Posted by: atowhee | May 1, 2009

Melanerpes at arm’s length

The OLLI birding class took a field trip to Klamath Bird Observatory’s HQ at Willow Wind in Ashland.  There weacwobanding1 met the four-member Friday morning bird banding team, and their recent captures.  Like this male adult Acorn Woodpecker.img_7060img_7059img_7062



img_7063And then, for the first time in KBO banding records, the team had the other Melanerpes native to Oregon, Lewis’s Woodpecker.

 The birds are gently held by KBO biologist, Bob Frey.









img_7070No brood patch was found, but up close the stiff tail feathers were evident.lewis-tailfeathers  They’re used to help the bird prop itself against limbs and tree trunks, acting as a third “leg.”  The spiked feathers give the bird a firm brace against the bark.   At this very close range the Lewis’s has a tiny ring of red lipstick around its beak.  Never visible in the field.

img_7071The Lewis’s Woodpecker is named after Captain Lewis of the L&C Expedition which first found the species for science.  In fact, the only known bird specimen to have survived from that expedition over 200 years ago is a Lewis’s Woodpecker skin in the Harvard University collection.  The expedition made numerous other bird discoveries including the Clark’s Nutcracker named for the co-commander of the troop. A great place to see that large Corvid is in the parking lots around Crater Lake Lodge.  The Clark’s Grebe is named for a much later frontier explorer.img_7074  The KBO crew guessed that the Acorn had been chasing the Lewis when they both ended up in the mist net side-by-side.  The Lewis only winters here while the Bear Creek Valley is home turf for the Acorn.

Next came this little guy, less than ten grams of life.  Sure, you can tell it’s an Empidonax flycatcher.  Which one?  No song, no call, and lots of clues.  The biologist, Bob Frey, carefully sorted through the clues, measuring primary feathers, beak, toes, etc.  After much comparison and using a highly detailed bird-banders ID guide by Peter Pyle: Hammond’s.  He will breed somewhere in a dense forest along the Pacific Slope.  Note the incomplete eye-ring that might make a birder at thirty feet think “Pacific-Slope.”  Is this the bird that might have misled me at nearby North Mountain Park, or a similar one?  Empidonax mysteries are unavoidable in North American forest birding.  More Hammond’s images:img_7076img_7075



Our last bird of the visit:img_7077


Male Song Sparrow, already previously banded and likely a locally breeding adult.



img_7079KBO does occasionally catch some grayer individuals but they are a different race of Song Sparrow, not our local population is generallyu dark hued and heavily streaked.

 The birds for banding are all captured in fine “mist nets” specifically made to catch birds without hurting their wings or plumage.  Before being “processed” and released the birds are freed from the nets and stored in soft draw-string bags so they can’t flap wings and hurt themselves.  Mots of the small birds stay docile while handled though I once saw a Black-headed Grosbeak bite his handler and draw blood.



In the parrking area at the start of the morning we;d seen WesternKingbird and Bullock’s Orioles in flight.


  1. Fascinating! How do they capture them?

  2. Cool photos!

  3. Thanks for bringing your OLLI class and capturing such an exciting day in photos and words! I’m so sad I missed such a thrilling woodpecker double whammy!

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