THE PECKING ORDER: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS AT DELPHI ABACO
The Delphi West-Indian Woodpeckers are at it again. In all senses of the phrase. When they first became infatuated with the wooden slats on the underside of the verandah roof, it was necessary – for the sake of the building – to divert them. This was quickly done by the simple expedient of building and installing two nesting boxes under the eaves.
An annual routine has been established. In March, the pair discuss quite loudly and at length which of the two boxes they prefer (usually the right-hand one). There follows enthusiastic housework, shelf-building, nursery decoration and so forth; after which they go ‘at it’… and move in. Continuing internal improvements take place, and they fly in and out busily. This year a yellow-throated warbler had the insolence to trespass into the box and we saw him abruptly ejected.
In due course the pair produce up to 6 chicks in their first brood. The nestlings start by making a small buzzing noise, but within days – hours? – they are calling loudly and demandingly for food. The parents take it in turns to fly off and bring back assorted insects of increasing size, at which stage the noise of the chicks is deafening.
By late May or early June the chicks are ready to fledge. Meanwhile, their parents take a break from feeding duties to renovate the second nest box, preparing it for their second brood. I have seen, even with eyes averted, the adults shamelessly mating on top of the second nest box while their chicks are jostling at the entrance to the first box, working out how to fly.
The fledglings fly off eventually into the coppice and pine forest (they stay around for a few days until they get the hang of finding their own food). And the adults repeat the same family-raising routine in the second nest box. The last time I saw the second brood fly, 4 left the box quite quickly – within about 5 minutes of each other. A fifth took one look at the world and disappeared into the depths of the box. A sixth teetered on the edge of the box for nearly half an hour – with both parents shouting encouragement at it – before finally launching into space. His timid sibling then shot out of the box into the great unknown. The breeding season was accomplished.
A SPECIALITY SPECIES FOR ABACO
West-Indian Woodpeckers are one of Abaco’s speciality species. In the Bahamas they are found only on Abaco and – a long way off – San Salvador. They are unknown on other islands. Until quite recently these birds were also found on Grand Bahama, but are sadly now extirpated, presumably for the familiar reasons…
All photos: RH (the last one is from 2014)