Idaho Falls
clear sky
humidity: 70%
wind: 8mph SW
H 47 • L 45

Winter woodpeckers starting to show up in eastern Idaho

Living the Wild Life

With the recent cold and a little snow, my suet feeders became the dinner plates for Downy and Hairy woodpeckers along with the Red-shafted Northern flickers. The peanut-flavored suet cakes got hammered first followed by the “high protein” cakes. Soon I had three Downys, two Hairys and usually four flickers in the back yard. The winter bird crowd has found my free food – and like most free-food recipients, they grow in numbers – fast.

This year they are about three weeks late, but I am still waiting for the creepers and the nuthatches to show up. They should be showing up in a week or two to join the winter-feeders.

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A male Hairy woodpecker. | Bill Schiess,

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers look almost the same, but they are different species. The Downy is the smallest woodpecker locally, with the Hairy just a little larger. Hairys have a larger bill and a flatter head while the Downy has a tiny bill on a rounded head. I find the Hairys are much more vocal than their smaller cousins, but my favorite difference is the black markings on the tail of the white feathers on the Downy.

While getting a few pictures of the woodpeckers on Friday morning, I noticed an odd bird fighting with the House finch, American goldfinch and House sparrows on a feeder. It had a lot of white on its head and some white markings on its back where it should have been a darker color.

I got a few pictures of it and identified it as a partially leucitic House finch. Leucism in birds is caused when there is a lack of melanin in some of the feathers. It is caused when the skin does not produce pigments to release melanin to the feathers.

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A leucistic House finch feeding with three common colored House finches. | Bill Schiess,

This is the first leucitic House finch that I have seen. I have seen Trumpeter swans, American robins, blackbirds, a Bald eagle and an Eared grebe that have been affected by this aberrant plumage patterns. The Eared grebe picture was eventually used by a Luxembourg scientist, Andre’ Konter, as an illustration in a book on aberrant plumages in grebes.

In the near future we will see a lot of citizen bird counts including the Christmas Bird Count which organizes groups like the Audubon Society to do winter counts. Locally the Idaho Falls Christmas Bird Count will be held on Dec. 18, where groups of two or three will identify all birds they see in a pre-planned area. The Rexburg count will be on Dec. 27, while my favorite count in Howe will happen on Dec. 29. Those interested in being involved should contact Kit Struthers at:

Please be safe out there. In the last week we have had two near misses with deer and one with elk. All of these events happened in the late afternoon before sunset.

Another danger is with ice safety. On last Sunday three individuals were on Henrys Lake when a sheet of ice broke away from the shore, surrounding them with open water. All were rescued safely. Hopefully the recent cold will solidify the ice so that ice fishermen can be a little safer. Just be careful in all you engage in.

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A male Downy woodpecker. | Bill Schiess,
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