Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Pileated Woodpecker Cometh!!!

The great pterodactyl waits to pounce on its unsuspecting prey!

My wife and I are becoming bigger bird dorks by the minute.

After we moved into our house, we waited over a full year until hanging a small, squirrel-proof feeder in the dogwood tree, just outside our back door.  For a season or two, we watched with mild interest as a few chick-a-dees and finches showed up to help themselves to mixed seed, now and then.

Our feathered traffic really started to pick up when we replaced the mixed seed with black-oil sunflower seed and hung up a suet feeder in the other side of the tree.  All of a sudden, a host of new and exciting birds began swarming the dogwood, gracing our picturesque backyard with their colorful, dazzling plumage and beautiful song.

Of course, they also dropped gallons of streaky white shit all over the driveway, as well as on the hood of my wife's car.

     "You shouldn't park under the tree," I kindly advised her.

She responded with a string of unsettling expletives, followed by a detailed description of where she'd stashed the extra linens, so I could make up the guest bed for myself.

Instead of me moving down the hall, I decided it would be best to move the feeder away from the driveway and into the back yard.  So we bought a free-standing post and jammed it into the soft sandy soil, just about ten feet in front of our row of lilacs.  The previous owners had left a decrepit wooden feeder at the end of the row of lilacs, so I mounted it on top of the post.

The birds loved it, but it certainly didn't win any favors with my wife.

She finally put her foot down when I replaced the rotted-out bottom with a vomit blue-colored wooden shutter that we'd removed from the inside of our dining room window, after painting the walls.  I spent several hours carefully removing the rotted wood from the feeder, cutting new seed chutes into the side, and drilling holes into the shutter to fasten it to the post.

After carefully testing it out to ensure that it would dispense an adequate amount of seed, I triumphantly mounted the renovated feeder on top of the pole.  As an added bonus, I speared an old windshield wiper through the top of the feeder and hung the suet cage off the end.

     "See!?" I showed my wife, beaming with pride. "If fixed it.  It's beautiful, isn't it?  No need to get a new feeder now."

     "That's the ugliest piece of trash I've ever seen!" my wife barked, glaring at my handiwork.

     "What are you talking about?  This feeder has character.  And the birds will love it!"

     "We're not rednecks," she snapped.  "And neither are our birds."

     "Actually, the male cardinal and red-bellied woodpecker both have--"

     "You can leave it there through the end of this year," she interrupted.  "Then, we're getting a new one."

After a few minutes of painful, one-sided negotiating, I reluctantly agreed to replace the feeder the following Spring.

My wife ordered me to trash it.
However, my father came to our rescue several months ahead of schedule, when he and his wife came to visit us just after Christmas, along with my sister and her family.

As we helped my father unload presents and luggage from their Subaru Outback, an enormous gift-wrapped box sitting in the back of the car behind the back seat caught our eyes.  We looked on in curiosity as my father hoisted the giant package out of the back of the car and lugged it awkwardly towards our back step, where one of my nephews was waiting to hold the door.

     "Shoot," my wife muttered under her breath.

     "What's wrong?"

     "I was hoping it was a snow-blower, but it's obviously not heavy enough."

     "We don't need a snow-blower," I said, motioning towards the open garage.  "See those two shovels right there..."  As I spoke, I had already begun to recoil and cower away in preparation for a backhand, or at least another tongue-lashing.  But thankfully I received neither.   Something else had caught her interest.

     "Hey look," she said, as she strolled up to the Outback and peered inside.  "There's another big box in there."

     "So there is," I said, scratching my head.  In just another moment, my father emerged from the house, dug the second package out of the trunk, and met us at the back door.

     "This is the last one," he said, as he hauled the large package through our dinette, through the front hall, and deposited it under the Christmas tree, next to the first one.

     "Hmmmmmm...," I murmured.  "I wonder what that could be."

Actually, I knew exactly what was in both packages.  Earlier in the month when my father had come into town for the day to run some errands and meet me for lunch, he had asked me what we wanted for Christmas.  He mentioned that he was getting my sister and her family some new birding equipment that was squirrel-proof.

     "I hate to be boring," I had said, "but we could use a more durable feeder.  That contraption that's currently standing in the back yard is falling apart."

     "Well, I'm sure I can find something for you guys, too."

So I was well aware that we had a new bird feeder in our future.

Later that evening after all of the other presents had been opened up, my sister and I started to unwrap our matching gift boxes.  The treasures we found amongst the balls of wadded up newspaper included a new post with multiple hangers, a hanging thistle seed feeder, a hanging suet feeder, a post-mount feeder, and a baffle to hang up to keep the squirrels away.  There were also multiple bags of different kinds of bird seed in the box.

