Meet Mr. and Mrs. Red

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker, sitting in a dogwood tree.

About two summers ago, I was out gardening in my sister’s yard when one of her neighbors approached me with that sheepish air that told me that he was curious about something that was none of his business. He pointed to the large picture window in my sister and brother-in-law’s bedroom. We had put shiny little gel decorations that stick to windows and pieces of newspaper were haphazardly taped to the outside surface. The paper flapped in the breeze. “Are you, um.., redecorating?”

“Um, no.”

It was to discourage the Red-bellied Woodpecker who had taken to sitting in the aluminum gutters along the edge of the roof and hammering away at five every morning. In the afternoon, he would hop up the dogwood tree and lance himself at the window full force. The noise was a nuisance but we were worried that he would hurt himself while attacking the window. A bit of research and we found that the characteristic woodpecker drumming is a territorial signal. It’s not unusual for territorial species to attack windows. They mistake their reflection for a rival. As it happens, Mr. and Mrs. Red have a direct view of the picture window from the entrance of their home in the neighbor’s maple tree. The newspaper and window gels were put up in hopes of breaking up his reflection. He would also sit in front of the window and flap and put on an intimidating display.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker hanging from the end of a branch and displaying his wings.

After a few weeks, all of this stopped. Soon we saw Mr. and Mrs. Red accompanied by two little woodpeckers looking much like the parents, but lacking the red heads.

The following year, the drumming started again. Fortunately, the window attacks didn’t occur. I’ve come to the conclusion that they drum when they have young in the nest and stop when they fledge. I’ve noticed that Mr. Red has gotten aggressive with other birds recently, specifically Starlings, so I suspect it’s getting to be that time of year again.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker hanging on the edge of a roof with two house sparrows sitting on the roof above.

The two House Sparrows didn’t see the woodpecker quietly searching for insects along the edge of the roof.

A female house sparrow jumps in surprise at the appearance of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The house sparrow jumped in surprise when the big red head appeared suddenly.

  1. said:

    Really great photos!! Hard to catch birds I have found!

    • fojap said:

      Thanks. I could have never taken pictures of birds if I was still using film. Fortunately, with digital you just keep snapping. There’s dozens of shots of empty branches.

      • said:

        I cannot WAIT to get real camera!

  2. Wow, your woodpecker shots are wonderful…and you say you didn’t use a real camera…amazing and obviously talented 🙂

    • fojap said:

      Thanks, but I think you were looking at the comment by vastlycurious. I used a Nikon D90 DSLR, not “top of the line”, but still very much a real camera. The top two shots were taken from my sister’s bedroom window when the bird was still obsessed by his reflection, so I was surprisingly close. The female appears to be much more shy, which is why I don’t have a photo of here.

      • Ah, that makes sense, trust me to ‘eaves-read’ incorrectly 🙂 they are still wonderful photos, as yes your camera is very real…my apologies to the camera incase it’s feeling a little slandered!

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