May 1, 2011
It’s a jungle out there.
After the quietude of winter, I am always a bit surprised at how noisy spring is. It’s not just the barred owls with their nighttime caterwauling. Wake up a little before sunrise, crack a window, and you’ll hear a bird song hullabaloo: Robins calling cheery up, cheery up, cardinals with their birdie, birdie, birdie , the fee-bee of chickadees, the peter-peter-peter of the tufted titmouse, goldfinches twittering, doves cooing, crows cawing, blue jays varying their voices to fit their mood. And woodpeckers. In our woods, there are lots of woodpeckers: flickers, hairy, red-bellied, red-headed, downy, and, occasionally, a migrating yellow-bellied sapsucker, which is so much fun to say.
Although all the woodpeckers are calling and drilling now, two are emitting vocalizations that sound like we’re in a Brazilian rain forest.
One, the red-bellied woodpecker, is common in the eastern half of the U.S. and common around here. Looking at the photo, you’d think it should be named for the color of its head, but no, there’s another woodpecker with a cherry noggin. Look closer, you’ll see a rosy blush on the woodpecker’s tummy. It’s impossible to see in the field, so Bill and I remember the red-bellied is the red-bellied by its mohawk hairdo.(Red-headed woodpeckers have an entirely red head, including the chin and face.)
The red-bellied’s most used call is a shrill, rolling kwirr or churr given by both sexes. You might also hear a gruff, coughing cha cha cha, usually a contact call between mates, or a throaty growl exchanged when birds are close together.
One writer explained the call like this: “When I first saw this woodpecker, many years ago in Florida, climbing up the trunk of a cabbage palmetto, its rolling notes sounded to me like those of a tree toad, as heard before a rain.” Hearing a toad before a rain is an experience I’ve never had, so I can’t judge whether he’s right or not. I’ll take his word for it.
But it’s the pileated woodpecker that brings the primeval jungle home to Cleveland, Ohio. (You can pronounce pileated two ways, with a short I-sound [pill-ee-ated] or a long I-sound [pile-ee-ated]; I prefer the first.) For about three weeks, one has been drumming a rapid, loud, staccato beat on old, hollow tree trunks and releasing its “wild laugh” to claim its territory. and attract a mate.
The pileated’s call has been described as a loud, ringing kuk-kuk-kuk, rising and then falling in pitch and volume, but there’s so much more to it than that, so much more complexity, especially the awoik-awoik: call (which makes me laugh just typing it).
Pileated Familiar Call
Pileated Awoik-Awoik Call
Isn’t that just marvelous? Doesn’t it make you happy to be alive?
I am envious of the woman who took this photo as I have tried to spot our resident pileated, but have had no luck. In the 24 years we’ve lived here, I think I’ve seen a pileated once. They are about the size of a crow, so I would think it couldn’t be missed, but it’s quick and my vision is not 20/20. By the time the binoculars are focused, the bird’s flown deeper into the woods, higher in the 60 foot oaks. Gone. Outtasight.
A Footnote: The first bumblebee of 2011 appeared in our basement Friday morning. Bill carefully captured it under a coffee mug and released it outside. If you don’t remember the lesson we learned last year, click here. We are not going to repeat our mistake.