Monday, April 2, 2012

April 2, 2012

Today we had the opportunity to witness another aspect of love-birds:   we observed a pair of male pileated woodpeckers performing some kind of territorial or mate-defending dance for over 15 minutes - that's from when we noticed them until they moved out of our sight, so the encounter could have gone on for much longer.

We first noticed the two birds clinging near to the ground on opposite sides of a twelve-inch diameter oak tree;  they appeared to be playing peek-a-boo.  They would lean their heads around one side of the tree and then back the other way. 

One would hop around the perimeter a bit, and the other would usually move in the same direction to remain generally on the opposite side of the tree.  Only on short occasion would both of them be within the same quadrant of the three, and almost never side by side. 

They would occasionally hop up the tree a few feet, but never more than about five feet high before they hopped back down again, both of them maintaining the same vertical height.  It was not clear which was the aggressor, and which was on the defensive.  During the whole process we got some great views of these beautiful birds - look at this view of their feet:

Through all this, there were only two  moments when there was any kind of obvious aggressive action - a bit of wing flapping at each other was all. 

After more than ten minutes of this peek-a-boo behavior, one calmly flew to another, slightly smaller oak tree about ten yards away to the west.  The other followed along just two or three seconds later.  They repeated the same dance for another three minutes before one flew off again - to a third oak tree, this one larger than the first and another ten yards away - and again, the second followed. 

The dance continued here for another five minutes.  At this point they moved yet farther to the west (each move was in a westerly direction) and we lost sight of them. 

Is it possible that the agressor was always keeping itself on the eastern side of the trees, forcing the other male westward, away from its territory, nest, or mate? 

For all we know his could have been going on all afternoon, with one bird being ushered far away from the others nest.  A little reading indicates that pileated woodpeckers mate in March to April, so this could be what we were observing.

Other observations of the day included a pair or mergansers ambling along the shores of the lake, and our first kayak of the year.  I didn't note yesterday that there were also fishermen out on lake Wicwas - the first day of fishing season!

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