoculars.  Birds are like potato chips, you can’t identify just one…

Gila Woodpecker Acrobatics

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.