Raising a Family – Woody Woodpecker #1

July 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Posted in itchy mouth | 2 Comments
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I was on my way to the MRT station on a Friday morning when suddenly two small birdies flew and landed on a broken-off trunk of a dead palm tree. Nothing really special cos these were rather common birds… But what made me stopped was when one of them went into a hole in the trunk. I thought to myself, “Could it be just checking out the hole to see if it’s suitable as a nest or could there actually be chicks inside already?” Soon, both birds flew off. I moved further away and stood there waiting in anticipation to see if they would return… Then, to my delight, one bird returned, and yes! It had food on its beak and went into the hole!

I couldn’t believe my luck! I had just found a pair of nesting woodpeckers! Although it was not my first time encountering woodpeckers’ nest, but to find one so near and open was quite incredible! Immediately I smsed Tisu Boy to make him jealous…hahah…cos he was working and couldn’t possibly rush out to see them…hahah…

The next day, Itchyfingers came all prepared to document the nesting process of this pair of woodpeckers.

The Sunda Woodpecker or the Brown-capped Woodpecker
(Dendrocopos moluccensis) is from the Picidae family. It is found in Brunei,
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Its natural habitats are subtropical or
tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical mangrove forests, and
subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. When I first started birdwatching,
one experienced birder used to say that this is the ‘carpark woodpecker’ cos
you can hear them so often, just around your HDB estates…
At 12.5-13cm,
it is the smallest woodpecker that can be found in Singapore

It didn’t take too long for us to get the first image of the bird coming back
with food for its chick. Usually, it would not enter the nest immediately,
but would look around briefly to check for any predators in or outside the nest

Not sure if the hole was already there or did the woodies excavate their way
to build this nest since I didn’t witness that process… Here the parent bird
had just brought in
a juicy worm of some sort…

Once they confirmed no predator was around, they would make their way
into the hole to feed the hungry chicks. Usually they lay two eggs in a clutch.
Think the hole was just too small for the bird? Nope, they always
in without any apparent difficulty…

Similarly, after they were done with the feeding, the parent birds would
pop out their tiny heads out to check safety before flying away to look for
more food. Notice the tongue sticking out of its beak? Woodpeckers have
long sticky tongues
which possess bristles to aid these birds in grabbing
and extracting insects deep within a hole of a tree

After one woody flew away, we would have to wait a few minutes for the next parent to come back with more food. To anticipate their approach, we had to look for movements on nearby trees or listen for their calls…

A parent woody looking for food on a nearby tree

Sometimes, when you thought they had gathered enough for the chicks and aimed the camera at the hole waiting for the returning bird, they would fly away instead. 😦

Sometimes, out from no where, one parent woody would fly straight into
the nest, sparing us no chance to focus properly! 😦

So what’s the chicks’ diet like besides ‘worms’?

Two fat juicy caterpillars!

Spiders! Another staple on the woody chicks’ menu

Hmm…looked like an unfortunate Phintella versicolor?

Well of course, what went in must come out…hahah…Besides bringing food to the demanding chicks, the parents had to do a bit of housekeeping every now and then to ensure the chicks could grow up in an hygienic environment… :p

Sometimes the parent bird would stay in the nest for a very long time before
emerging with a faecal sac – waste produced by the chicks covered in a thin
membrane for easy disposal. The wooden chips might be extra bits that the
parent bird picked up or they just happened to stick onto the sac? Ahh, you might
think that all birdies ‘squirt’ white watery poo? But imagine if the chicks were
to do that within or outta their nest… it would not only be unhygienic to stay in,
but the poo stain would also attract the attention of potential predators.
So parent birds must bring these faecal sacs far away for disposal. Smart adaptation
of birds!

In the hour or so when we were there, the parent birds worked diligently, taking turns to provide for the chicks, at a frequency of almost 5-10 minutes per feeding. We guessed then that the chicks must have been newly hatched and required full attention from parents.

It was a very good location for photography and observation, cos it was very open and slightly above eye level. But it was also ‘too open’ for our comfort. The palm tree was just standing next to a pavement with moderately high traffic. We felt very uncomfortable drawing undue attentions to the nest and the birds…though we must admit, most passersby were too ‘blind’ to see what we were shooting. To minimise any unwanted attention and not to stress the birds too much, we decided not to use flash.

We left after about an hour so as not to disturb the woodies too much…we decided to come back the next day for more observation. The parents were still working very hard, bringing food in every now and then. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the chicks popping their heads out of the nesting holes, but apparently the time was not ripe yet. They were still too small judging by the frequency of the feeding…

The easiest way to tell the male from a female Sunda Woodpecker is to look
for red streaks of feathers just underneath the rear crown. Er, maybe not
that easy as the reds could sometimes be hidden under the brown feathers…

As it would be a full working week following our first obeservation, there would be no chance for Tisu Boy to shoot anymore photos. It always happened that we could not follow through the whole process of nesting due to work or other personal commitments. Sometimes the nest would be abandoned due to disturbances, by human or otherwise; or it would be destroyed by predators or bad weather.

Worried that the chicks might fledge anytime soon or that it would become another failed nest, I made it a point to pass by daily to check on them. The nest was discovered shortly after the heavy flood at Orchard Road, and subsequently there were a few days of heavy downpour. I was really worried if the chicks would be abandoned or starved if the parents were unable to find food in the heavy rain…Actually it would be very interesting to document what happened during heavy rain – did the parents still feed the chicks? Unfortunately, the rain was simply too heavy for me to find out the answer …

Fortunately, the next few days’ of observation showed that the parents were still feeding the chicks! Phew! But I noticed that they were taking longer and longer intervals to feed the chicks. Once I waited more than 20 minutes before both came back and perched on the trunk. They continued perching there for some time and I couldn’t see any food in their beaks. One bird eventually went into the hole for a while before both flew off again. I reckoned it was about time the chicks fledged….Normally when chicks were about to leave the nest, parents would try to encourage them by coaxing them with food at the entrance. My itchyfingers were kept crossed and hoped that they could wait until the weekend when Tisu Boy could come and photograph them again….

Finally another weekend arrived. Itchyfingers waited and waited for a long time before the parent returned again.


One parent woody perching on the trunk. Another one was seen pecking
on the other side, as if asking if anyone was home…hahah…We were very
certain that the chicks were now big enough and might emerge very soon!

In the one and a half hour we were there, the parents only returned twice to survey the nest. No sight of the fledging chicks still. We had already exceeded our usual observation time of an hour and we started to wonder if it was because of our presence that the chicks refused to come out. In the end, we made a painful decision – that the welfare of the birds should come first. Since we were quite certain that the chicks were still in the nest as the parents did come back and seemed to be coaxing and encouraging them, we should not be disturbing them anymore. Alas, Itchyfingers failed to witness the whole fledging process once again… 😦

But sometimes, doing good deeds could see yourselves being rewarded later on, as we shall see in our next post! 😀

Also see related posts:
> Eating Its Own Kind? – Spidey Galore #2
> Jaws – Spidey Galore #1
> Bird Brain?
> Cuckoo…Cuckoo…Cuckoo
> A Rare Visitor – Masked Finfoot
> Love is in the Air
> Reunion Dinner
> Mystery of a Caterpillar



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  1. hmm i trust you have trained your patience level to a pretty high limit, but i have not so when’s part 2 coming out? Else I’m reading a half finished story haha.

    • hahah….i’m still pretty much an impatient person… 😀 Part 2…coming soon :p

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