DEAR JOAN: We’ve had a woodpecker wintering with us since 2015. It flies in at dusk and hangs in a protected corner on the high sheer stucco wall of our loggia. It doesn’t peck a hole, just amazingly clings all night somehow.
It arrives in September and leaves in May. One year, a companion came along and stayed for a few days, but apparently didn’t like the accommodations.
This year, it has about a 1½-inch gray circle on its back. Just wondering about their life span and if it’s the same bird, graying with age.
Gayle, Bay Area
DEAR GAYLE: It’s nice to have a visitor that is friendly, doesn’t make a lot of noise and doesn’t pound holes in your house.
I would imagine that the bird has found a nice, cozy spot to spend the winter nights, then leaves when mating season arrives.
I don’t know if it’s the same woodpecker. It seems likely, but while birds can lose some pigment in their feathers as the age, it’s not the same as with humans and gray hair. Because this spot is so prominent, I’d say it’s a different bird.
Woodpeckers live on average four to 12 years. It’s not an easy life for our wild creatures. Large woodpeckers have longer lives and in perfect conditions, they could live 20 or 30 years. That is extremely rare, however, and more likely in aviaries where the birds are cared for and protected.
DEAR JOAN: There is a patch on our lawn, close to the finch feeder, that appears to have been eaten by something. We’ve seen sparrows there, appearing to eat the grass.
From what I can tell, they aren’t eating bugs in the grass but actually eating the grass. Is this possible?
Jean Hall, Danville
DEAR JEAN: Sparrows, and other birds, will eat grass seed, but thankfully, not the lawn. There are a couple of possible answers.
As the spot is near the finch feeder, the sparrows could be eating the spilled seed. If you’re using so-called thistle seed, the finches might have discarded the hulls from the seeds and the sparrows are picking over them. Both finch seeds and the thistle seed shells (try saying that three times fast) are fairly tiny and you might not be seeing them.
You might also have an infestation of cutworms in your lawn, which would explain the dead grass, and the sparrows are trying to get at them.
Try raking the area and see what you find.
JD Bergeron, executive director of International Bird Rescue, will talk about his recent journey to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, which has the largest albatross colony on the planet. “Albatross Adventures: Finding Wisdom on Midway Atoll” is set for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 28, at the David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley. Guest check-in starts at 6:45 p.m.
The multi-media presentation is free, but reservations are required. To reserve a seat, go to Eventbrite.com. This talk is for adults only, and donations to International Bird Rescue are welcome.
Bergeron was one of only 18 people participating in the 2019 nesting
albatross census, and he will talk about the experience and what it means for bird rescue and seabirds going forward.
Has woodpecker acquired a distinguished bit of gray in his plumage?