A South Whidbey avian love story: a pileated woodpecker on finds a mate

A male pileated woodpecker holds still for a photo.

Golly, I hope they settle in and nest.

Two pileated woodpeckers have landed on separate branches in an old decaying alder tree in our ravine. They call to each other with long staccato tattoos, sometimes alternating, sometimes in duet. The male whacks its strong bill into dead wood and chips scatter. The female hitches up one trunk and flaps to another. Then one takes off, careens through the branches and loops across the lawn, before alighting on a different tree. The other follows.

Whenever I spy these majestic, Woody Woodpecker birds in our neighborhood I silently invite them to my old alder trees. Last winter when I found a carcass on the roadside, I worried about the surviving half of the pair finding a new mate. Insistent calling over the past month has resulted in a new mate.

Days later, alerted by a loud cawing, I look skyward and catch two crows bombarding a lone Red-tailed Hawk. The hawk circles high above the pasture, but the more maneuverable crows manage to stay above the raptor, taking turns harassing it with aerial lunges toward the hawk’s head.

That pale red-tail spends the winter hunting for food in our neighbors’ pastures or perching in a tall Douglas fir tree on the edge of the woodland. During the non-breeding season the crows pay it no mind, but now they harass the hawk unmercifully until it retreats to the north. I likely won’t see the hawk again until next fall.

Timed to the cusp of the Solstice, bird populations are on the move. Our wintering ducks and waterfowl will slip away heading north and east to breed. The Skagit Flats’ snow geese and winter raptors have mostly departed. The Varied Thrushes, after taunting our ears with their haunting two-toned refrains, ascend into higher elevations to nest and raise their young.

It seems that every morning either a wintering species vacates our garden or a new species finishes its spring migration and drops in for a summer visit.

Robins are pecking the lawn for worms, spotted towhees leave the safety of their bug-laden forest hideouts to belt out a mighty trill from the tops of trees.

And this is only the beginning. Soon swallows will slice the skies, flickers will puncture the lawns for insects and birdsong will fill the airwaves between.

Each morning I awake with the feeling that I want to grab all these energy-packed spring moments and hold them close.

Recently I learned that April 8th is “National Draw a Picture of a Bird Day.” Yes, for real. This day celebrates spreading joy and happiness by drawing pictures of birds. No one seems to know who started it, but I feel like the day was created for me.

On this day children and adults enter drawing and painting competitions to help encourage awareness about birds. Pencils, crayons, pens, felt tip and paint are acceptable and you can enrich your picture with habitat and natural backgrounds as long as a bird takes center stage. If you tweet, #drawapictureofabirdday is the hashtag. Or, if social media isn’t your thing, just take a picture and email your drawings to me. We’ll have our own contest.

You can view some of my bird portraits at www.robschoutengallery.com/frances-wood/

Or April 8 might be a good day to do something for the wild birds in your neighborhood. Plant a native shrub or tree, contain outdoor cats, install appropriate birdhouses or create a water feature for bird bathing and drinking.

If nothing else, go for a bird walk and enjoy the sights and sound of spring.

Frances Wood can be reached at wood@whidbey.com.  Craig Johnson is at backyardbirds@whidbey.com.