This week we feature some perennial favorite birds, which can be found in backyards across Southwest Michigan.
The pileated woodpecker is striking, even to those who don’t watch birds. This crow-sized woodpecker, Michigan’s largest, has increased in numbers in the region since the 1970s, to where it is now found along most wooded streams, rivers and larger forest tracts.
Initially found throughout eastern North America at the time of European contact, pileated woodpeckers gradually declined as the advancement of the axe and saw took down the original forests.
It was absent from Southwest Michigan from around 1900, until April 1972 when at least one was located at Warren Woods State Park. The species has been recorded every year since 1976 in Berrien County.
Male and female pileated woodpeckers pair bond for life, and both take part in nest building, incubation of eggs and feeding of their young.
Male pileateds are distinguished from females by the amount of red on the forehead. In males red extends from the crest across the forehead to the bill. On females the red coloration is limited to the crest. Males also have a red ‘mustache’, which the female lacks.
The two pileated woodpeckers in Brad Anderson’s photos are after insects that are attracted to maple sap. The female woodpecker is shown feeding on insects while the male keeps watch above.
Anderson also provided nice photos of a red-breasted nuthatch, seen feeding on pine cone seeds near the Youth Camp Site at Warren Dunes on Feb. 27.
Red-breasted nuthatches will come to feeders, but prefer the seeds of coniferous trees. The species is a winter resident and fairly common during fall and spring passages through Southwest Michigan.
They will winter farther south and commonly nest about 200 miles north, in northern Lower Michigan.
Winter numbers of red-breasted nuthatches are rather unpredictable, similar to other irruptive species like the snowy owl or common redpoll. Numbers present in our region vary each winter, and are influenced by food sources to our north.
Red-breasted nuthatches are absent in Southwest Michigan from late May through August, although a very few individuals may stay and nest among pine trees, close to Lake Michigan.
Jonathan Wuepper is an area naturalist. Report your sightings to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.