Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Birds are back in Town

In grade school, our teacher would challenge us to be the first to bring in the news of what she called, “A Sign of Spring,” each new sighting dutifully added to a growing list on the side blackboard each April morning under a few florid, semi-birdlike drawings she had created there in coloured chalk. Although it’s getting late to start such a list here at Shekinah, Sunday’s sightings would have included the ice on the North Saskatchewan having been broken up overnight and now floating away, and the pileated woodpecker being back in town.

He’s really a magnificent bird, is the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). The pileated part of his name comes from the Latin pileatus meaning “capped.” He can measure half a metre in length, is known for pecking rectangular holes in old trees and for his raucous laugh.

His favourite food is the carpenter ant, and in the few days he’s been here, he’s hacked away half the frame around one of the large windows in the Timberlodge where he’s not likely to find many ants of any kind. Our pileated woodpecker is not very bright, you see; a few ants short of a lunch, you might say. He perches on the windowsill of the nature room and squawks at his reflection repeatedly. Either he thinks he’s being challenged for territory by another male woodpecker, or he’s fallen in love with himself—like Narcissus—and can’t understand why the beautiful bird in the window won’t come out to play. In any case, he takes out his frustration on the window frames.

The robins are back too, of course, and the ducks. It was a noisy walk home from the chalet yesterday; a highly agitated drake was complaining loudly (like the pileated woodpecker, mallards have not been granted a singing voice by the creator) as two other ducks chased him back and forth above the Deer Meadow. I assume it was a fight over a hen—it almost always is, whether with drakes or young men.

I pondered again the wonders of the natural world yesterday as I re-collected wet garbage scattered over half an acre by some marauding bear, coyote or sasquatch. I don’t think our woodpecker was responsible for upsetting the can, ripping off the lid and feeding on leftover margarine oozing from a tub discarded by winter picnickers. The interface area between us and the “natural world” isn’t always that pretty.

Have a happy spring.

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