Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Fistfull of Feathers

Red-shouldered Hawks, Buteo lineatus

I woke this morning to Franklin’s frantic barking from downstairs, roused from a lazy morning by what he thought was an intruder’s knocking. Panicked myself, to be caught in my pajamas with someone at the door at dawn, I slowly realized the repeated tapping was not human at all, but a woodpecker drumming on a hollow board close to the eaves--the tiny jack-hammer resounding throughout the house.

Perched as we are, at the edge of a small wooded ravine, the trees surround us, bringing the birds close, just feet from view. And as common as they are to these woods, the woodpeckers have always been a favorite. Red-bellied, Hairy, Downy and Pileated—all at home here in the many dead and dying trees. And their unusual ways, intriguing.

The tall, dense trees draw others close, too, though usually just enough above us to be unseen. Watching, motionless, they are at home here, too--the hawks. Red-shouldered, scanning the ground for unsuspecting squirrels or Cooper’s, waiting to snatch a bird drawn to feed—often, the flash of their strike is all we see. Dinner is swiftly carried off.

Last week, after such a flash, I followed, not sure I’d find anything more than a glimpse of a hawk in a distant tree or returning to the air to soar over the fields. But beneath a long horizontal maple branch, there was a collection of feathers—black and dotted with white, of a red-bellied woodpecker.

Disappointing, to be sure. But an opportunity to see more closely, what, otherwise I see only in books—that intriguing woodpecker tail.




Red-bellied Woodpecker tail feathers


The tail feathers, retrices, are curved sharply, like a leaf spring,
and have 2 rows of reinforcing ridges on the shaft, making it very resilient, stiff and strong.


And, the tips have a tiny v-shaped gap in the barbs, perhaps for better “grip” (?) against the tree bark, as it is pressed to form a stable third leg of the tripod, so important for leverage while chiseling and excavating wood.




Below, wing feathers, primaries, are also black, dotted with white.

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14 comments:

TSannie said...

That old circle of life again. Very bittersweet.

The feathers are truly gorgeous.

spinyurchin said...

Beautiful photo of the hawks and how lucky you are to find the tail feathers of the woodpecker.

Cheryl said...

Bittersweet post......I feel so sad for the woodpecker but the birds of prey have to eat to.....and they are beautiful.....

Cheryl said...

Bittersweet post......I feel so sad for the woodpecker but the birds of prey have to eat to.....and they are beautiful.....

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I about cracked up thinking about you scrambling for clothes when it was a woodpecker knocking at your house. Tee hee.... I am sure it wasn't funny right before dawn.

I have some lovely Flicker tail feathers that a hawk left behind in our garden. Sad to see my favorite woodie so close. What rich color though.

Kathiesbirds said...

Wow, they are small and oh so beautiful! Feathers are wonderful things!

Deborah Godin said...

What perfection those feathers are! Nicely photographed, too!

gardenpath said...

The hawk photo is lovely. As are the rest of your photos. I definitely will be back to your blog!

Lynne said...

Such neat photos Nina!! I learn so much from a good close look. Beautiful feathers.

Nature Nut said...

The outcome can be difficult to accept, but still gives a wonderful opportunity to learn! Thank you for sharing the pictures.

Kelly said...

...those feathers are beautiful. The stripes look as if they are painted on. Mother Nature always knows what she is doing. I've always been interested in a woopecker's tail. Seeing the feathers isolated really shows their strength. Cool!

KatDoc said...

Beautiful feathers! It is always sad to find birdie left-overs, but you can learn so much from them. I remember a window-strike Downy that someone brought to me. Sadly, it succumbed not long after it arrived, but I took the opportunity to play with its tongue. My staff thought me a little morbid, but I was engrossed. They were grossed out.

Thanks, as always, for bringing nature up close and personal.

~Kathi

Heather said...

Wow, those woodpecker feathers are incredible. The coloring is so... BOLD, even if it is just black and white. Hawks have been hanging around our woods more this winter than they ever have in the past, and they seem to be getting bolder, getting closer to the house so I can actually see them (or maybe I'm just better able to spot them). I haven't found any remains yet, though.

deejbrown said...

We have a RBW drilling a nest hole in a tree across the driveway from our bedroom window. Hope it will not fall victim to our local RS Hawk, but also know (frankly) somebody-eats-somebody in the end.