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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar
Woodpeckers and Other Birds of Winter
Delicate footfalls crushing newly fallen snow nearly tumbled into a comically clumsy pratfall as I inched closer and closer to get a good shot at my target. I was crawling on my stomach now, each slither forcing snow onto exposed skin where folds of fabric should have been. Surprisingly, my quarry was oblivious, hammering away at a maple limb, pausing only briefly to offer up a sharp peek.
The shutter snapped closed, reloaded and snapped again, then once more until the unnatural sound signaled danger to the bird. Off it went, into the snow-hazed morning, its brilliant red patch revealing its identity: a male hairy woodpecker.
At first glance, hairy woodpeckers look like downy woodpeckers. The commonalities between the two are more numerous than the differences that set them apart. Both birds are spotted and checked with black and white on their wing and tail feathers. They also show white backs and are the only two kinds of woodpeckers to have such markings. On the back of the head, males of each species have a red patch lacking in the females.
But the hairy critter measures almost 10 inches while its nearly carbon-copy cousin averages about three inches less in size. The hairy woodpecker has a larger bill, one that is at least as long as its head. The downys spear is merely half the length of its head.
According to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, hairy woodpeckers have increased slightly over the past 35 years. In general, they are holding steady in other regions of the United States. Competition for nest cavities with house sparrows and European starlings impact their numbers. To maintain their population levels, these birds need the protection of dense forests with trees suitable for nest cavities.
Like many of their family, hairy woodpeckers are cavity-nesters, carving out a home from wood. The clutch size ranges from three to six eggs, which are incubated by both parents. The male broods the eggs at night, while the female has the day shift. After a brief two weeks, the eggs hatch. A month later, the young birds leave the cavity. Not long after that, the offspring strike out on their own for good.
To get out and see these woodpeckers and other birds this winter, perhaps taking part in one of the areas Christmas Bird Counts fits your idea of a good time. Most run from dawn to dusk, as youre able.
- Sunday, December 14: Jug Bay, 301/497-5840; Port Tobacco, George Wilmot Southern Maryland Audubon Society, 301/375-8552
- Sunday, December 21: Bowie, 410/647-9513; Point Lookout, Bob Boxwell Southern Maryland Audubon Society: 410/394-6153
- Sunday, January 4: Annapolis-Gibson Island, 410/647-9513; Fort Belvoir, Carol Ghebelian Southern Maryland Audubon Society, 301/753-6754
Fish Are Barely Biting
Rockfish season is all but over in Maryland, but good fishing can still be had in Virginia waters, especially near the mouth.
Fishing may be dormant, but issues taken up by the states Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission are definitely not hibernating. To keep up with what is going on, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/tidalfish/tidal_fish_members.html.
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