Nesting, Nesting 1-2-3-4

Snowshoeing several weeks ago I startled a downy woodpecker. She flew from a perfect round hole in the decapitated, shoulder height trunk of a white birch I was passing. She flew into my arm, and then, all a fluster, (we both were) landed on the branch of a tree ahead of me. She was building a nest.

Several years ago a woodpecker nested very close to that white birch, near the top of a dead tree in our yard. While I do not love trees dying, if they do, I am not inclined to grab the chain saw and turn them into firewood. Deadwood provides food for birds, home for insects, and composts on the ground. If I had removed them, I would have missed the nesting, hatching, and fledging of a family of baby woodpeckers.

After watching the parents take turns sitting on the eggs, both they and I were delighted when a small brood of babies was hatched. These babies buzzed. I would drive into the yard after work, and roll down the window and listen. The soft droning noise was unmistakable, even though almost 200 feet away. The parents were very attentive, flying in and out, presumably with food. I could not see the newly hatched birds, although I could hear them. A neighbor’s cat also heard them. I came home one evening, smiling in anticipation of my private bird vespers. Arlo, a muscular cat with dense black fur, was three-quarters of the way up the tree. I leapt out and raced up, sending him home. This was not a cat who took no for an answer, and I was not happy he had discovered the nest.
We battled the next few days. I made chicken wire cages, and hung sharp objects around the base of the tree. Arlo persisted, he was a very persistent beast. Between tossing him back home, barricades and sharp obstacles, he was finally confined to mewling at the base of the tree, unable to get up the trunk to the nest.

The vibrant baby pecker noise increased in volume, and listening became an evening ritual. Watching morning and night, I still almost missed it. The first flights of those downy babies, fuzzy little intrepid balls of feathers, demanded a cheering squad. I rah-rahhed as each tumbled out, righted itself, and shot straight for the nearest branch. Acrobatics could wait for later.

That was a few years ago, and I am excited by the possibility of once again watching Downie’s feed and raise their young. Winter has given way. It let go reluctantly, and we shift from ice fishing to archery in the backyard in short sleeves. And nesting. Yep, the birds are at it. I watch crows out the window as I sit at my desk. They are dismantling an old squirrel nest, efficiently recycling. They fly off with twigs in their mouths to some unseen home. Ravens may have nested by now, but are still singing their courting song and doing belly flips as they fly, soaring. Almost touching, maybe they do touch, but their flight is seamless. An eagle has been flying nearby by with nesting material, and my husband, curious, snow shoed when there was still snow. He made note of the towering white pine, and we now watch the nest from a distance with binoculars.

Birds are in the mood. Every evening I hear a woodcock in the back yard, a male, making his beep-beep noise, then flying up and spiraling down, the air a rhythmic sigh in his feathers.


Biking Acadia National Park’s loop road, we pause near the Otter Cove causeway. Three immaculate white male mergansers swim and show off to three drab females. The water is so clear we can see a nearby eider as he flaps his wings and swims to the bottom of the cove for a mussel snack.

Winter was stubborn this year, but is has finally happened, the shift from frozen beauty to procreation. One moment I rhapsodize about the sun on ice, and before I can lament its loss, I am reveling in nest building and airborne mating dances.

Happy spring. At last.

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3 comments on “Nesting, Nesting 1-2-3-4

  1. Karen
    What a great piece on the coming of Spring. I love that when you write I am there with you. We have been watching the birds here as well, you will thrilled to know that Philip pays close attn to the “birds talking”. We have an Eagle here at the lake to watch this year, how exciting as I have never seen one before. We have hung a bird feeder outside Philip’s bedroom window in hopes that they will visit and he can watch them. Good to hear from you :)

  2. Hi Karen, I think this must be the year of the woodpecker. I have had two people tell me about babies they have been watching in their yards. You made a great point about dead trees. I have a large pine at the edge of my yard that the top broke off from a couple years ago. The large trunk is still standing and as I was looking at it the other day I noticed thousands of little holes in the bark where insects have taken up residence. I am sure I will have some pileated woodpeckers after them soon. I will to remember to save a couple old dead trees around my new yard. Love watching the birds. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Stacy, an eagle nearby, wonderful! and P4 is too big to be tempting to it. Thank you for reading. Flowers are really coming up, I raked in short sleeves yesterday!

    Liz, Pileated are so much fun to watch, chips flying behind their heads. One worked for an hour right outside my office window. When we left, a car parked below was covered n chips! When is the next clearing, building, whatever needs doing party? Count us in.

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