I heard the distinctive and insistant call of a pileated woodpecker, (Dryocopus pileatus) in Dunn Woods today. I am relatively sure that is what I heard, as I pulled out my phone and opened Merlin Bird ID, and listened to the various other calls of other peckers: red-bellied, red-headed, downy and hairy woodpeckers, as well as the flicker. The call of the flicker was the only one that came close to the raucous call of the pileated, a repeated ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki. I made the call for pileated woodpecker over the flicker by the habitat. Dunn Woods has quite a few trees that have died since the big winds in 2011 when so many maples were downed. Dead standing trees are a cafeteria for pileated (and other woodpeckers), but flickers prefer to eat in more open habitats, walking on the ground to scare up ants and beetles with their curved beaks.
Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus
Pileated woodpeckers have been in Bloomington for many years. Before the property on Curry Pike became Cook Inc, it was a large beech grove, and everyone seemed to know that the woodpeckers nested there. So no one was surprised to see one in town working on an old silver maple. When that property was logged, I think the larger group dispersed around town, but I have no proof.
Over a decade ago I noticed that there were pileated woodpeckers in Winslow Woods park, they have been nesting in the many beech tree cavities in the park. I remember seeing them silhouetted against the sunset while I was working in community garden, and the sound of them calling in mature beech forest that covers that sinkhole rich park.
So it is easy to see why there was one in the woods today. There are quite a few large dead trees that make q buffet of carpenter ants and other insects for the peckers to eat. A lot of trees (a majority of them hard maple) were lost in the decimating winds of 2011. But these trees most likely died from draught stress in the years that followed, and they are still standing and providing food and shelter for the woodpeckers of Dunn woods.
Sometime this winter, I think in February, these bird and bat houses appeared in Dunn Woods. Hope someone decides to make these their homes, but I fear the night sounds emanating from Bryan Hall may keep some potential residents away. Also, when I looked up bat houses online, one of the main points about placement that trees are not good due to the shade, as well as access for predators.\
Back in 2008 I first noticed a bird call in Dunn Woods that I had not heard in the wild before. (On the All About Birds link I provided in the previous sentence, it was the “begging call of chicks” that I first heard.) I wandered about a bit, and then saw a hawk like bird fly from one tree to another, where the calling had come from. I realized that there was a juvenile calling to one of its parents, who then responded.
I could tell from the size, short wings, long tail, and habit that it was an accipiter, not a buteo. I was standing on an inner path with my eyes fixed on the tree tops when a fellow from Germany asked what I was looking at. As I was telling him I had spotted a hawk, it flew right over our heads. I said I suspected it was an accipiter, but could not tell if it was a sharp-shinned, Cooper’s or even a goshawk. He immediately eliminated the goshawk, they are significantly larger than the other two, and really do not like being near humans.
He then was able to tell from the tail shape that it was a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), which is rounded at the edges, while the Sharp-shinned hawk’s tail is squared off at the edges. So we know we had Cooper’s hawks in Dunn Woods, so I started looking to see if I could find a nest, and sure enough I found one high in the trees. Of course there a dozens of squirrel nests in woods, and they too are high in the trees too. But it is pretty easy to tell the difference, especially with a pair of binoculars. Squirrel nests are primarily leaves (for insulation) with some sticks for structure, while a hawk nest almost all interwoven sticks, they are distinctively different. I think that as the hawks use their nest only in spring and early summer, they do not need the insulation that the squirrels need to keep warm through the long winter months.
So for the past 8 years I have seen them nest in various parts of Dunn Woods; it seems they change nest locations every few years. On May 25, 2011 a strong storm took out the large sugar maple they had nested in that year. Sadly the two babies in the nest did survive the fall and/or the cool night air. I feared they would not nest again the next year, but thankfully they came back and nested in Dunn Woods again.
They have been in the same nest close to Bryan Hall for the past two years, and I feared they would not come back due to the raptor recordings coming from Bryan Hall in the evenings (to scare away the crows who like the roost by the hundreds in the woods during the winter. The sounds are still there in April, even the though the crows are long gone.
