Saturday, March 16, 2002

Our Woodpecker Tree

Well, actually, it’s our neighbor’s tree. But I can see it from our back porch and it’s nearly on the property line, so I think I’m justified in laying part claim to it. About 3 or 4 years ago, the former owners of the property on which the tree is rooted had most of the crown lopped off by a local tree trimmer so that their flower gardens would receive more light, leaving amputated major limbs pointing skyward. Well, the poor tree has never fully recovered from this abuse. It has struggled each year to put out new foliage, but it is now obviously dying. Several of the skyward-pointing limbs are clearly dead, with large strips of peeling bark.

The good news is that this tree is now starting to attract woodpeckers, a rarity in our downtown neighborhood. Twice in the last couple of weeks, I have awakened to the staccato drumming sound of a woodpecker. In coming downstairs and looking outside on each occasion, I spotted a Downy Woodpecker, the smallest of our North American woodpeckers, busy at work on one particular branch. I don’t know if it was drumming just to hear itself drum (it proved to be a very resonant limb) or if it was excavating for small insects. But, regardless, it was clearly “enjoying” itself, if birds are capable of that human emotion.

This morning, while doing dishes, I heard the unmistable harsh-sounding quirrr call of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. I ran to check the woodpecker tree and there it was, on the very same limb that had been used by the Downy! Some people mistakenly identify the Red-bellied Woodpecker as a Red-headed Woodpecker. Could it be because the Red-bellied Woodpecker, while having not the slightest trace of a red belly, does have a red head? Hmmm. I’ve often wondered if this strange misnomer was some bird taxonomist’s idea of a joke on future birders and ornithologists.

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