Taking a break from working on a writing deadline, I loaded up my binoculars and camera and headed down my street toward the park. I didn’t make it farther than the end of the block.

Atop the light pole on the corner was a Northern Flicker, calling loudly to an unseen companion (who joined him later).

Northern Flicker with mate

Northern Flicker with mate

Then he made his way vertically down the pole, investigating various holes tiny and large.

Northern Flicker examining hole

Northern Flicker examining hole

Northern Flicker examining second hole

Northern Flicker exploring hole #3

Northern Flicker exploring hole #3

Let’s look at that last photo a little more closely:

Northern Flicker extends tongue into cavity

Northern Flicker extends tongue into cavity

Woodpecker tongues are really amazing. The structure supporting them wraps all the way around their heads, in some cases looping around their eyes.

Woodpecker bone and tongue structure. Click on link for source.

This gives most woodpeckers lots of tongue with which to explore tree cavities—and that means they have to spend less energy on excavation. Then when they encounter delicious bugs, their elegant barbed tongue is sticky enough to grab the bug and bring it back to where the woodpecker can enjoy his meal.

Tongue of Hairy Woodpecker. From "The Woodpeckers," by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm (1901)

Tongue of Hairy Woodpecker. From “The Woodpeckers,” by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm (1901)

But that’s not all we can learn by observing what’s happening on our block! Let’s go back to the flicker’s exploration of the second hole. Did you notice anyone else?

Black-capped Chickadees monitoring flicker

Black-capped Chickadees monitoring flicker

These two Black-capped Chickadees flew in together, at first scolding the flicker and then remaining silent as they watched him poke around in their prospective nest holes. They waited until he left, then went back in — maybe to assess what damage he might have done with that huge beak and strange-looking tongue?

Black-capped Chickadee checking out hole post-flicker

Black-capped Chickadee checks out possible nest hole after visit by flicker

Black-capped Chickadee explores possible nest hole after visit by flicker

Black-capped Chickadee explores second possible nest hole after visit by flicker

I haven’t seen the chickadees at these holes for the past couple of days; maybe they’ve decided to search for nest cavities on a less popular tree trunk.

*   *   *

This afternoon, lured by irresistible sunshine during this extraordinarily wet April, I headed back out towards the forest. Nope.

I’d heard frantic robin cheeping, so I figured a hawk was somewhere nearby. Another drama in our little corner of the city? Yes – but with different players. As I walked out the door, I turned away from the forest, toward the robin calls…just in time to see a crow fly off with a lovely blue egg in its beak.

Hope and tragedy, all in a few short days on one short city block.

What’s happening on your street?

P.S. – There’s a sequel to this story! Check the next post, “Blockwatch Success,” to see what happened.

Male American Robin

Male American Robin

8 responses to “Blockwatch

  1. Poignant and captivating. Thank you Trileigh.

  2. Cool! I’ve never seen a woodpecker tongue before. But I had a flicker box for a while above my studio window. Unfortunately, the female was not impressed, even though the male tried hard to convince her. I think she knew he had taken the lazy route….storemade house!

  3. I was wondering when the Chickadees would enter the story! Love the shot of the tongue!
    While sitting in Schmitz last week a similar robin crow drama unfolded. A pair of Robins started throwing a very loud fit not too far away from where I was sitting. I couldn’t see them through the brush but I could hear them so I kept looking in case I saw what was causing them to be so upset. Then I spotted a crow in a branch above where the robins were yelling. It was not calling alarm as it had earlier when the eagle flew over. It was cleaning its beak as they do after having something to eat and when it flew off a robin chased after it. I figured the crow had decided to have Robin egg for an afternoon snack. Drama, indeed!

    • Maurie, that’s a great story – great in terms of drama, not for the robins! I bet crows spend all winter looking forward to robin-egg season.

      • How funny that you responded to this today! I was sitting in the same area again this morning and the robins went crazy again. This time a squirrel got in on the scolding and sure enough within a few minutes up fly a pair of crows to a higher branch, wiping their beaks. The robins were so screaming “we are not you pet chickens!” I’m pretty sure that’s what it translated too, but my “Robin” is still pretty basic. ; ) Yes… I am sure those crows look forward to fresh robin egg season – little buggers!

  4. Pingback: Blockwatch Success! Two Tiny Chickadees Get a Little Help From a Federal Act, a Huge State, a Public Utility, and a Private Company | Natural Presence

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