Birds of Smith-Gilbert Gardens: April Update
By Pat Pepper
Several summer visitors were singing in the gardens on the morning of April 18, 2016. The White-eyed Vireos seem to be everywhere, and I heard one beautiful Wood Thrush—my first of the year. Our winter thrush, the Hermit, has moved north to be replaced by the Wood. While all the Thrushes have stunning songs, many birders pick the Wood Thrush as their favorite.
I spotted a Brown-headed Cowbird in the large Pecan Tree in front of the Carriage House. This is a bird I have a lot of trouble liking. It is one of the contributors to the decline of the songbird population because it lays its eggs in songbird nests forcing the songbirds into fostering its young. The Cowbird nestling is larger than its nest mates thus getting a disproportionate amount of food. The songbird’s young often die as a result. If the adult songbird ejects the Cowbird egg from its nest, the parent Cowbird (who has been keeping watch over its egg) will poke holes in the songbird’s eggs. This revenge behavior has earned the Cowbird the detested title “The Mafia Bird.”
Of all the birds I saw and heard that morning, the one I was most delighted to see was the Pileated Woodpecker. In fact, I think it was my first sighting of this bird in the gardens. I had heard them before, in fact, I heard this one at the beginning of my walk, but had never seen one.
First, I would like to answer the most asked question I get when talking about this woodpecker. “Is its name pronounced ‘PILL-ee-ay-tid’ or ‘PIE-lee-ay-tid’?” I will give you the answer I got when I asked this question of a wildlife biologist, “Whichever pronunciation you prefer.” I did confirm his answer with other sources, so don’t correct anyone if they say it differently from your way (unless, of course, the person’s pronunciation is neither of these two—then you are free to embarrass him or her).
The second most asked question I get is “Do you think the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exists?” Several years ago, some birders thought they saw an Ivory-billed in a swamp in Arkansas. This was a big deal because there have been very few sightings of this bird since the 1940’s. The Pileated and the Ivory-billed look similar.
While no one can say for certain whether there are any more Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, David Allen Sibley, author and illustrator of several bird guides, is now listing the Ivory-billed as Extinct stating that the last confirmed sightings were in 1944 in Louisiana and 1987 in Cuba.
Although we have to say good-bye to the Ivory-billed, we still have the magnificent Pileated. Just hearing one in the woods makes you think Tarzan will soon come swinging on a vine in front of you.
The Pileated is the largest of all North American Woodpeckers. He is 16.5” long with a wing span of 29”. I was leaving the gardens Monday and stopped to talk to Lisa, SGG’s Garden Manager, who was watering the Bonsai trees when a Pileated flew over our heads. The large white patches under his wings contrasted with his black belly was a positive ID marker. I had finally spotted a Pileated in SGG!
The Pileated’s favorite food is carpenter ants, which he finds in dead trees and fallen logs. His signature calling card is a large rectangular hole in the trunk of a dead tree. Look for these holes on your next nature hike.
If you have never recognized his jungle-like call, click on this sound link:
We are in Spring Migration, the best time for Georgia birding, so grab your binocs and go birding!
Pat Pepper mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
The images are courtesy of Cornell Labs