Thursday, March 5, 2009

Observing courtship displays in paired Downy Woodpeckers

Yesterday afternoon when I arrived home from work, I looked out the back window and saw our female downy in the Ash tree, so I grabbed my camera and started to snap away. Out of nowhere the male popped into view with her! That doesn’t normally happen. They stayed very close to each other foraging for food and then playing peek-a-boo. The red feathers on the male's head seemed to be bushier than normal, so I kept photographing, capturing them moving around the limb together and wondering if he was raising the red feathers on his head. He really seemed to have a spiky-do going on!

The raised crest was visible from 25 feet away, 
but it just looked bushy. Up close you can see 
the individual feathers raised on the head.


The female seemed to be watching him intently, 
no doubt checking out those spiky red feathers!


Oh yes, those are very nice spiky red feathers. 
I think I'll get a little closer.

Beak Bit
Why is that Downy Woodpecker raising the feathers on the back of his head?
These two woodpeckers were so cute foraging together. When I observed what they were doing I knew right away it was a special courtship display behavior. Downies are monogamous, and when pair bonds form, they forage together for food (a form of mate-guarding). Males exhibiting mate-guarding behavior will fight off another male trying to elbow in on his action. Watching the pair forage together was very cool, but even cooler was the way the male would raise his crest of red feathers whenever the female was in view, showing off, looking larger. 

A raised crest is also a sign of aggression, 
but in our case he's just showing off for his mate.

The female definitely noticed his crest. At one point, she circled around and came in very close at another angle for a better look!

...then she decides to circle around for a better look.

Yes, indeed. That's a fine red crest!

When the male dropped down to get a seed from the feeder and the female was out of site, he lowered his crest.

...no need to keep the crest raised when 
his sweetheart isn't around to notice!

These are just two of several courtship displays and behavior. In our area drumming increases in early spring and is a major form of courtship behavior, but I’m saving that for another post when I learn more about their beak construction. Today when I was out in the woods, I heard a lot of drumming, but I didn’t get to witness another important courtship display, the Butterfly Flight: 
The Butterfly Flight, one of the most spectacular displays of the Downy Woodpecker, is when male and female follow (or chase) one another in a flight characterized by holding the wings high and flapping them slowly and weakly like a butterfly (from the Birds of North America Online). 
...but maybe they will get to that tomorrow…or the next day…I can hope!

12 comments:

Laure Ferlita said...

How cool! We've got Downies too, but I've never seen that! Love that spikey - do too! Good luck on the Butterfly Flight, hope you can catch on your camera - would LOVE to see that!

Kallen305 said...

I have the biggest smile on my face right now reading your post. Based upon your photos, spring is most certainly on its way!

Fabulous pictures!

Roy said...

Yeah, when I was in Ballard Park yesterday getting the pictures I posted, there was a lot of drumming going on. The Park is full of both Downies and Red-Bellies, and they make a lot of noise this time of year. Plus the Red-Bellies' call changes, too, to a more drawn-out churrrrr that's almost Loon-like. Heh, heh! The woods are definitely noisy!

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
Truly excellent.... I really enjoyed that one!! A very funny story and a wonderful nature report on what's going on in bird displays... Although I'm surprised they have already started to display and fly around as couple!! isn't it too early? Or do they anticipate a really really good spring and summer?' We will know soon I guess.
Thanks kelly for this wonderful nature report :ö)

Jayne said...

How interesting Kelly! I've never seen the male Downy doing that to impress. So cool that you captured it so well. :c) Have a great day!

Warren Baker said...

Great looking woodies! they are very similar to our lesser Spotted wood. They have that ''butterfly'' display flight you talk of too.

The Early Birder said...

Hi Kelly. Great post & very informative as usual.

Steve B said...

Yes, the drumming of the woodpeckers is a real sign of spring. Thanks for the report and the pictures.

Kelly said...

Laure...me too! I've never seen it and would like too. Thanks!

Kallen...Thanks! I just heard that tomorrow it's supposed to be 72 degrees!! I can't believe it! Spring is here...

Roy...Love the noisy spring woods...soon the warblers arrive...and the hummingbirds!!

Chris...thank you! The downies start pairing up in February. It was very cool to see his bushy little head!!!

Jayne...Thanks....it's the first time I ever saw it. I hope I can see it again!

Warren...Thank you! I like the looks of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker...

Early Birder...Thank you...this one was really fun. When I saw the bottle-brush head, I knew it was going to be fun.

Steve....Thank you....it was fun researching.

NW Nature Nut said...

I bet that was fun to watch. I like your inserted "thoughts of the female". Cute!

Heather said...

Wow, I've seen some raised crests on woodpeckers before, but only as aggression displays. I've not seen anything like this. Very cool. Glad you were able to capture it in photos. Thanks for all the cool info!

Kelly said...

Thanks Nature Nut and Heather!! It was the first time I had ever seen a courtship display. It was fun writing about it and photographing it.