We are fortunate in Somers to live surrounded by the natural world while also enjoying the benefits of human-made artifacts and conveniences. The slivers of woods woven between our homes cannot hold the richness of larger tracts of open space; nonetheless they provide important opportunities to rid ourselves of stress and “nature deficit disorder.” And so the subject of this week’s column was spotted right outside my door, although I have every confidence it is also happening throughout Angle Fly Preserve as well.
Following a hollow knock-knocking sound to its source, I spied a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) – our smallest and most common woodpecker – diligently crafting a hole in the side of a dead ash tree. Over the course of several days, he (males have a red patch at the back of their heads) hammered out a cavity in the tree. The Downy then climbed into the tree, repeatedly picked up shattered wood fibers in his beak and flung them to the ground with a sharp snap of his head. The entire endeavor was made all the more memorable by the simultaneous (and much louder) din on the roof of our house as repairs were finally being made to damage suffered during last summer’s hurricane.
Undeterred by the nearby commotion, this little bird was getting ready for the winter by excavating a roost. The opening points southward, away from prevailing winds and ready to take advantage of the warming sun. On cold nights, the Downy may conserve energy by lowering his body temperature while huddling in the roost. If we are lucky, once winter is over, this little woodpecker will move a mate into the cavity and start a family.