Hairy Woodpecker examines Kestrel Box (1)

Of course, everyone knows curiosity killed the cat. But what about birds, what does curiosity do for birds?

A few weeks ago I was in my photography blind set up by the Kestrel box waiting for the parent Kestrels to return, or alternatively, waiting for one of the baby Kestrels to come to the hole in the box to look for the parents to come feed them. While I was there a young male Hairy Woodpecker came down the pole and discovered the box. (photo 2)

He was easily identified as a young male because he had a very small red spot on the back of the head which would someday in the future develop into a larger more distinctive and diagnostic red patch. As I watched he came along the side of the box and worked his way around to the front. (photo 3) He must have heard stirring inside for he became so curious he just had to peer into the hole to see who was there. (photo 1 at the top of the column) While I knew who was in the box, the young Hairy Woodpecker did not, but he must have been frightened by what he saw for he quickly went to the bottom of the box and stayed there. (photo 4).

Meanwhile inside the box one of the four young baby Kestrels (I know there were four, three males and a female, as they had just been banded the previous week) became curious as to who the intruder was just outside the entrance hole because the baby quickly came to the hole to check out who was there. (photo 5)

Meanwhile, the Hairy Woodpecker, now under the box, was moving around unaware of the baby Kestrel peering out of the hole. This must have alerted the baby Kestrel for it began looking down to see what the scraping noises were underneath the box. (photo 6) The young Hairy must have been able to tell when the Kestrel left the hole for he remained relatively motionless under the box until the baby Kestrel tired of the search and dropped down from the hole back into the box. At that time the Woodpecker quickly left the area. It was probably a good idea for the young Hairy Woodpecker to depart for if he had hung around until one of the parent Kestrels returned he might well have been the baby Kestrels next meal.

A short while later as I was passing by the front of the barn, three baby Barn Swallows just out of the nest were sitting on the lower half of the barn door, as a friend of mine says, “Practicing looking cute.” I couldn’t resist taking their photo and sharing it with you, even though it has nothing to do with this column. (photo 7) Actually, they are curiously looking out at the big wide world they are just beginning to discover.

Curiosity can kill cats but it can also kill birds. This curious young male Hairy Woodpecker, curious to see what or who was in the box was very fortunate that the parent Kestrels did not return while he was indulging his curiosity. And while the rest of the saying instructs us that “satisfaction brings him back,” that certainly would not have been the case if the poor young Hairy Woodpecker would have been digesting in the baby Kestrels stomachs.

For us humans, curiosity, while often dangerous, also sometimes leads to major discoveries. Just think how often the question, “I wonder if this will work?” leads to some innovation, new medicine or discovery that turns out to be a tremendous benefit for society. Then again, sometimes the answer, “No, it doesn’t work” leads to catastrophe. Curiosity is certainly a curious thing.

(Click thumbnails for full photos)