When it snows the big birds are happy to come for suet; Mammoth

Observers: Donna Willey
Email: basina@verizon.net
Date: 02/22/2008
Time: 09:22 PM -0500

Well here it is end of February and another winter storm watch issued for Mammoth. I watch the snow coming down now, gently and ever so quietly; it is nearing dusk. Only juncos, and mountain chickadees at my feeder station. All the suet eaten for the day and the big birds gone. So, you say, what big birds come for your suet, Ms. Willey? Well, my favorites are the Northern Flickers (red-shafted) the male with his red mustache marks and the female just a little bit less assertive. They arrive early in the morning, they have to get in before the high elevation, Clark's nutcrackers arrive in their noisy flock, calling and bouncing from branch to branch. The Clark's nutcrackers in our area like the high elevations in the spring and summer; when fall comes they start descending to lower elevations which in this case is 7000-8000 feet. Our house sits at 8200 feet and all winter I have been watching the Clark's come for their daily allotment of suet. I have watched a single Clark's, with it's massive beak, methodically tear through a suet bar which is soft not frozen (this means I just hung it up and it wasn't hanging outside all night) in approximately 2 hours. The Flickers are very cautious when a Clark's is around even though both the flicker and the Clark's have about the same size beak. It is just that a Clark's beak seems more imposing. They use their beaks to pry open pine cones and the white-barked pinenuts are one of their favored foods. In this area the white bark pine tree is a high elevation pine tree. I don't believe it is found lower than 9000 feet in the Sierras. The other woodpeckers that come to my suet bars are medium sized birds, smaller than the flickers. The white-headed woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker are 2 frequent species visitors. I have 2 first fall/winter Hairy woodpeckers that arrive with regularity and the way I know one of them is the male was a victim last summer of one of my windows. I took him to the Eastern Sierra Wildlife Center where Cindy Kammler was able, after a week, to rehabilitate him and send him back to Mammoth and my home and release him. He has little fear of me and most Hairy woodpeckers are rather shy around humans, but not "Hairy." Also he has a bit of a crippled leg which is recognizable if you are looking for it. My "Hairy" is very bold and will not let the male white-headed woodpecker send him flying but will assertively keep his place at the suet feeder. I think he has made me and our suet feeders his territory so he feels secure when he flies into our fir trees to feed. Usually, though, I have noticed that hairy woodpeckers are timid and will give up their feeding spot to the white-headed woodpecker which is a more aggressive woodpecker. All the woodpeckers, however, give way when the Clark's nutcrackers are flocking and calling and feeding on suet. John Muir mentions the Clark's nutcrackers in his writings on the Sierra's and calls them the "gray jay."