Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black Woodpecker ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 6/26/12
I said last week that my main target in Finland the Black Woodpecker was another story. It’s a story that started 50 years ago when I started bird watching in Ireland as a teenager and received, as a Christmas present in 1962, the classic Guy Mountfort Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. It had, for its time, superb colour plates of all the European bird species by Roger Peterson. Some of these birds were to this Irish teenager unbelievably exotic and, living on a woodpecker-free island, I was struck by the woodpecker page in general and the huge Black Woodpecker in particular (I still have the field guide):
The concept of a bucket list (things to do before you ‘kick the bucket’) hadn’t been articulated then, but the Black Woodpecker went straight onto mine. So, when the only route that Qantas could offer me a few months ago for a frequent-flyer ticket in the general direction of Ireland was on Finnair via Helsinki, I immediately thought ‘Black Woodpecker’ (and ‘owls’, another great page in the field guide).
In fact finding birds such as woodpeckers and owls in the endless forests of Finland proved very difficult, so eventually I went out with an excellent Finnature guide, Antti (Finnish for Andrew) and a delightful English birding couple in the Kuusamo region. It was a very bad year for owls (owl years are very dependent on cycles in the vole population) but Antti did eventually find us a distant Pygmy Owl and, last bird of all, showed us the nesting site of a pair of Black Woodpeckers.
We were treated to a view of the male – the female lacks the red crown, having on a small red patch on the back of the head – arriving to feed the young, but there then followed a long period without any activity and, as it was time to return to the hotel for breakfast, I returned later on my own so that I could photograph them at my leisure. Again, the male arrived (second photo) and three hungry chicks appeared at the nest entrance. The male then fed them, presumably by regurgitation – third photo – as he didn’t appear to be carrying any food when he arrived.
At 45-50cm/18-20in in length, these are crow-sized birds are the largest Eurasian Woodpecker and comparable in size to the related Pileated Woodpecker of North America. Their white bill is 5cm/2in in length and an impressive implement. They usually dig a new nest hollow each year, but Antti told us that this pair had used the same one for two years running. The Black Woodpecker is quite widespread in mature forest in Eurasia and is expanding its range.
After feeding the young, the male left the nest for several minutes and then returned and entered the hollow. Nothing further happened for over half an hour until the female, who had been in the nest all along, emerged and flew off (fourth photo). The nest was in a tree on a quiet road outside a house, so I was able to watch it in comfort from my rental car (fifth photo), the red arrow indicating the location of the nest.
So, my visit to Finland reached a satisfactory conclusion and the Black Woodpecker lived up to expectations. Three days later I flew to Dublin, where I am now to join the rest of the family and await the arrival of the first member of the next generation. My niece went into hospital yesterday and the arrival of the baby, ten days overdue, is anticipated either tonight or tomorrow.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. (Psalms 104:16-17 KJV)
Congratulations on a new generation beginning. Also obtaining another of your bucket list birds. What a neat bird. That camera lens is something else!
Thanks again, Ian, for sharing your birdwatching photography with us. We await your next adventure in to the domain of the birds.