Pileated Woodpecker


It was a slow afternoon at the parking lot. I was sitting in my camp chair, reading Bless Me, Ultima between talking to visitors. Suddenly something flew in front of and past me at eye level. I caught a flash of red as I looked up. The large bird had flown within a few feet of my head. My eyes followed it into nearby trees.

It landed low on a tree trunk and stood there for many seconds, maybe even a minute, maybe two. Time stretched long as I regarded the bird.

I could see its long bill and the red crest of feathers on its head. I knew it was a woodpecker, probably because it did actually bear a resemblance to Woody Woodpecker of cartoon fame. It didn’t laugh like Woody or use its beak to extract insects from the tree, but I was certain it was a woodpecker.

An older couple exited the trail across the street, and while I tried to signal them silently to be quiet and look over there, the woodpecker flew away.

The next day I told my co-worker (a third generation Californian who lives in the area year-round) all about the bird. I described it as big, woodpecker, red head. My co-worker said I’d seen a pileated woodpecker. He told me this is the bird whose pecking we hear reverberating like a jackhammer through the forest.

I looked it up in my book The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws, and my co-worker was absolutely right!

The books says the bird’s scientific name is Dryocopus pileatus. Its habitat is the forest, and it’s the size of a crow. The males and females look quite alike, with the males having a red stripe on its face under its eye, where the female has a black stripe. (I wasn’t looking for the red stripe, so I don’t know if the bird I saw was a male or a female.)

Interestingly, none of the other woodpeckers in the book have a crest of feathers on the head, so I probably would not have identified any of them as woodpeckers, unless I had seen them actually pecking at a tree. But the pileated woodpecker I saw looked like the Platonic ideal of a woodpecker.

I was pretty excited to have seen the bird, even before I knew what it was, especially since it had flown so close to me. My co-worker told me many people would give their eyeteeth to get a glimpse of that bird. I love getting paid while I’m spotting wildlife and enjoying nature.

I’ve seen the bird (or one of its close relatives) twice more since the first sighting. My co-worker saw it the other day too, and said it is probably a female, based on its smallish size. He thinks the bird hanging around the parking lot is a good omen.

I wondered why I never saw the bird in the parking lot last season. According to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pileated_Woodpecker/id,

Pileated Woodpeckers are forest birds that require large, standing dead trees and downed wood.

Last season we didn’t have so many standing dead trees and downed wood. I think the pileated woodpecker moved into the neighborhood because  now there are many dead trees and down wood. The bird is a kind of silver lining. Many trees may have died, but they’ve brought a pileated woodpecker to the area.



About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now I have a little travel trailer parked in a small RV park in a small desert town. I also have a minivan to travel in. When it gets too hot for me in my desert, I get in my minivan and move up in elevation to find cooler temperatures or I house sit in town in a place with air conditioning I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

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