Thursday, June 12, 2014

We're hungry here!

Some opportunities cannot be delayed, so I was awake before dawn because I knew that fledglings in the Pileated Woodpeckers' nest cavity were likely to leave the nest very shortly.  Ignoring the mist and fog, I arrived at 7 am to meet my friend for the 1/2 mile hike in to the nest in the dead maple.

We arrived and set up just in time to see the male Pileated Woodpecker arrive to feed his pair of chicks. (Enlarging the image massively shows a red pale red patch behind the beak, a sure sign of a male.)

The female was nearby but did not come in to feed the pair.  The adults left and the young were seemingly unsatisfied with the amount of their early morning meal. Note that the pair have been foraging to gather double the food they would need to sustain themselves.  It has to end.  Over the next hour, it seemed at least one of the pair was at the opening looking for their parents. They seemed to alternate.  They became vocal, calling in a full voice just like an adult. There came no reply from their parents. It seemed that as the clock advanced, the chicks edged further out of the opening.

I had seen this behavior last year at another nearby location. I assume it is the same pair of adults as then.  Last year, one of their chicks was outside on a nearby tree. It was being fed. The remaining chick in the nest got a brief feeding, and the female then claimed a nearby tree and called to the holdout.  My guess is that the adults refuse to adequately feed the chick until it leaves the nest. The chick would nervously teeter at the edge of the hole but could not bring itself to leave.  Darkness came and I assume the chick was left hungry for the night.  Surely, hunger convinced it to fly in the morning.

So, I believe I was seeing the same fledging process this year. In the second hour, both chicks were simultaneously at the opening, with one or the other calling for the adults. On occasion, we spotted an adult in the vicinity but it was silent.

No feeding occurred. The chicks' searching the woods for help built up in intensity.

I wish I could end this story with evidence of how the young successfully made their leap, but an appointment called and the nearly constant drizzle was making it impossible to stay.  I'm sure they made it.

It was an entertaining 2-3/4 hours of watching this behavior.  I am sure if I returned on the next day, the nest would be empty and this pair would be making the next steps of learning to forage among the trees with their parents.  It was a privalige to see part of this process unfold.


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