One Less Red-bellied

by Carl Strang

Birds don’t molt feathers in clumps. When you find a bunch of feathers together, you can take it as a sign of predation.

This group of feathers on the mansion lawn at Mayslake Forest Preserve last week is an example.

The black and white barring all across the feathers, and their size, identify the vic as a red-bellied woodpecker. The perp? My vote goes to one of the preserve’s great horned owls. The feathers appeared plucked rather than pulled out and mangled as teeth would have done. Red-tailed hawks can take birds of this size, but woodpeckers are so nervous and alert that a nighttime hit seems more likely. A migrating Cooper’s hawk is another possibility to consider. They are predators of birds, and have a variety of sneaky tactics that might catch even a woodpecker off guard. In any case there is one less red-bellied on the preserve, but others still are around. This year’s resident pair at Mayslake raised two broods successfully, for example, so even if one of those adults was the prey, there will be a new generation ready to take its place.

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