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PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE The male pileated woodpecker is the largest of its species. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE The male pileated woodpecker is the largest of its species.

Woodpeckers of Jacobsburg

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Social News

The drumming of resident woodpeckers is a common and familiar sound heard echoing across our backyard and in the many wooded areas of the Lehigh Valley.

The seven Penn's Woods woodpecker species include the pileated woodpecker, common flicker, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker and yellow-bellied sapsucker.

The 1,168-acre Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center, Bushkill Township, near Wind Gap, Northampton County, provides some of the best woodpecker habitat in and around the Lehigh Valley. Five of the seven woodpecker species identified on the property breed and nest there.

A hike, "Woodpeckers of Jacobsburg," was held there Jan. 19. It was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Jacobsburg.

Jacobsburg naturalist Rick Wiltraut met the 21 participants at 8 a.m. at the amphitheater parking lot. The four-hour event included constructing suet logs to attract woodpeckers to the participants' yards.

Wiltraut began the program by showing photos of the seven Pennsylvania woodpeckers, stressing the five found at Jacobsburg.

Starting at the parking lot, the hikers, ranging in age from a toddler to 70 years-old, followed Wiltraut like kids following the Pied Piper around the Jacobsburg property on foot and by vehicle. By the time we finished, we had found and identified all but a flicker. Wiltraut later told me that when he returned to his office, a flicker came into the suet feeder outside his office window.

Several of these species use our yard as their homeland. Coincidently, the day I registered to attend the Jacobsburg program, my wife Bev, alerted me to a male pileated woodpecker pecking and throwing chips of wood from a hollow red maple tree within 25 yards of our kitchen window. The chips were flying at least three feet away from the tree.

The pileated, largest of the species, ranging from 12- to 17-inches long, is an occasional visitor to our yard, but it has not been tempted to come to our suet feeders or take up residence in any of our trees.

The common flickers spend March through October nesting and raising their young in the trees. Several times, a pair has remained throughout the winter.

The downy and red-bellied are the two most frequently observed woodpeckers species visiting our bird feeders at this time of the year.

The bold male downy does not hesitate to drum against the hollow empty seed feeder to alert me when the cupboard becomes bare.

Hairy woodpeckers occasionally visit the feeders.

To our knowledge, there have been no visits by a red-headed or yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Woodpeckers are well-adapted for spending their lives among the trees. They have short, stout, muscular legs with toes tipped with strong, sharp claws. Two toes point forward and two point backward. This arrangement provides an excellent grip when clinging to and climbing trees. Their stiff pointed and sharp spined tail feathers help hold the bird in an upright position while hammering their beaks into bark in search of food.

The sharp, stout beak has a chisel-like point adapted for chopping and digging into trees. Repeated pounding in alternating directions of up to 100 times a minute allows the woodpecker to uncover its wood-boring prey. Once the prey is exposed, the bird uses its long, cylindrical-pointed, barbed tongue to extract the meal.

Drumming is used to establish territory and to attract a mate. Both the male and female woodpeckers are involved in excavating their nest. The size of the nest cavity, usually cut into a large branch or tree trunk, varies with the relative size of the birds.

Four to eight unmarked white eggs are deposited directly on small wood chips lining the bottom of the nest cavity. No attempt is made to construct a true nest like those built by most other bird species. The male helps incubate the eggs, often spending the nights on the nest.

Our resident pair of red-bellied woodpeckers visits the feeders throughout the year. While most birds' common names fit their physical descriptions, in my opinion, the red-bellied has been poorly named. The male has a striking red crown and nape, but the indistinguishable red patch of belly feathers is seldom visible.

His mate has similar markings, but lacks the red crown. My choice for a common name is the red-naped woodpecker.

Two other common names used for this species are ladder back and zebraback. These names come from the alternating bands of black and white markings across the bird's back.

Woodpeckers' diets consist of acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, wild grapes, mulberries, dogwood fruits, ants, wood boring larvae and beetles. After reviewing their dietary preferences, it is easy to see why they call our backyard and the Lehigh Valley home. Our wooded yard, plus the seeds and suet offered in the feeders, provide everything a woodpecker might need.

Be sure to watch for these woodpeckers in your neck of the woods. And check out the Jacobsburg website to find out about future programs there.

That's the way I see it!

Email comments and questions to: bbbcole@ enter.net. To schedule programs, hikes and birthday parties, call 610-767-4043.

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© 2012 Bud Cole