Our friend Tara Tanaka (Vimeo site here, Flickr site here) lives on a plot of land in Florida that includes wetlands, and she often films the residents. Today she’s sent us another of her videos, this time of red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) raising their young. There’s a scary snake, but it doesn’t get any of the birds.
Tara’s notes are indented, and be sure to enlarge the video when you watch it.
On Feb. 8th we observed this pair mating and their newly excavated cavity in a dead maple tree on the edge of the swamp. The cavity is very well hidden behind dead branches and Spanish moss, and they even built it right under an overhang of separating bark that keeps the rain out. I recognize this male’s distinctive face and have been photographing him for years. I’ve been watching this female for at least two years – she drinks from the hummingbird feeder right in front on my PC.
The first clip was recorded on Mar. 23rd, and at the time we didn’t know if they had hatchlings yet or not, but I’ve since learned that incubation only lasts about 12 days for this species. From the detailed information I was able to find on birdsoftheworld.org, these nestlings are approx. 15-20 days old, and will fledge at around 24-27 days.
On Apr. 26th my husband heard and saw the parents very upset – vocalizing and flying back and forth from the nest tree to the large water oak a few feet away. After much searching, we found a large gray rat snake in the water oak trying to find a path over to the dead tree where the nestlings sat helpless in their cavity. As soon as we saw the cavity in the maple tree in February we wrapped the bottom of it with wildlife netting to prevent any rat snakes from reaching the nest. We have already removed one snake that became entangled in the netting and relocated him far away, so it was not possible for the snake to get up the maple, but his determination had him trying to reach the nestlings from another tree.
I always keep water in a small vase mounted on a tree right in front of my office window that I put up just for the woodpeckers, but other birds use it too. Woodpeckers drink from knot holes in trees, but they have become used to the fresh water and drink from it multiple times a day. During last year’s nest season we had a severe drought, and I think that the constant (the female is drinking now 😊) supply of fresh water, peanut halves and Bark Butter allowed them to raise three healthy young that they brought to my feeding station as soon as they fledged. In one video this year I even saw the female feeding Bark Butter to a nestling, however both parents typically arrive with beakfulls of grubs and other insects.
I’m sure I’m seeing at least two nestlings – there may be three. I’ll be holding my breath until they make it out safely!