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Close Encounters of the Woodpecker Kind

Close Encounters of the Woodpecker Kind
By Harry Fuller, Klamath Bird Observatory Board President

I learned two things today about White-headed Woodpeckers: (1) The “white” head is not all white up close and (2) the male has a brood patch as well as the female, meaning he helps incubate eggs. How did I find out? I visited a Klamath Bird Observatory bird-banding site near Upper Klamath Lake.

The bird banders are gentle, using no pressure and no squeezing. The birds are held on their backs when measured, allowing the hand to support a given bird’s weight. The birds are released by opening the hand near the ground with the bird in an upright position, allowing each bird to seek its own escape route and first perch.

This bird population research project is now almost two decades old, and it is one of the longest-running, annual data collections in the western United States.

Each bird’s general condition, feathers, weight, gender, and age can help tell a lot about how a breeding population is doing—and this is information that often can only be collected from birds in hand. A population with a high percentage of older birds (not yearlings) is a good sign of a healthy breeding situation. The two White-headed Woodpeckers banded today were both 3 year old birds, a good sign. This species is not often caught, but it is regularly observed at this location near Rocky Point, Oregon.