I have a confession: I’m nuts about birds. Bugs too, for that matter, but we’ll stick to birds for now. Specifically, I think any woodpecker is wonderful. Which means our deck is a way station for starving woodpeckers. This one is a ladderback, like the one feeding this morning. But we’ve had red-bellied, red-headed, flickers & sapsuckers & several hairy & downy woodpeckers. Each hanging from a feeder, or trying to negotiate the deck rail.
Strung along the rail like stations of a pilgrimage are suet feeders, sunflower seed tubes (yes, they’ll eat sunflower seeds as well as suet) and a birdbath. There are also hummingbird feeders during hummer season, and a mixed seed feeder for smaller birds. As well as a thistle feeder. See what I meant about NUTS? We try to provide food, water and cover for as many native birds as we can.
But woodpeckers are one of my favourites. They’re so easily identifiable — one of the first birds kids learn. Unlike the million sparrow types, there are only a few woodpeckers, and varying sizes and colours make them easily recognised.
Naming things may be one of the earliest human impulses, featured in Christian stories of naming the animals in the Garden of Eden. Names possess power — many Buddhists receive dharma names; Catholics receive confirmation names, and there are naming ceremonies in Hinduisum, Judaism, many Native American tribes, and more traditions, I’m sure.
In at least one Native American story — I can’t remember which tribe — the flute comes from the woodpecker’s hole on a branch, and the music the wind makes blowing through it. This seems to me one of those amazing metaphors: that music is all around us. We can make it ~ literally ~ from the world around us. From the work of birds, from the wind. From the natural world.
I try to spend part of each day outside, even if it’s just refilling the bird feeders on a day where the wind bites as you walk into it. In gentler weather, I sit on the deck and watch the birds take turns, like well-disciplined 2nd graders, at the bird bath saucer. The woodpeckers also share — sometimes one on one side of the wire feeder, another on the reverse. They all seem to do this — from the tiniest downy to the rarer flickers & sapsuckerss.
Like the music possible from work — that hard, head-shattering drilling for food that woodpeckers are known for — this easy sharing of resources, even in the whitest Oklahoma winters — is something else I wish I was better at. I try to be generous w/ my time, with my attention and my skills, but I’m no woodpecker . As a poet I try to make my own kind of music.
But in my dreams? Sometimes I’m a woodpecker… Sometimes.