News & Notes


Recently at Gilsland Farm: Nesting Hairy Woodpecker

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
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One day in late April while taking a walk to the west meadow I was at the end of the parking area at Gilsland Farm Audubon Center when a flash flew by that could only be a woodpecker. It didn’t take long to find the bird – who it turned out had important nearby duties to attend to – and sure enough it was a female hairy woodpecker. An insistent and crowded peeping sound emanating from the woods signaled this woodpecker’s true mission – raising chicks!

I tracked and then lost the adult bird but the peeping of the chicks drew me to inspect a poplar tree where I discovered the nesting cavity entrance! An exquisitely placed entrance hole that had a natural roof was situated where a human (me) could stay for good looks and still not disturb the nesters from their duties.

So I setup a tripod and waited, and returned several days across the month. The results are below.

– Robert Denton
Communications, Maine Audubon

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This family was found on April 22. I learned a lot about the hairy woodpecker’s breeding and nesting habits in The Birders Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds [available in our store] by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryle Wheye. A hairy woodpecker pair will bond in the winter and the female often may tap at a potential nest site and perform flight antics to attract a male. The excavation of the nesting cavity takes 1-3 1/2 weeks. The male usually selects the site and the nesting cavity is typically lined with wood chips.

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The pair will have 3-6 eggs with an average of 4 which hatch within 15 days. The chicks typically fledge within 28-30 days but I last saw them in the nest on June 3 so that puts these chicks over the cited fledge range.

This was a wonderful thing to watch from the first days when the parents were going into the cavity to feed at regular intervals 15-18 minutes apart, until the day the first chick was caught peeking outside at the big world from the only home it knew. The pictures confirm a male and female chick and beyond looking into the nest or seeing them all fledge only the parents know how many young were set off into the world. The chicks apparently fledged sometime in the first week of June.

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May 30 – the first day I saw the chicks.

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June 3 – The male chick peeks out above, and the female chick below._MG_1655