I was pretty excited with our bounty, but my wife was ecstatic, knowing that we could put the current feeder out of its misery.

Since we were in the midst of a mild winter and the ground hadn't frozen, I was able to put up the new feeder within the week.  My wife was right.  It was a huge improvement.  The birds must have agreed, as our feathered traffic seemed to multiply almost overnight.  Within a few days, it seemed that every bird we'd ever seen during the past few years all showed up at once to show their approval for their new dining facilities.

Every bird, that is...  except for the mighty pterodactyl.

When we had first installed the suet feeder in the dogwood, we'd had several different species of woodpeckers take an interest.  First, the downy woodpeckers showed up, followed by the red-bellied woodpecker, the flicker, and the hairy woodpecker.

And then one day, a great big pileated woodpecker paid us a visit for just a few minutes.

Maybe the pterodactyl would visit more often if I spread BBQ sauce on our maple trees.

My wife first spotted it on the trunk of one of our maple trees along the border of our back yard.  It was the coolest looking bird that I'd ever seen.  We watched quietly from the dinette window, hoping it would visit the suet feeder.  But it kept its distance from the house, choosing instead to scour the trunk of the maple tree for ants and other delicious delicacies.  It stayed for only a few minutes before it took flight and soared away.

I immediately began referring to our new visitor as the pterodactyl.

For days, we spoke about the stately pterodactyl, hoping that it would return to visit us again.  But alas, over three years passed with nary a sighting...

...until this past Saturday morning.

My wife and I were sitting on the family room couch, watching television and finishing up our first cup of coffee.

     "I'm going to get my second cup.  You coming?"

     "I'll be right in," I said.  "I still have a bit left."

As she started to get up from the couch, she froze as she glanced out the window.

     "What's...  IS THAT?  IT IS!" she screamed, as she slapped her mug on the coaster and skittered to the window.  "DAVE!  IT'S THE PTERODACTYL!"

     "WHAT!?"  I grabbed the cat, who'd been draped across my legs in a blissful snooze and flung the poor creature across the room.  Sure enough, a magnificent pileated woodpecker was clinging to the bottom of the wooden column in our flower garden.


     "QUIET!" my wife screamed.  "YOU'LL SCARE HIM AWAY!"




     "HURRY!  GET IT!  GET IT!  GET IT!"

     "I'LL GET IT!  I'M GETTING IT!" I roared, as I snatched the camera case from the shelf below the television.

After fumbling around with zippers, lenses, and wires for half a minute, I finally managed to turn the camera on.  Almost immediately, the 'low-battery' message began flashing in upper left corner of the electronic display.  The screen flickered for a few more seconds before the camera shut down on its own.



I jammed the USB cable into the bottom of the camera and plugged the other side into the nearest outlet.

     "Where is it?  Where is it?" I whispered, as I tiptoed over to the window next to my wife.

     "It's still on the wooden post," my wife replied, pointing to our flower garden.

After a few more minutes, the pterodactyl took flight and headed towards the center of the yard, landing smack dab on top of the bird feeder.

     "Wow," I whispered.  "It actually went to the feeder."

     "Does the camera have a charge?  Try the camera."

I unplugged the camera from the USB charger, removed the lens cap, and pressed the power button.  After a few seconds, the display screen came to life, and the lens extended forward.

     "Success!  We're in business!"

As we knelt by the window to get a front-row seat, I began snapping pictures of our feathered visitor.  For a few moments, the woodpecker made its way back and forth across the roof of the feeder, eying the suet that was hanging just below in the cage.  After another minute, it swooped down and grasped the ledge, pausing for another moment to locate the suet.  Finally, it hopped down and clung to the suet feeder.

I continued snapping pictures as it pecked away at the mixture of seed, berries, and animal fat.

     "That...  is so...  COOL!"

After it was satisfied with its meal, the woodpecker flew back to the maple and perched on the trunk, where it remained for a few moments.  I managed to snap one last picture before the it spread its wings and took off, soaring over the the hedge and out of sight beyond our neighbors' birch tree.

     "That...  was AWESOME!"

     "I hope it comes back," my wife said.

     "I'm sure it will, now that it knows that the food is here."

     "Now...  shall we get our second cup of coffee?"

     "You go ahead first," I said, as I went over to the chair where Indy had been sulking since I'd tossed him across the room.  "I need to apologize to the cat."

As it turned out, the great pterodactyl paid us another visit later that afternoon, just as I was getting back from Wegmans.  I was about to get out of the car when I noticed it perched on the suet, chowing down.  I sat back in the driver's seat, watching the woodpecker enjoy its second meal of the day.

Over at the family room window, I noticed that my wife was also watching through the glass.

Like I said, we're becoming bigger bird dorks by the minute.

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