So yesterday I was in the woods when I heard the Cooper’s call coming from the trees, and was soon able to spot a pair flying from tree to tree while talking to each other. Steve Hinnefeld happened by just then and saw them too, and we agreed that they were a couple looking for a new nesting spot, or perhaps just courting. So I will be out every day now at lunch to see if I can spot a new nest before the leaves come out fully. After that, it is really difficult to see their nest until fall. But if you do know where it is, then the thrill is to find an angle (there is usually only one) where you can watch them sitting on the eggs. Incubation is done mostly by the female, and it usually takes 34-36 days for the eggs to hatch. The male brings food to female, and then incubates for a few minutes while female is eating. After hatching, he will bring food to the nest, and she will feed it to the fledglings. After about a month, they get restless and can be seen peeking over the nest (if you are lucky), and soon after begin to fly.
This is an especially interesting time. The juveniles will fly from tree to tree, and make quite a racket calling to their parents to bring them food. Fortunately Dunn Woods is filled with the small mammals and birds that the hawks feed upon, perhaps that is why they come back year after year. Several years ago I was watching a juvenile about 25 feet in a tree, calling for food when I noticed one of the parents about 20 feet above with a morsel of mammal in her talons. All of a sudden she called, and the lunch was dropped in front of the fledgling, but he/she just ignored it and it hit the ground. But I know I had just seen a hunting lesson, hawk style!
I do not have the fancy camera equipment of a true birder, so my pictures are less than useful for identification (and the pleasure of a good photo), but they do remind me of what I have seen and experienced in the woods. So here is a link to Google image search that has hundreds of images of Cooper’s hawks.
No, not exactly, but a pair of Cooper’s Hawks have been nesting in Dunn Woods since I first noticed them in 2008. Their nests are easy to distinguish from that of the numerous squirrels in the woods, always very high, and made of sticks and stems rather than leaves. The latest one is in a large tree close to Bryan Hall, they have been observed by workers on the third floor, just a hundred feet or so from the east facing windows.
As you may now, Bloomington has had a winter influx of crows over the last few years, and they roost at night in large groups numbering in the hundreds. At dusk you can see them flying together to one of their favorite spots on the west side, at the courthouse, in Elm Heights and in Dunn Woods. Here they are at my house on a cold February evening.
So the city, and IU, have found a way to keep the crows away. Downtown on the square, at Bryan Hall, and at Morrison Hall, as evening comes on, squawks and calls from a variety of raptors are broadcast to the night skies. This seems to push the crows to another roosting spot (like Elm Heights), and thus keep the crow dropping off the parking meters on the square, and footpaths in Dunn Woods. But the giant murders of crows stop roosting in town as soon as the weather gets warm, apparently they have better things to do and places to be.
But IU keeps the recordings going through March and April (and maybe longer). This seems like overkill, and may well have kept the Cooper’s Hawks from nesting. At the very least it is keeping the mammals and smaller birds in on edge through sunset and dusk. I am wondering who to ask about having the recordings turned off now that the weather is warm and there is no need for the (disconcerting and annoying) recordings?
On Sunday morning, Jojo and took one of our bike loops to Lake Monroe, and it was the single biggest bird day I’ve ever had. By late May most of our migraters are back and nesting. We stopped for a moment on the trail that overlooks Jackson Creek, and watched while a pair of Mallard ducks waddled into the water and started floating down stream.
Once back on the road, and close to the lake, the birds started showing themselves. First a bluebird flew right in front of me, then we saw some goldfinches. Riding through the woods I heard the unmistakable sound of a red-breasted grosbeak (chick-burr) and then a vireo in the upper story of the trees. I often hear woodpeckers, in town we have flickers, red bellies, and downy woodpeckers at our feeder, but in the woods we get lucky and see the large pileated woodpecker.
So early the next day, I was outside our house moving the recycle bins, and to my surprise, a Cooper’s Hawk swooped over my head and landed in a low branch. The birds in the surrounding trees were twittering up a storm, and I could see why, the hawk had an adult starling in its claws, and was just waiting around to see if he was going to be hassled. He then flew to another tree, and from there I suppose to Dunn’s Woods, were I know a pair is nesting. (I am not being grammatically sexist, the males are noticeably smaller that that females.)
