Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Red-bellied woodpeckers have been in Berkshires for awhile

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Q: I read your column regularly and always enjoy learning new things from you. We have a bird feeder on our back deck, and I love to watch the birds (and squirrels) who come to eat at our feeder in the winter. I always have a bird book nearby to identify birds with which I am unfamiliar (there seems to be at least one every season). Last week, we had a beautiful woodpecker come to our feeding area (we had sunflower seeds in the feeder, and bread and seeds on the grill platform nearby). According to my bird book, it looks like a red-bellied woodpecker. It also looks like they are more common in the Southeast. Would you agree that this is what I saw? Are these birds coming to the Northeast now? I attached a picture ... sorry for its fuzziness, I took a quick picture with my cell phone (which doesn't zoom well) and didn't have time to get my real camera before it flew away.

— Jill, Lee, Mass.

A: You have the correct woodpecker. I have one on and off, but mostly off, although a red-bellied woodpecker did pay us a visit last Saturday. Our feeder must be on its way to or from a more attractive food source, as I only see it briefly. As a species, the red-belly has been coming to the Berkshires and surroundings for a while, with the first being spotted in Berkshire County back in October 1972. First breeding record here was May 1994 in Sheffield.

As for a good addition (not replacement) to your resources, know good bird books are not inexpensive, although you may try Amazon. One book I purchased new for $22, I loaned to our out-of-town son-in-law, and when I needed it, said to myself, "Let's try for a used book." At Amazon.com I found one with free postage and it not only cost me less than $5, it arrived the following afternoon. It looked as if it had never been opened.

If you continue reading my columns you will notice that I often mention when a relatively newcomer species is first seen here, I may even go back to bird books written in the mid-1800s.

What I am getting at, is buy yourself a new book, but keep older ones for reference. I now swear by "Sibley Guide to Birds," published by the National Audubon Society. Keep in mind that it isn't a back-pocket volume, and a little expensive, but it shows so many plummages that it is my "go-to" bird book. You may also Google Cornell Lab Merlin for an online ID program (free) it has 2,000 species, I believe. When I get stuck, I sometimes refer to it. I have it on my iPad. (Where I also keep a digital copies of Peterson's bird guides, East and West for traveling.) I also am not ashamed of going to www.allaboutbirds.org/guide, another Cornell project that I usually access if I have an idea of what a bird might be, or need brief information about a species and am at the computer. Often, it is easy to access by simply entering the name of a bird into a search program, often finding it among the first three finds. It is also an aid if you know a little more than the general shape of a bird.



READERS' COMMENTS

Following a recent column in which we discussed metal bird feeders, I received an email from a reader who questions safety regarding a bird's eye might freeze in very cold weather to the metal:

"Re: metal feeders, it was always my understanding that the metal feeders were bad to use because in extreme cold a bird could loose it's eye. — Sarah

World-renowned ornithologist Steve Kress has the answer:

"Our fingers may stick to metal ice cube trays because moisture freezes on contact with frigid metal," explains Kress. "However, a bird's feet are covered with dry scales, so there is no surface moisture to freeze to metal perches. Eyes, tongues and beaks are usually safe from exposure to metal feeder parts. Rapid reflexes prevent the eye from coming in contact with foreign surfaces, and the beak is protected by a horny, dry surface." [From Audubon magazine]

And, I personally shop for metal feeders that are coated to protect from rusting and freezing, although I have long understood that freezing to a metal feeder is such a rarity it is almost a myth.



Thom Smith welcomes readers' comments and questions. Send comments and questions in care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church ST., Pittsfield, Mass, 01201,




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