Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Downy Woodpecker hammering away on a Luna Moth cocoon...or maybe a Giant Silk Moth cocoon...or maybe...

A couple of weeks ago in February, after one of our heavy, wet snows, I headed over to the Little Miami River to see what I could see. The snow had stuck to thousands upon thousands of branches to create a magical tangle of spidery whiteness. It was a beautiful sight. The branches, heavy and dripping with cold and freshness, had bowed low over the path, muffling sound and creating an incredible winter arched walkway. Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches were very active all along the trail, and I could hear the quiet tap-tapping of Downies as they searched for insects wintering under the bark. At one point, however, a very loud hammering drowned out the other sounds. It was strange and it took me a while to discover its source. About eye level down the slope towards the river, a Downy Woodpecker was trying to hammer through the hard shell of a very large moth's cocoon.

In a frozen landscape, a little Downy hammering away on a large cocoon makes a lot of noise!

I love that intent look in his eye. He must know there is a feast inside waiting for him.

You've got to love those woodpecker toes. They are the clingiest birds around...

I sat in the snow in a tangle of honeysuckle branches and watched this beautiful little bird working so hard for his dinner. I wish I had given more attention to the mechanics of the scene instead of the art of it because I've been back three times and can't find it. If my mind had not been so befuddled and pixilated with the beauty of the unique snowscape, I might have taken a photo of its location....or marked it out with paces from a landmark, or took some detailed photos of the cocoon after the Downy gave up and flew away. Befuddlement and pixilation...it happens every time.

I don't know much about moths and their cocoons. Is there anyone out there who does and knows what type of cocoon this is?

Giant Cocoon Mystery Solved!
Dave Wilson from Blue Jay Barrens (another Ohio blogger, yeah!) dropped by the blog and let me know that our little Downy Woodpecker was hammering away on a giant silkworm moth cocoon (Cecropia moth). He writes that "the Cecropia is the only giant silkworm moth that aligns its cocoon along a branch as yours has done." Thank you, Dave!!! If you haven't visited Dave's blog yet, check it out. Dave always has something interesting going on.

Click here for information on the Cecropia moth.

38 comments:

Tammie Lee said...

Kelly,
You take wonderful portraits of birds! I loved seeing this woodpecker from all the angles. I think that new cameras can record locations of where photos are taken. Imagine that. Then you could be lead right back to the spot with a GPS. I know nothing of how to do this. Gorgeous post, thank you.

Warren Baker said...

Thats one big moth in that cocoon Kelly! Or is it a small woodpecker? How big is the woody ?

Jayne said...

I'd have done the same thing Kelly... been so enthralled with the scene that everything else would have been forgotten. Love seeing this little guy work at such a treat.

Kelly said...

Tammie Lee....Thank you! I have an iPhone. I bet I can do that with my phone. Rick is always showing me little apps to do this and that, but I never pay attention. I walk around befuddle and pixilated half the time it seems. I need to pay attention to more than just birds!

Warren....the Downy is a small woodpecker. He is about 5.5 to 6.5 inches long (14 - 17 cm), but still...that was the largest cocoon I've ever seen!

Kelly said...

...thanks Jayne! I know.....we need to pay attention more! :-)

Jenny said...

Love that photo with the claws and the divided tail between the twig! Your description of the the scene around you made me want to experience it myself. Lovely post Kelly, thanks.

Roy said...

Heh, heh! Yeah, I've noticed that Downies tend to be very intense little birds.

Great shots! I'm wondering if he ever managed to get through and into the bug inside.

holdingmoments said...

Amazing captures Kelly.
That must have been a very tough cocoon.

Wanda said...

I once found a cocoon of that size but it lay on the ground empty, but also it had the consistency of fibrous paper. Love your photos Kelly!

Laure Ferlita said...

Whereas I would hate for Downy to go hungry, I must say I feel bad for the fellow IN the cocoon!

Can you imagine? There's no where to go - you can't survive out in those temps even if you were to be able to get away! Nature is amazing!

Beautiful pics!!

Bird Girl said...

Hi Kelly - Boy you nailed it when you said - Befuddlement & Pixelation it happens every time to me too! What an interesting post. I've been reading your blog now for a few months and just enjoying each post. Love the paintings and I think it is just so neat to try and do 100 in a year - wow!Your photography is beautiful!

I left a comment for you on my Salty Dog post :-)

The Early Birder said...

