I woke this morning to Franklin’s frantic barking from downstairs, roused from a lazy morning by what he thought was an intruder’s knocking. Panicked myself, to be caught in my pajamas with someone at the door at dawn, I slowly realized the repeated tapping was not human at all, but a woodpecker drumming on a hollow board close to the eaves--the tiny jack-hammer resounding throughout the house.
Perched as we are, at the edge of a small wooded ravine, the trees surround us, bringing the birds close, just feet from view. And as common as they are to these woods, the woodpeckers have always been a favorite. Red-bellied, Hairy, Downy and Pileated—all at home here in the many dead and dying trees. And their unusual ways, intriguing.
The tall, dense trees draw others close, too, though usually just enough above us to be unseen. Watching, motionless, they are at home here, too--the hawks. Red-shouldered, scanning the ground for unsuspecting squirrels or Cooper’s, waiting to snatch a bird drawn to feed—often, the flash of their strike is all we see. Dinner is swiftly carried off.
Last week, after such a flash, I followed, not sure I’d find anything more than a glimpse of a hawk in a distant tree or returning to the air to soar over the fields. But beneath a long horizontal maple branch, there was a collection of feathers—black and dotted with white, of a red-bellied woodpecker.
Disappointing, to be sure. But an opportunity to see more closely, what, otherwise I see only in books—that intriguing woodpecker tail.
Red-bellied Woodpecker tail feathers
The tail feathers, retrices, are curved sharply, like a leaf spring,
and have 2 rows of reinforcing ridges on the shaft, making it very resilient, stiff and strong.
And, the tips have a tiny v-shaped gap in the barbs, perhaps for better “grip” (?) against the tree bark, as it is pressed to form a stable third leg of the tripod, so important for leverage while chiseling and excavating wood.
Below, wing feathers, primaries, are also black, dotted with white.