Today I went for a walk and was able to observe Red-breasted Sapsuckers at very close range. Not only that, but there seemed to be a much larger number of them than is typical. I counted about a dozen of them from Sheldon Jackson College into Totem Park before I stopped paying close attention. I think I saw 20-30 of them, and I would guess there were many more in the area. They seemed to be exclusively working over the base of trees as all of them I saw were within a couple of feet of the ground. I listened for ones higher up, but did not hear any. There were places where I saw 2 or 3 within sight and could hear as many as 4 or 5 tapping. I occasionally saw one chasing another, but mostly they were minding their own business and ignoring me as well. The temperature was still in the teens (after a night that was even colder), so I wondered if the sap was not rising very high in the tree, so they concentrated on the lower roots.
It’s possible that the low temperatures pushed down resident birds into the park (which gets a lot of sun and might be warmer than other places). However, given the number of birds, I suspect that many of these were migrating birds that got caught here during the cold weather.
One other strange thing I saw related to the sapsuckers. I was walking on the beach (I originally went to see if there were any early shorebirds before getting distracted by woodpeckers) and heard a squeaking sound that I thought might be a squirrel. I investigated a little more closely and as I was looking for the source of the sound, a pair of tangled up sapsuckers came rolling down a small incline from underneath some bushes near the base of a tree. They were making the squeaking sounds and remained tangled for a moment (not long enough for me to get a picture, unfortunately) before disengaging and flying off. They chased each other a very little bit immediately after that, but then seemed to return to working on trees. Would this have been related to breeding? (I’m not sure how to tell the sex of a Red-breasted Sapsucker) Maybe it was just a strong territorial related fight?
In addition to the sapsuckers, I saw a Hairy Woodpecker and what I think is a Downy Woodpecker (see 03-17-06 Woodpeckers). I’m pretty sure I heard at least one or two more Hairy/Downy Woodpeckers as well, though I did not have time to search them out (and they were far more active than the Sapsuckers).