Apr 17 2010

En Garde!

Published by at 7:09 am under Bird Behavior,Songbirds


When I was a kid, Saturday afternoon TV often showed swashbuckling movies starring Errol Flynn as Robin Hood or Captain Blood. 

“En garde!” he’d shout and draw his sword. 

That’s what these hairy woodpeckers are doing. 

“Mine!” they’re saying to each other.  “Go away!”

According to Birds of North America, hairy woodpeckers use their bills when establishing their nesting territories.  (I’ve paraphrased it here.)  “In close encounters, they use a bill-waving display that includes jerky body movements and waving their raised bills as if dueling.  The birds may stop for a minute or more, remaining motionless, each with its body pressed against the tree trunk and bill pointed forward and slightly raised as if crouched for attack or defense.”

Marcy Cunkelman found these two fighting in her yard this month.  I don’t know how the contest ended but I know the fight was worth it.  Marcy’s yard is a rich wonderland for birds.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

One response so far

One Response to “En Garde!”

  1. Jennieon 17 Apr 2010 at 8:49 am

    These birds occasionally visit the suet and sunflower seed holders in my back yard. The more frequent visitors are the downy woodpecker and red bellied woodpecker. It wasn’t until I saw the hairy and downy woodpeckers side by side that I realized they were different birds. A branch of the crabapple tree that supports the holders is starting to look like swiss cheese from their activities, but I love having them around.

    Thank you, Kate, for your informative and entertaining series of articles. It’s a must-read first thing each morning.

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