Hardly a winter goes by that I don't write a story about my old friend Woody. Woody of course, is a woodpecker - a pileated woodpecker. The large clumps of woods within several miles of my house are his usual haunt. The little valley where I am isn't large enough for Ol' Woody.
He spends his days searching the limbs of large trees for insects and larvae, which live under the loose bark. His favorite thing to do is chisel a hole in the limb or trunk of a tree to get at the wood-boring larvae - not necessarily a small hole, either. A pileated woodpecker is capable of chipping out a hold big enough to put a bowling ball in, or even larger. Live food seems to be his favorite, so he seldom pays a visit to the bird feeders. When he does show up, it's always a wonderful treat to see him.
I walked by the kitchen window and as always, I paused for a moment to watch the bird feeder. All was well with the winter birds as they were busy snatching up sunflower seeds and cracked corn. Then my eye caught something fall from a large maple tree in the background. I looked up, following the steady stream of wood chips flying through the air. There, high on a big dead limb of an old sugar maple tree, was Woody!
He was making fast work of that tree limb with his chisel-sharp beak. He had already made a hole large enough to fit himself into, and he kept hammering. I figured he must be finding something good, to be that persistent. Then all at once, he stopped and flew over to a tree where I had hung a chunk of suet.
A male red-bellied woodpecker gave up his spot at the suet and flew off chattering. Woody helped himself to some of the free food and stayed long enough for me to get a good look at him with my binoculars. He was totally striking, with his shiny black and white feathers and a bright red hat to boot. I always try to get a closer look at a pileated woodpecker so that I can see those outrageous yellow eyes. They looked wild, almost crazy as he snapped his head from side to side, always on the lookout for danger.
It's been said that the pileated woodpecker was the inspiration for Walter Lanz's famous cartoon bird, Woody Woodpecker. Woody was depicted as a wild and crazy kind of guy, with a flair for intense fun and a tendency to chisel to pieces everything in his path.
The local crazy old woodpecker shows up every couple of weeks or so and, like his cartoon namesake, never fails to be entertaining. His very presence raised the activity level in the yard by 100%. He seems to have the energy of all the other birds rolled into one.
Although he appears to be a hip kind of guy, Woody's kind of shy, and doesn't stay too close if I'm outside. Maybe he took the advice of another bird about his size, the crow: "Don't get too close to humans; it can be dangerous."
Sometimes, though, Woody forgets that advice and flies right into the yard like he owns the place. The other wild birds don't pay much attention to his crazy antics; they just stay out of his way.
When I was a kid, Woody Woodpecker was one of my favorite characters. If his cartoon was shown before a feature movie, it made my day. I guess it's still that way. When Ol' Woody makes an appearance, it always makes my day.
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