Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24: Young Woodpecker

Yesterday I heard a red-bellied woodpecker calling outside the office. This afternoon I happened to spot one hanging out on a tree about 20 yards away from the window. Except for its black and white checked back and wings, this bird was dull brown all over, with just the faintest wash of red on the back of its dusky head--obviously a juvenile, probably a female. This is a species that only made a serious incursion into Maine five years ago, so it was exciting to see living proof that at least one breeding pair nests in my neighborhood. And here she was, on her own, a youngster loosed into her first summer.

I sat and observed as she loafed on the tree trunk in one place for about 20 minutes, a typical lazy teenager. For a while she seemed to contemplate the tree trunk, looking at it from various angles. Then she wiped her bill on the bark for a minute or so. She picked a few bugs off the trunk. Then she spent about 15 minutes casually preening. Chickadees hopped around her, and a flock of waxwings passed through the trees. A catbird sang a few odd phrases, mewed, then flew into the woods. But the young woodpecker clung to the side of the tree, her stiff tail feathers bracing her against the trunk as she pecked and smoothed her feathers. What does it feel like to have real feathers for the first time?

Eventually she flew a few trees closer, to a shad bush laden with berries. She began acrobatically eating some of the berries, looking a lot like a waxwing as she twisted among the branches, craning her neck to nab the plump red little fruits. Duty called, so I left off watching at that point, but I felt privileged to have been witness to half an hour in the life of this young bird.

Woodpecker pauses;
I pause to watch--a young bird
preening new feathers.

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