Mesmerising pics Kelly as I'm sure was the time you spent with the Downy. Interesting to see how it uses its tail.
BTW I also spent ages hunting down a path in the woods that I've walked many times but couldn't find it but my excuse is tired brain cells! FAB.
P.S. How is the weather treating you?

Keith Hargreaves said...

I have just discovered your site though Holdingthemoment, I have enjoyed looking at your pictures very much and I will be back to see more of your great photography.

Chris said...

Euh I do not know anything about cocoon, but I know that this set of pictures is wonderful... you were so close! And the snow effect combined with the angle of the pictures are giving a special touch to these pictures... I love them!
This is the smallest of your woodpecker species, right?

Dave Lewis said...

I wish I knew what was in the cocoon because I saw a Downy doing the same thing up here a couple of winters ago!

Your shots are outstanding!

Renee said...

I love my downies - they are so cute!

Are you sure that's a cocoon, or is it a praying mantis egg sac? They can get pretty big, but then again I'm not sure what kind of bugs you get down they-ah!

Montanagirl said...

Kelly, this is a terrific series. Fun to see the Downy from all those angles!

JeniQ said...

Hi Kelly! Great pictures indeed!

Susan said...

Befuddled and pixelated! I love that, and will happily quote you! I know what you mean too about getting lost in the moment, and then not being able to find it (physically) again. I have a gps for that purpose..ha! As one of my friends calls it, a very expensive dead battery case!

Allison said...

I like how in one of the photos his little tail feathers are straddling the branch for extra support!

Kyna said...

Love those Downys! :D

Betsy from Tennessee said...

That is one large cocoon, Kelly... You captured some great pictures... LOVE them.. The Downy is such a cutie!!!!!

We had a wonderful Birthday celebration and got home today!!! I'll post a blog tomorrow morning.
Hugs,
Betsy

Elva Paulson said...

What a wonderful series of shots, Kelly. I can almost hear your heart racing when you knew you were getting those wonderful shots and were close enough to almost hear him breath, much less hammer away.

Cicero Sings said...

Those are such great shots ... no wonder you got befuddled and pixilated after such a sight and such a photographic opportunity!!

Elaine said...

I was befuddled and pixilated just looking at your photos! What great action shots!

Roy said...

Good shots of a lovely bird, I hope he eventually got a meal that day Kelly.

Diane said...

Kelly, I am a late comer to this posting of the Downy Woodpecker! Great shots and I can almost hear his little mind saying "mmmmmm - something good awaits me, if I could just break through the surface." Pretty bird!

Felicia said...

I didn't know Downy Woodpeckers ate cocoons--but since they do eat insects and their larvae, I guess this makes sense. Very cool find!

ShySongbird said...

Whatever was in that cocoon I wouldn't want to be it! Poor thing, all that 'banging at the door' and wondering what is going to 'get' you when it caves in but that is probably me being too anthropomorphic :)

Lovely (though very chilly) photos again Kelly. I suspect you felt you were in your own little cocoon while watching that.

Hilke Breder said...

Awesome series with great photos of the downy, Kelly. I'd be curious if he ever got inside. I have a GPS on my camera but it sucks up battery juice so quickly that I often leave it at home.

Nick S said...

Lovely wintery images Kelly. I always check my friends blogs, but don't often get a chance to comment as I moderate a busy Nature Photography Website.

Pam said...

I am in awe of the shots you capture of all of the birds. They show me so much detail, now I can see what I am missing. Thanks for sharing the beauty of nature through your camera lens, I enjoyed looking over your shoulder.

Ginnymo said...

What great photos Kelly! It's so neat that they find all sorts of stuff to eat in the winter.

BirdingMaine said...

Beautiful captures Kelly! Those cocoons can be tough and it looks like the Downy was a tenacious little bird pounding away like that.

John

Anna said...

Kelly I don't know either, but I tell you these a very nice winter photos. They look like paintings. Thanks for sharing. Anna :)

Appalachian Lady said...

Great post--now I know why some cocoons I found are so hard. I don't know what would have such a large cocoon and I am not sure I've seen one that large. I will look closer next fall.

E said...

Beautiful, Kelly, he is working hard, lovely feathers, great texture, good timing. Love the story. Hugs to all, Ena

Mary said...

Wow..great shots! Whatever kind od cocoon, the downy obviously likes it.