Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Orange-eating bird likely a red-bellied woodpecker

STACEY COLE August 30. 2013 8:30PM

Oranges are fed upon at feeding areas by some species of birds and, upon occasion, other food offerings offer opportunities for odd bird behavior as a result.

With respect to feeding oranges, one of our Milton readers wrote in part: "I have a bird that came here this summer. Put the oranges out for the Baltimore oriole. Well this bird that came, I cannot find in my bird book. It is a woodpecker, very pretty. The back was black and white checkered. The head was red all the way down to its back. It would clean the orange right out. Put a new one out every day. Do not see it now. It was cute to see it bring the little ones and feed them the oranges. Have you ever seen this or heard about them? Thank you."Red-headed woodpeckers are infrequently seen in New Hampshire. A mature red-headed woodpecker's head is completely covered with red to its shoulders. In recent years red-bellied woodpeckers have been increasing in numbers and, from our reader's description, I believe the bird that could not be identified was a female red-bellied woodpecker.It should be noted that the red color streak on the neck of a female begins close to the base of its bill, runs up over the head, then down its neck to its shoulder. On the other hand, the red streak on the neck of a male red-bellied woodpecker begins at the back of its head, then continues down the length of its neck.

I had not heard that red-bellied woodpeckers enjoyed eating orange halves. However, on the subject of Baltimore orioles, each spring my good friend of "legislative days," the Hon. Alice Calvert, former Alton Representative, has put out both a hummingbird feeder and an oriole feeder kept full of a sugar water mixture. Strange as it may seem, she reports that the visiting Baltimore orioles prefer to drink, while perched upside down, from the hummingbird feeder. On the other hand, the hummingbirds drink from the oriole feeder while perched right side up. This has happened year after year, both species of birds taking their fill of sugar water from feeders designed for the other.

Still on the subject of bird behavior, our long-time reader-friend who farms in Kingston, telephoned to tell me about the pair of red-tailed hawks that nest in back of his place. When he is on his tractor working his fields, the red-tails perch in nearby trees to watch. Frequently the birds fly down, pick up something (mouse, vole or large insect) before returning to their perch. This has happened for several years, he reported. However, this season, whenever he has travelled to a neighbor's field to work, the hawks have followed him and perched in their trees to watch.

Back in the days when I farmed for a living, two or three crows would follow me from field to field as I worked.

When plowing in spring and fall the birds always labored over the fresh ground I turned up. They searched for whatever food they could find. The crows usually worked ahead of me until my equipment approached too close, then they would fly to the end of the last row to continue feeding.

For several years we also have had a pair of red-tails nesting on the hillside north of the farm, but I never caught sight of our hawks watching me as I worked.Now days during haying time, I enjoy looking out my west window to watch the crows feed in our near hay field after it has been fresh-cut. Since walking in thick, new cut grass is difficult for them, I watch them as they hop up and down in their hurry to reach and tear open any exposed rodent nests.

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A reminder: It is a good idea to clean feeders on a fairly regular schedule. Old feed should be dumped and/or scraped out of all feeders, especially tray-type feeders.

Carefully examine around feeder entrances for any rough spots. Sometimes birds become scratched in such areas, resulting in a disease virus being transferred from one bird to another. File off rough places on metal feeders. Clean and disinfect feeders regularly using one part of liquid chlorine household bleach in 9 parts of tepid water (a 10 percent solution) to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes.

Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly could help more if sick birds are noticed. 'Bacterial diseases such as salmonellosis are frequently spread through contact with fecal material on the ground. It is also important to clean those areas frequently.A broom and shovel can accomplish a lot but a vacuum such as one used in a garage or workshop will even be better.

Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds frequently move from one feeding area to another and can spread diseases as they go.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.

Nature Talks

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