Woodpecker Holes

Top Photo: Male downy woodpecker jets out of hole it’s been working on (2/19/22).

On January 12 of this year I reported on a downy woodpecker that had been excavating two, three, maybe even four holes within inches of each other in a black willow tree on the north side of the wetlands. He’s at it again.

Link to last month’s excavations.

Woodpecker peeks into hole before entering.

The current hole he’s drilling is in the same tree. This time the single hole is about four feet below the previous workings.

Yesterday, I saw a chickadee go in and out of the hole tossing wood chips to the ground each time it exited. Today, it was the woodpecker doing the chip removal. The woodpecker went into the hole, disappeared for 30 seconds or so, presumably pecking wood, then popped its head out with a bill full of wood chips, casting them to the wind.

After interior alterations, downy emerges with a bill full of wood shavings.
Wood chips disperse in the wind.
More chips fly.

As before, in January, when downies, chickadees, and even brown-headed nuthatches were all involved with several tree cavities in this same tree, I’m still not exactly sure what’s going on. It seems obvious, though, that the woodpecker is doing all the work, or most of it, and it seems likely the chickadee has a desire to make the hole its own. Nesting season is right around the corner and nest sites are at a premium for cavity nesting birds.

It doesn’t seem possible that a chickadee could usurp a woodpecker, even a small one like a downy. This is a bird that makes a living by pounding its head against wood. But, once a bird is in a cavity, it’s difficult to remove it, defender’s advantage.

Wood chip at tip of bill, male downy woodpecker rests between pecks.

Nest holes are reported to be excavated by both sexes in a pair of downy woodpeckers, but mostly females. I’ve only seen a male at this hole. Could this simply be a late season winter roost? Each sex excavates their own winter roost hole. But, I think this excavation is meant for nesting purposes, though it’s directly over what can be a very busy human traveled pathway.

I’m not sure of the exact timing of nesting of downy woodpeckers. However, I often find chickadee nesting material (moss) in bluebird nest boxes by the first or second week of March and eggs by the fourth week of the month.

We shall see who actually uses this cavity, if anyone, in the coming weeks.

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