Category Archives: Hairy Woodpecker

Regional spring bird count sets several new records


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  Newly-arrived migrant birds such as Indigo Bunting were well represented on the 73rd annual Elizabethton Spring Bird Count.

The 73rd consecutive Elizabethton Spring Bird Count, which was held Saturday, April 30, set numerous records for this long-running survey of the region’s birds. The 59 observers in 13 parties (both representing record highs for participation) enjoyed favorable weather over the coverage area, which included Carter County and parts of adjacent Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties.



Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                              A total of 166 species of birds, including Rose-breasted Grosbeak, pictured, helped participants in the Elizabethton Spring Bird Count, establish a new record high for this annual survey. The old record of 161 species was set back in 2005.

Long-time count compiler Rick Knight announced that the annual count tallied 166 species, eclipsing the previous record of 161 set in 2005. By comparison, the average number over the last 30 years has been 147 species.

Highlights for this year’s Spring Bird Count included American Golden-Plover and Fish Crow, which were new to this annual survey of birds in the region.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                           The presence of several nesting colonies of Great Blue Herons could help explain a new record-high for this species on this year’s count.

Other notable find included Hooded Merganser (a hen with two young), a lingering pair of Common Mergansers, Virginia Rail, Black-billed Cuckoo, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Sedge Wren and Cerulean Warbler.

Amazingly, given the long history of this count, 21 species occurred in record high numbers this year. Knight said the increased number of observers and parties certainly contributed to this.


Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                      Although the Sora is rarely found during this annual count, the four individuals found this year represented an all-time high for the species on this yearly survey.

The record highs were for the following species:  Canada Goose (653), Mallard (332), Wild Turkey (57), Great Blue Heron (107), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (14), Black Vulture (152), Spotted Sandpiper (83), Barred Owl (12), Belted Kingfisher (30), Red-bellied Woodpecker (97), Warbling Vireo (20), Red-eyed Vireo (257), Ovenbird (244), Worm-eating Warbler (39), Yellow-throated Warbler (44), Eastern Towhee (222), Scarlet Tanager (82), and Baltimore Oriole (38). Three species — Orchard Oriole (42), Northern Saw-whet Owl (3) and Sora (4) — tied previous high counts.

Several of these good finds were made by observers counting in Unicoi County at such locations as Rock Creek Recreation Area and Unaka Mountain. The final total follows:


Photo by Bryan Stevens Common backyard birds, such as Northern Cardinal, were among the record-high 166 species found.

Canada Goose,  653; Wood Duck, 85; American Wigeon, 2; Mallard, 332; Blue-winged Teal, 6; Bufflehead, 5; Hooded Merganser, 3; and Common Merganser, 2.
Northern Bobwhite, 1; Ruffed Grouse, 1; Wild Turkey, 57; Common Loon, 1; Pied-billed Grebe, 5; Horned Grebe, 1; and Double-crested Cormorant, 65.
Great Blue Heron, 107; Green Heron, 16; Black-crowned Night-heron, 1; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 14; Black Vulture,  152; and Turkey Vulture,  212.
Osprey,  15; Bald Eagle, 10; Sharp-shinned Hawk,  2; Cooper’s Hawk, 7; Broad-winged Hawk, 16; and Red-tailed Hawk,  38.
Virginia Rail,  1; Sora , 4; American Coot, 3; American Golden-Plover, 1; Killdeer,  46; Spotted Sandpiper,  83; Solitary Sandpiper,  34; Greater Yellowlegs,  2; Lesser Yellowlegs , 2; Least Sandpiper, 5; and Pectoral Sandpiper, 2.
Bonaparte’s Gull, 1; Ring-billed Gull, 7; Forster’s Tern, 7; Rock Pigeon, 166; Eurasian Collared-Dove,  3; Mourning Dove,  254; Yellow-billed Cuckoo,  9; and Black-billed Cuckoo, 1.
Eastern Screech-Owl, 10; Great Horned Owl,  6; Barred Owl,  12; Northern Saw-whet Owl, 3; Common Nighthawk, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 10; Eastern Whip-poor-will, 32; Chimney Swift , 209; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 31; and Belted Kingfisher, 30.
Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker,  97; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 4; Downy Woodpecker,  37; Hairy Woodpecker, 10; Northern Flicker,  33; Pileated Woodpecker, 43; American Kestrel, 19; and Peregrine Falcon, 1.
Eastern Wood-Pewee,  7; Acadian Flycatcher, 12; Least Flycatcher, 6; Eastern Phoebe, 77; Great Crested Flycatcher, 15; and Eastern Kingbird, 57.
Loggerhead Shrike, 1; White-eyed Vireo, 12; Yellow-throated Vireo, 9; Blue-headed Vireo,  78; Warbling Vireo, 20; Red-eyed Vireo,  257; Blue Jay, 320; American Crow, 338; Fish Crow, 1; Common Raven,  and 14; Horned Lark,  2.
Purple Martin, 81; Tree Swallow, 426; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 133; Barn Swallow, 217; and Cliff Swallow, 807.
Carolina Chickadee,  173; Tufted Titmouse, 166; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 16; White-breasted Nuthatch, 26; and Brown Creeper,  4.
House Wren,  45; Winter Wren, 4; Sedge Wren, 1; Carolina Wren,  129; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,  97; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 5; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 4.


Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                        Vireos, such as this Red-eyed Vireo on a nest, were quite abundant. The numbers of Red-eyed Vireos and Warbling Vireos set all-time highs for the count.

Eastern Bluebird, 157; Veery, 13; Swainson’s Thrush,  2; Wood Thrush, 138; American Robin,  888; Gray Catbird, 55; Brown Thrasher, 45; Northern Mockingbird, 122; European Starling,  986; and Cedar Waxwing, 44.
Ovenbird, 244; Worm-eating Warbler, 39; Louisiana Waterthrush, 32; Golden-winged Warbler, 2; Black-and-white Warbler, 90; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Nashville Warbler, 1; Kentucky Warbler, 5; Common Yellowthroat, 27; Hooded Warbler, 208; American Redstart, 21; Cape May Warbler, 4; Cerulean Warbler, 2; Northern Parula, 56; Magnolia Warbler, 3; Bay-breasted Warbler, 2; Blackburnian Warbler, 7; Yellow Warbler, 15; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 36; Blackpoll Warbler, 1; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 85; Palm Warbler, 8; Pine Warbler, 10; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 62; Yellow-throated Warbler, 44; Prairie Warbler, 5; Black-throated Green Warbler, 81; Canada Warbler, 44; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 8.
Eastern Towhee, 222; Chipping Sparrow, 126; Field Sparrow, 72; Savannah Sparrow, 1; Grasshopper Sparrow, 4; Song Sparrow, 276; Swamp Sparrow, 5; White-throated Sparrow, 13; White-crowned Sparrow, 11; and Dark-eyed Junco, 63.


Photo by Bryan Stevens While some species set record highs, only 10 Hairy Woodpeckers, like this male, were found by participants in the annual Elizabethton Spring Bird Count.

Summer Tanager, 1; Scarlet Tanager, 82; Northern Cardinal, 299; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 30; Blue Grosbeak, 6; and Indigo Bunting, 126.
Bobolink, 1; Red-winged Blackbird,  480; Eastern Meadowlark, 142; Rusty Blackbird, 2; Common Grackle, 477; Brown-headed Cowbird, 91; Orchard Oriole, 42; and Baltimore Oriole, 38.
House Finch, 56; Pine Siskin, 59; American Goldfinch, 354; and House Sparrow, 80.

To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email


Winter storms can’t ruffle feathers of the downy woodpecker


Winter Storm Jonas was one for the history books, but the birds at my home weathered the wintry conditions without ruffling their feathers all that much.WinterStormJonas_Top-620x380

The storm reminded me of a major blizzard back in 1993 that set me on the path to becoming the enthusiast about birds that I am today. The Blizzard of ’93 — which was dubbed “a storm of the century” — killed more than 300 people and dumped more than 20 inches of snow across a vast swath of the Appalachians and the Northeastern United States. Fierce winds blew snow around into massive drifts. That storm developed on March 12, 1993, and dissipated by March 15, 1993.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  Snow doesn’t deter a determined downy woodpecker.

