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This beauty battles a beast

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The Red-headed Woodpecker has a tough time keeping the home it excavates in dead trees, but you can find it in our open spaces.

By Sharon Warner

A more beautiful woodpecker than the Red-headed Woodpecker would be almost impossible to find, and even then, it would be a matter of opinion.

The Red-headed Woodpecker has a bright red head and neck with conspicuous white inner wings and rump. The rest of the body is black, which can give off a slight bluish tinge in the bright sunlight, a coloration that certainly makes this bird a strong candidate for the most patriotic bird in America.

The white wing patches are very noticeable, especially when the Red-headed Woodpecker thinks he or she is a flycatcher. Busily flying out from its tree perch, it will capture a flying insect, one at a time, each time returning to its lofty, surveillance limb.

Even though they are not all that plentiful, you can find these woodpeckers in somewhat open country, where dead trees are abundant. Hangouts that come to mind, where I have noticed them, are the Shelbyville Country Club Golf Course, my good neighbor Calvin Montfort's farm on Catwalk Road and Red Orchard Park, thanks to Clarence Miller's generous donation.

These birds can be found in North America, from Canada's Lake Winnipeg and southern Ontario south to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida, east of the Rocky Mountains and west of New England.

The northerly population migrates south, regularly, from August to November, and tends to winter in Kansas, Iowa, Ohio and New Jersey. The Kentucky population inhabits wherever food can be found.

But their habitat is dead trees, and that’s why dead trees should be left standing, if at all possible, because of their value to so much of our wildlife and especially our native woodpeckers.

This 9.25-inch-long woodpecker, with a 17-inch wingspan, has, like all of our native woodpecker species, a tremendous ongoing battle with the alien bully, the European Starling, which, as I have said before, is now the most numerous bird species in North America.

About a half dozen of these rogues will sit patiently and wail while a lonely family pair of woodpeckers excavate their nest hole in a dead tree trunk or branch.

Once the hole is completed, the starlings will actually gang up and evict the woodpecker family. Many times, our outnumbered native birds cannot even produce young during the nesting season, which of course, is a dead-end road.

I heartily endorse all of you to take whatever steps that are necessary to help all of our native-cavity nesting birds to raise their families.

Because I maintain between 100 to 150 nest boxes each nesting season, I have a tremendous problem with not only the European Starling but also the House Sparrow, so this issue is certainly uppermost on my mind.

Whenever the Red-headed Woodpecker is able to rebuff these aliens, their nest sites will be 5 to 80 feet above the ground and contain four to seven eggs.

Both sexes will incubate the eggs for 12-13 days, and the young will be able to leave the nest in about 30 days. It is possible that two broods are sometimes raised.

Keep a lookout all year long for our patriotic red, white, and blue/blackbird with its showy white wing patches. If you are lucky enough to see them, you will know that you have yet again, seen another beautiful bird, in the Great Outdoors!

 

To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2013 Mysterious Night Bids Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main Street, Shelbyville 40065.