Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Joy in the Backyard

Pileated Woodpecker

The tail end of this year’s redpoll irruption is at hand, and I keep thinking each day will be the last I see them until late fall or winter, so I keep opening my office window to get photos. On Saturday, after I'd taken a few and was about to close the window, in flew BB, the neighborhood male Pileated Woodpecker wearing a USGS leg band. He stayed in the box elder at the end of the driveway, pretty much out of view, for a minute or two, and then dropped to the one feeder I've left open during this bird flu epidemic, his favorite suet feeder.  

Pileated Woodpecker

I have hundreds of clear photos of BB in that feeder from this fall when I needed multiple clear shots of his leg band to tease out the full number (115423658). But he’s my favorite Pileated Woodpecker, so naturally I kept the window open for a few more pictures. Another Pileated called from the backyard, BB called back, and suddenly, what to my wondering eyes should appear but an adult female Pileated that I’m presuming is BB’s mate. Right there in the feeder with BB, right when the window was open for an unobstructed view!  

Pileated Woodpecker

I’ve seen lots of photos of two Pileateds together before, but never in my yard, and the light was perfect to get both of them in focus. I was so thrilled that I wrote a post on Facebook: 

I have no intention whatsoever of succumbing any time soon, but when I do, please know that I died happy. This is BB and his lady love, the photos taken from my office window, which was open thanks to the redpolls in my tree. 

Pileated Woodpecker

When I looked at the post a little while later, I thought, well, that’s a little hyperbolic, isn’t it? But then I thought some more, and realized no—those photos make me extremely happy. This Pileated Woodpecker pair is hardly the only cause of my happiness, but they’re certainly part of it. 

Pileated Woodpecker finding grubs in my box elder tree

They spend a lot of time digging in our boxelder trees. One near the house was already old when we moved in 41 years ago—indeed, the moment my mother-in-law saw it, she said we had to cut it down right away. But that’s the tree a Pileated Woodpecker sat in to give me my very first good Pileated Woodpecker photos in 2004, over two decades later, and even now, two decades after that, I’m still getting great birds, and photos, in that tree.  

Pileated Woodpecker

The boxelder the Pileateds have been spending the most time digging into in the past couple years was a sapling when we moved in. They’ve made some pretty dramatic holes in that one. 

Pileated Woodpecker working on my box elder.

The third boxelder, at the end of our driveway, is where BB invariably lands before going to the feeder. That tree is also where a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers nested in 2016. 

Nesting Red-bellied Woodpeckers

So I love my Pileated Woodpeckers, I love the boxelders that they spend so much time in, and I’m proud of myself for using my own judgment and protecting that old, old boxelder. I love that things in my own backyard bring me so much joy. 

Pileated Woodpecker tongue!

I’m lucky that I can get so much pleasure right here in my own backyard, because Russ and I have had to quarantine this week after we both got Covid. I’m relieved that I didn’t give it to my unvaccinated baby grandson last Monday when I babysat—I’d already been exposed but must not have been contagious yet. I’m getting over it really well, but I won’t get to see him until this weekend. That makes me sad, but all the time I do get to spend with him fills me with joy. 

Catching Covid after being so careful and being double-vaccinated and double-boosted may seem like rotten luck, but neither of us got very sick, and if I’m going to accept with equanimity all the good luck I’ve had over my life, I have to accept with that same equanimity the bad luck. But meanwhile, my good luck continues. Since that great photo op with BB and his mate on Saturday, I’ve managed to get my best pictures ever of both a male and a female Hoary Redpoll. 

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

Spring is just getting started. Just about every morning now, I see at least something new for the year, and even the ones that have been here for days, weeks, months, or years give me new and exciting photo ops, beautiful morning sound recordings, and lovely moments just experiencing them. Every day is a gift.  

Pileated Woodpecker