Thursday, December 8, 2005

My Favorite Bird

Thursday, December 8, 2005

I am often asked what my favorite bird is. And although I could list several dozen contenders, one species that I frequently give as my answer to this unanswerable question, is red-headed woodpecker.

I'm not sure exactly why I love these birds so. Certainly their color scheme is both pleasing and eye-catching, even from afar. Something about the flashing black-and-white body and wings and the deep wine-red head always makes me gasp when I see this species.

Maybe it's because these birds are declining throughout their range due to loss of appropriate habitat and competition for nesting cavities from European starlings.

Is it because it's one of the first birds I found and identified on my own? When I was about 10 years old, I discovered a colony of red-headeds in a wooded draw in a cow pasture near Pella, Iowa. I knew them from having studied their pictures in my bird books. But here they were in real life, calling, and flycatching, and flying from oak tree to oak tree, their wings flashing a semaphore message to a young bird watcher's eyes.

Five years ago, while riding his bike, our neighbor Sherm discovered a small colony of red-headed woodpeckers on a township road not far from our house. At first we doubted that these hard-to-miss birds could be breeding so near. Maybe Sherm had seen red-bellied woodpeckers, which non-birders often confuse with red-headeds. We were happy to discover that Sherm was right, and we've enjoyed the red-headeds each year since. Though only one pair seems to be present this year, we did see at least one gray-headed fledgling this summer, giving us hope for more encounters in the future.