We are nuts for woodpeckers

Published 9:55 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2017

By Susan and Biff Andrews

You pay for your pleasure. Some people love to eat well, so they splurge on fine restaurants. Some love theater, concerts or the movies so they spend their money there.

We love the nature show, so that’s where we indulge ourselves and our feathered friends. The visitors to our outdoor buffet enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner on black-oil sunflower seeds, suet cakes, wildlife nuts and mealworms, along with some occasional berries and, of course, nectar for the hummingbirds.


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So, let the diners enjoy their restaurants, the concert and theater-goers enjoy their favorite venues, and we’ll enjoy our seasonal avian visitors.

We see many varieties of woodpeckers because of the old-growth beech and poplar trees in our yard, which is their preferred habitat. They reveal themselves at different times of the year.

In the winter we see the large pileated woodpeckers that we only hear as distant drummers the rest of the year.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker came to the buffet this winter, too, but we haven’t seen him since the weather warmed, so we assume he is on vacation and will return with the next chill in the air.

The sapsucker is a scruffy-looking bird with a yellowish belly that looks like he forgot to comb his hair. In fact we called our guy “Scruffy,” because he always has a feather or two ruffled up.

The male has a red forehead and a red throat patch. The female has a white throat patch and looks a lot like a downy woodpecker, but they have a distinctive white wing patch that sets them apart.

If you see a tree with orderly rows of small holes around the trunk, that is the telltale sign that a sapsucker has been drilling for delicious sap.

This spring, along with all the usual suspects — downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers galore — we are thrilled to be serving several redheaded woodpeckers that have recently become regulars at the buffet.

Nothing scruffy about these beauties. They look like they are dressed for the high school prom. It is the only woodpecker with an all-red head. Males and females are very similar with a white belly, white rump and white wing patches, a black back and wings. The contrasting red/black/white body sections are eye-catching and striking. You can’t miss them. They’re a stand-out from all the other woodpeckers.

We are truly elated that they have taken up residence in our yard and hope they will remain. The big book of birds says they are in decline and suffer from habitat loss and competition for tree cavities with starlings. Tree cavities “R” us, and we don’t see a lot of starlings hanging around, so we hope they have found their happy place.

The BBOB also says they like suet. We haven’t seen that they have much interest in the three suet stations we run, but they are wild for the wildlife nuts from the Wakefield Peanut Co.

So we buy sunflower seeds in 40-pound bags, suet cakes by the case and wildlife nuts by the sack. We’ll enjoy the redheads and their dozens of woodpecker cousins that make us happy all week long.

We’re glad there are great restaurants and entertainment venues out there for all our human neighbors to enjoy. But we encourage all to provide food, shelter and great places to raise birds and other animal families in backyards all over Suffolk if you are able.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.