Birds have a variety of ways to keep from being eaten by bird of prey. For example, some birds escape into deep cover at the approach of a hawk. Others rely on the pattern and coloration of their plumage to blend in with the surrounding landscape. There are even birds that use erratic and fast flight to stay out of harm’s way. Another way in which birds escape the sharp eyes of an avian predator is to remain motionless. Recently nature enthusiast Debbie Menard watched a downy woodpecker use this ploy to keep from being snatched up by a Cooper’s hawk.
Debbie maintains a number of nectar and seed feeders close by her Monroe County residence. This allows her to watch birds as she moves about inside her home. Recently she noticed a downy woodpecker perched on a nearby peanut feeder. She did not give this much thought, as downy woodpeckers are frequent visitors to the feeder. However, several minutes later she was surprised to see the black and white bird had not moved. When she looked about her yard it quickly became apparent, birds had mysterious vacated her feeding area. Indeed something seemed to be amok.
The first thing that came to mind was the Cooper’s hawk that regularly patrols her yard must be nearby. When she heard the raucous, incessant calls of American crows and blue jays, it became obvious that the Cooper’s hawk or other predator must be nearby.
When she checked the downy woodpecker again, she found it was still seemingly frozen to the feeder. All told, the downy remained glued to the feeder for at least 15-20 minutes.
Finally, when Debbie ventured out into her carport, she inadvertently flushed a Cooper’s hawk that apparently had been perched in an oak growing along the edge of her driveway.
After the hawk departed, the downy woodpecker flew off and the regular diners at her backyard cafe returned and resumed their feeding.
This behavior displayed by the downy woodpecker worked because many predators detect the presence of potential prey by detecting an animal’s slightest movement. Although the woodpecker was in plain sight, the bird was essentially invisible to the Cooper’s hawk. However, if the bird had moved the slightest bit, its ruse would have been over and the woodpecker would have had to make a desperate dash to cover to avoid the sharp talons and bill of the formidable predator.
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