Winter Storm Jonas dumped almost 11 inches of snow at my home, which was considerably less than back in 1993 when about three feet of snow accumulated. I remember the winds being more fierce with the ’93 storm, as well. Fortunately, my electric power never faltered through either of the storm, but my family was quite stranded for several days in 1993. With very little else to do, I watched my feeders. I remember observing birds like cardinals and juncos endured buffeting winds as they flocked to feeders that I had just placed in the yard earlier that winter. It was the beginning of my desire to learn more about birds, including training myself to identify the various species I encounter at home and afield.

More than 20 years later, the recent Winter Storm Jonas sent a variety of birds flocking to my feeders after what has been a lackluster start to the winter bird-feeding season. Some unexpected visitors — a male red-winged blackbird, two European starlings and a few purple finches — made their first appearance for the winter.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    Only the male downy woodpecker sports the red patch of feathers on the back of its head.

The most common visitors at the feeders were the dark-eyed juncos. I estimated that about two dozen of these “snow birds” spent most of the storm perched on my feeders or foraging on the ground beneath them. I also observed numerous Northern cardinals, Eastern towhees, American goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, white-throated sparrows, song sparrows and more.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                        A tufted titmouse and downy woodpecker share space at a suet feeder.

One bird that visited frequently also did so with amazing discretion. The downy woodpecker is a small black-and-white bird that often infiltrates a mixed flock of birds to nab a sunflower seed or grab a bit of suet before the other members of the flock are even aware of its presence. Perhaps because of its status as the smallest of the North American woodpeckers, the downy woodpecker is quite good at not drawing attention to itself.

Not only is the downy woodpecker the smallest of the woodpeckers in the United States, it’s also the most common. It’s the woodpecker that most bird lovers encounter in the yards and at their feeders. However, the downy is not the smallest woodpecker in the world. That distinction goes to species known as “piculets” that reside in Asia and South America. Worldwide, more than 180 species of woodpeckers thrive almost worldwide, only absent from the continents of Australia and Antarctica.


Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service The hairy woodpecker is a larger look-alike relative of the downy woodpecker.

The dainty downy woodpecker has a larger lookalike relative. The hairy woodpecker not only bears a strong resemblance to the downy, but shares similar habitat, as well. Despite almost identical plumages, the two species are quite different in size. The downy, at six inches in length, is the size of a sparrow. The larger hairy woodpecker almost 10 inches in length, making it closer in size to a robin.

As most birders know, size is often difficult to determine, especially if you don’t have a downy and hairy woodpecker in close proximity. The deciding factor is usually a good look at the beak of these two birds. A downy woodpecker has a short, stubby, almost un-woodpecker-like bill. The hairy woodpecker, on the other hand, has a large bill like those of such relatives as red-bellied woodpecker and Northern flicker.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                    A downy woodpecker visits a feeder for a shelled peanut.

The downy woodpecker is a cavity-nesting bird, but the species does not usually accept man-made nesting boxes although they often utilize them for roosting purposes. Downy woodpeckers endure frigid nights not only by finding a cozy roosting spot but by also lowering their body temperature. This action is a form of controlled hypothermia that is also practiced by such small birds as chickadees, kinglets and hummingbirds.

Downy woodpeckers have a way of hitching themselves along trunks and branches in a jerky fashion. Although not silent by any means, the downy woodpecker limits its utterances to a range of “peents,” as well as a high-pitched jumble of descending notes often described as a “whinny.” Of course, they also make themselves heard by pounding against tree trunks and branches like their larger relatives.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                Downy woodpeckers are quite comfortable climbing along tree trunks and branches.

A pair of downy woodpeckers makes a great addition to the diversity of birds in any yard. Don’t fret too much about them when the weather turns nasty. Despite their small sizes, they have a huge arsenal of adaptations to deal with the cold. Whether its a modest flurry or the “storm of a century,” the downy woodpecker’s not likely to ruffle many feathers in coping.


To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email