Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Heart Went Pileat-Patter

Bird activity has certainly picked up here at Owl Hollow. This morning it was a flock of robins investigating the lawn that's becoming greener by the day.

I thought I'd seen it all here when it comes to bird sightings. Everything from rufous-sided towhees, lovely blue birds and Baltimore Orioles to wild turkeys, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, hummers, thrushes, yellow warblers and two that always wow me, the black and white warbler and indigo bunting.

For years, I volunteered with Project Feeder Watch, monitoring the population fluctuations and species diversity of North American songbirds in my own backyard. But after 15 years at Owl Hollow, I really wasn't expecting to see something new.

Until this morning.

As I watched the robins, my eyes caught a flash of something large coming to perch on a large branch of the giant sugar maple. Uh-oh, I thought, another Cooper's hawk come to pick off one of the birds at my feeders. The bird was partially obscured and appeared to be walking on the side of a horizontal branch. I caught sight of the red head. Oh, I said to myself, it's just a red-bellied woodpecker looking for insects. I often see them here. Then it took wing. It all happened so fast, but by golly, I do believe it was a pileated woodpecker. It was too large to be a red-bellied woodpecker, and I've never seen a hawk with a red head!

It flew to the rear of my yard and was gone. I feel so honored to have seen a pileated in my backyard! It makes all these years of working to create a suburban wildlife habitat worthwhile.

I saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers a few years ago not far from here; in fact, you might say it was an adjacent patch of woods, just over the hill from me near the dairy farm. At the time, I was taking a walk; the crow-sized birds seemed spooked by my presence.

In other news, I found the remains of what I believe was a skunk on the sheltered south side of the house.

(What else has a striped black and white tail?) The strange thing is that I found a similarly dead skunk a number of years ago very close to where I found this one. It was maybe 10 feet away on the same patch of lawn, under the shade of a large white pine. Is there something inviting about this sheltered spot that beckons the old or sick to lie and rest a while?

One of my spring rituals is hanging an onion bag full of cat hair outside for birds seeking to line their nests with something soft.

Luther is a prolific shedder and has, in fact, taken advanced coursework in the field. So I expect to find his soft orange hair lining the nests inside the bluebird and wren boxes later this year. Now that's the ultimate in recycling!


  1. Congratulations on your woodpecker. And great shot of him too. Isn't it great when our plans work out - like making a backyard wildlife habitat and then having the wildlife show up?

    FYI - the "after" picture of my arbor are up - I might just try those grapes!

  2. That's a great shot of a wood pecker! I just did a post on birds, too :P Except I only heard my wood pecker and I couldn't find the little guy! :)