[Tweeters] DOWNY WOODPECKER (DOWO) Defensive Strategy vs. COOPER'S HAWK (COHA)

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Mon Nov 5 10:12:55 PST 2007

Hi All,

Well, "Junior" the immature COHA continues to show up periodically near my office feeders. Since he's still around, he obviously is obtaining sufficient food, at least for now, despite his consistent ineptness in all the hunts I've seen him make.

Just a short while ago, I observed an interesting defensive approach by a male DOWO this morning similar to that reported from last week's Marymoor walk with the 'frozen' chickadees with a COHA nearby.

On my feeder pole, I have one 'caged' suet feeder that allows small birds to pass through the cage but keeps squirrels and starlings out (and the Flickers are able to maneuver their neck, bill and tongue sufficiently to reach the suet) in addition to a tube seed feeder. (And a caged black oil sunflower seed feeder in a tree about ten feet away). A male DOWO was inside the suet cage feeder when the COHA flew into the woods about thirty feed from the feeder, with a harrassing crow following behind. The crow left and I watched to see what the DOWO would do. At this point the COHA wasn't directly visible, but even though he had gone by in a flash, the DOWO clearly recognized what it was and was staring in the direction of the COHA's probable location. Instead of flying, the bird hopped out of the suet feeder onto the main vertical feeder pole and shinnied around to the side directly opposite the COHA's location and flattened out against the pole. Within a minute, the COHA !
came fl
ying out of the woods, passing within a couple of feet of the DOWO's location. Instead of panicking and flying, the DOWO rotated around the pole with very little perceivable motion and stayed on the opposite side from the COHA's position. The woodpecker appeared to be using the fact that the pole was minimal (but sufficient) cover that also, by being so skinny, provided him with some visibility of the hawk's movements and therefore was a good defensive location.

The COHA flew off into a woodlot about a hundred feet away but the DOWO stayed motionless and flat against the pole. In another minute, back came the COHA, which landed on a branch within seven feet (!) of the DOWO's location. The woodpecker moved not a muscle, the COHA scanned the ground, the shrubs, the trees, and the air intently (with rapid head movements and a flat crop, so was clearly unfed yet today) and then flew off again, coming within three feet of the feeder pole, with the DOWO again rotating around the pole to keep it between him and the hawk. The hawk apparently had no idea the DOWO was there. After a few more minutes passed and several other birds came back out of hiding, the DOWO determined it was safe and flew off to another location.

Even with this inexperienced hawk, it appeared that the DOWO's choice was a much better strategy than taking flight, at least in this case. Had the hawk come after him, he had the option to dive into shrubs that almost brush up against the feeder and could still have had a decent chance of escaping.

Interesting to watch!

John Tubbs
Snoqualmie, WA
johntubbs at comcast.net
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