My other amazing encounters this month were a great blue heron flying up from one of the ponds in Miller-Showers park, a catbird in our neighborhood, a cedar waxwing near the Von Lee, and a broad winged hawk over the Hoosier Forest.
I was walking in Dunn Woods at lunch today and heard the unmistakable call of a Cooper’s hawk nearby. I looked at the nest they used last year, and sure enough I saw a tail hanging over the edge, then turn and disappear in the sticks that make up the nest. I walked to the top of the hill where I had seen a patch of trout lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves a couple day earlier. Sure enough, there were dozens of the the little yellow wildflowers, sharing the forest floor with the Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) that is widely dispersed in Dunn Woods.
Today I was in Dunn Woods at lunch and stopped to sit on a stump, it was really warm out. I was there just a few minutes when I saw a shadow and heard a hawk call. I gaze at the area east of the Law School and soon saw her fly to a perch high in a beech tree.
She spent some time preening, and looking about, not hunting, it seemed more like she was checking it out. The male builds a nest, last year’s is still in place, but the one from year before (2007) is gone. I plan on keeping an eye on where they nest, last year they had 4 fledglings that that I spotted flying about.
I thought the sound of the red-wing blackbirds was the sign of spring, but it has snowed since then. But today makes me realize, this is it!
I was walking in Dunn Woods yesterday at lunch when I noticed a bunch crows and jays just cawing their heads off. Jays and crows are cousins, but don’t normally hang out together, let alone co-operate, so I figured there must be a predator hunting in the woods somewhere. I’ve seen both crows and jays harrass owls while out riding in the woods, but never together. I looked and looked, but saw only the jays and crows as they flew from tree to tree, vocalizing their displeasure with the situation.
After a while they quieted down a bit, and I had to get back to the office. Just as I walked out of the woods and headed towards Sample Gates, I saw a hawk (not an owl) as it passed right over my head, flew over the gates, and down Kirkwood before turning south over Kilroy’s. I had felt that she/he was there, so it was a great pleasure to see him/her flying over town. I do wonder why the jays and crows did not bother them during nesting and fledging in the spring, I suppose having the 2 parents there kept the jays at a distance, I don’t know if Cooper’s hawks will attack crows, but they do eat jays.
The Cooper’s Hawks are long gone from Dunn Woods, I’ve neither seen nor heard them for over a week. The fledglings, at least 3 of them, maybe more, were there, loud and hungry, during the last week of July, but have been gone since the first of August. They would fly back and forth through the trees yelling for food and waiting for the a parents to show up with the latest catch. The juveniles were easy to spot, not only did they call as they flew, but the distinctive white band of feathers at the end of the tail was easy to see as they flew and when sitting on a branch. I think the parents could not keep up at the end, there was quite a ruckus when they showed up with food, and I think they either led the kids out into the wider world, or just stopped showing up with food, but as they all disappeared at once, I get the feeling they could have left together.
A couple of weeks ago I saw one of the parents fly in to the squalling crew and land on a high branch with something in its claws. As the fledglings flew closer, the parent released the prey, but none of the kids flew to catch it as it dropped. I assumed this was their way of teaching the kids how to hunt on the fly, which is what they do best.
During that last week they were especially noisy, and I could hear 3, maybe 4 fledglings calling at once, and my guess is that the parent were coming less frequently, till eventually all the kids got the message and headed out on their own, or followed their parents out of the Dunn’s Woods nursery into the wider world spurred by hunger.
I was walking around last week when I thought to stop by last year’s hawk nest in the woods. I thought I heard a hawk-like squawk, then saw one fly into an upper branch about a hundred feet from the nest. This week I saw the pair, and I am pretty sure the bigger one is the female. She flew onto a branch with the male, and proceeded to eat what looked like a small mammal, while he kept watch.
Then today I saw what appears a new nest a few hundred yards from the bigger original, and I’ve seen the mom sitting on the nest, and the dad swooping down from the incredibly high beech tree and fly through the woods. If I stand on one of the pathways for a while, I am able to spot one of them, most often after hearing them call. In a few weeks, the babies will be calling for food all day long, that is how I spotted them last year, and I will be keeping a close eye on their growth.