For the Birds Radio Program: Jeepers, the Neighborhood Pileated Woodpecker
When Laura was keeping her hummingbird feeders going for a Rufous Hummingbird in November and December in 2004, she was rewarded by a Pileated Woodpecker coming to a very close box elder right when her window was open to photograph it.
Every now and then something unexpectedly lovely happens in our lives—a little moment of grace that somehow can give us days, or months, or even years of pleasure as we call it to mind. The little hummingbird visiting me in November and the first days of December was such a grace note, and thanks to her, I had another lovely interlude, too. One morning when I had the window open by my desk so Viola could come inside to warm up if she wanted, a Pileated Woodpecker landed on the suet feeder on the open window, and after eating good and long, flew to the box elder just a few feet from the house. Thanks to the open window, I had a perfect, unobstructed view of him at eye level, and he even allowed me to take some splendid photographs with no layer of glass between him and my digital camera. It was snowing, and somehow seeing his vivid red crest sprinkled with unmelted snowflakes like fairy dust made the lovely vision even more magical.
When I posted the photos on my webpage, I got a dozen emails from people thanking me, some telling me that the Pileated is their favorite bird; others writing about a magical encounter they’d once had with one. It didn’t surprise me—Pileated Woodpeckers are one of the most striking of all birds with their huge size, handsomely simple plumage, jaunty red crest, and pterodactyl-like aspect. They have strange eyes, with a very dark—virtually black—iris ringed with gold. Except when I raised a baby pileated, I’ve never had many opportunities to look them directly in the eye, because these wild and wary birds usually flee before eye contact is even possible. But since that magical day last week, this particular backyard Pileated, a male, has been coming to my window suet feeders regularly. I spend many hours a day working at the desk right at one of those windows, and he’s become used to me sitting here—now I get to make eye contact frequently.
The young Pileated I raised when I was a licensed rehabber was named Gepetto, after the woodcarver who fashioned Pinocchio. Since I’d already used that name, I had to find a new name for this one, and found myself calling him Jeepers. He’s been fascinating to watch—once when he flew into the suet feeder I immediately started filming him, and he stayed in the feeder eating for 7 ½ minutes. That little video and the best photos are up on my website at www.lauraerickson.com
Although I’m relieved that Viola finally departed for warmer climes, I also miss her. But it’s lovely to have a colorful replacement in the form of a bird that weighs 8 – 12 ounces—assuming he’s an average size, Jeepers weighs about a hundred times what that little hummingbird weighs, making him much sturdier and more adapted for northern Minnesota winters. I don’t know how my office window has come to be the site of so many lovely birds, from the chickadees that feed on mealworms from my hand to a rare little hummingbird from the Rocky Mountains to a Pileated Woodpecker, but I feel blessed indeed to have such grace notes in my life.