High: 22° F
Low: 14° F
Conditions: Six inches of new snow cover with more on the way!
Even though Valentine's Day is still a week away, love is in the air. Outside, ravens, bald eagles, barred and great-horned owls are courting. We can hear the latter two species flirting during Ari’s night-time bathroom break: a piercing shriek, a pause, and then a shrill response. Even knowing the cause, this eerie sound sends chills down our spines and hurries both of us back inside.
When it comes to bird dating, Ari much prefers the hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). This time of year, the males puff up the crest of feathers on top of their head, then straighten up their bachelor pads. Once self and home are in order, they begin their rat-a-tat-a-tatting on hollow tree trunks and limbs.
The caninaturalist has been looking everywhere for hairy woodpeckers. They’re the highlight of her walk, and when she finds one, she will sit for what seems like an eternity, cocking her head and watching the woodpecker do its pecky thing. While inside, she perches by the window, watching them snack on suet.
I can’t say for certain, but I think it's the hairy woodpecker’s casualness that most appeals to Ari. Woodpeckers are famous for their laissez-faire approach to life: they wake early and spend a good part of the morning sunning themselves on a branch. Even their mating practices have a certain leisureliness to them. This time of year, a male will drum throughout the day, sending out the specs on his tree cavity—how many bedrooms, its location, whether or not it’s gone co-op. He can be a reluctant suitor: scouting out a female, only to decide he’s not all that interested. For her part, she’ll make her way from tree house to tree house, sizing up the various males and deciding if she’s interested. And if she doesn't like the dating pool, sometimes she'll do her own drumming--just in case she might catch the ear of a visiting male passing through.
Ari and I are both enchanted by this whimsical courtship. In fact, the only species who isn’t love-struck is our pernicious friend the red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). All the pounding, the flirting, the feeding makes him even more grouchy than ever. He stands at the base of the bird feeder, scowling, or races up the woodpecker’s tree, cheeping his frustration at the top of his little squirrel lungs. This only delights the caninaturalist more, since she now has two boisterous friends to keep track of, instead of just one. She positively swoons with enthusiasm. It’s an unconventional kind of love, but I think this dog is a romantic all the same.
Speaking of loving birds. . .
The Audubon Society's annual BACKYARD BIRDCOUNT begins next Friday (February 15-18). It’s a great opportunity to help the Cornell Ornithological center and Audubon get much needed data on bird populations in your area. We’ll be keeping track of birds at our feeder throughout the weekend, and we challenge you to do the same. All you need to do is tally the birds at your feeder or in your yard over a 15 minute period. Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) us your results and any observations (canine, goaty, or otherwise), and we’ll post them on the blog. We’ll even send a prize to the blogger who logs the most birds! Click here for more info.