Wednesday, May 6, 2009

REDBELLY TRUST

How do you measure trust? When it’s between you and a red-bellied woodpecker, it’s quite literally a scale of the distance allowable between yourself and the bird—a mark always assented to or not by the woodpecker. You have no say whatsoever in the matter. When I first moved into this modest stone cottage beside the river, I hung a bird feeder and suet cage in the box elder near the entry door, and scattered handsful of cracked corn round about. Red-bellied woodpeckers were among the first birds to check out the proffered free eats. I was thrilled. Though I’d certainly seen plenty of red-bellied woodpeckers over the years, never before had I lived in a place where they were such regular visitors. For me, they were a new and colorful dooryard species. One thing I learned immediately was that unlike the rather tame downy, the red-bellies were easily spooked. It wasn’t a question of how close you could get to them outside; just moving around inside the house, near to the big window with the best view of the feeder, was enough to send them fleeing. On a scale of vigilance, the red-bellied woodpeckers were almost as wary as the flickers and pileateds. However, this winter, I began to notice a certain acceptance on the bird’s part, a willingness to grant me a modicum of trespass into heretofore forbidden space. So long as I exited the cottage by the back door rather than the one near the feeding area, I could now move about the yard—work around the woodpile, for example—and the woodpecker would remain in the tree; watching, but not flying off. As winter turned to spring, the allowable distance decreased. I was earning the bird’s trust. Eventually I could come and go by the door near the feeder and, at the most, the woodpecker would simply hide on the back-side of the hackberry. Now even that precaution is a thing of the past. I sit in the rocking chair on the side deck, less than a dozen feet from the various feeders, and the red-bellied putters about—sampling the suet in the wire cage, grabbing a few sunflower seeds from the hanging basket, pecking at cracked corn on the ground. Every so often it will glance my way—actually make eye contact—but I’m apparently deemed tolerable. I can move legs and arms, twist around, drink a glass of iced tea, pick up binoculars or camera, and the woodpecker stays put. I can even stand, walk to the door, go inside, come back out…and at most the red-headed bird simply pauses, making sure I stay on my side of the prescribed boundary; if the woodpecker happens to be on the ground, it might or might not fly onto a low limb nearby until I've again settled. I should say that this trustful tolerance is only extended me by the male red-bellied; the female is more cautious—though she will occasionally work up and down the main trunk of the hackberry when I’m on the porch. And neither woodpecker will come this close when someone else joins me, though the male is surprisingly permissive when it comes to Moon the dog; her trust circle’s perimeter is farther out than mine, but not by all that much. Will I some day be able to have a woodpecker perch on my knee or shoulder? Probably not. Besides, having watched how the bird whacks so enthusiastically at bugs and seeds with its dagger-like beak, I'm not altogether sure I trust it that close to my ear. Nope. I’m happy just to be allowed this close. I consider such red-bellied trust an honer. It isn’t every day a fellow gains the confidence of a woodpecker.

15 comments:

Wanda said...

While working in my Herb garden yesterday...a Pileated Woodpecker flew in and sat at the top of a 30ft. tree just above my head...He stayed there at least 20 minutes calling out to another one in the distance...Time enough for a recording.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

You were really fortunate—at least judging by the behavior of my pileateds, which are a lot spookier. Sometimes one of them will land in a tree in the yard while I'm outside—but it's more by accident, them not seeing me beforehand; the moment I'm noticed, off they go! I keep hoping though…

Jain said...

Congratulations for attaining the status of "tolerable." It's quite a big deal!

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Wonderful photo, so crisp! And lovely story, too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

What a life achievement, huh? Become "tolerable" to a red-bellied woodpecker!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

Glad you liked my red-bellied buddy piece and his portrait. Doubtless more shots and posts will follow…one can't waste a cooperative woodpecker.

Bernie said...

Hello, I followed Wanda over to your blog and am so glad I did. I enjoyed your picture and story of the woodpecker but I was mesmorized by your "moon" posting, thought that picture was very beautiful.......:-) Bernie

Rowan said...

You have obviously earned the trust of your woodpecker friends, it's a great privilege to be able to spend time so close to them. I'm always thrilled when the robin and one particular blackbird come really close when I'm gardening looking for worms etc (them not me!). I speak to them and like you I get eye contact from them. Hope all those aching joints and muscles are feeling better.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I'm glad you found your way to the riverbank! You are always welcome.

Thank you for your nice comments. I hope you continue to find more of what you like here in posts past and future.

Again…welcome!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Hey, I talk to my woodpecker, too. And so long as I'm confessing, I might as well admit I also talk to Canada geese, Carolina wrens, nuthatches and chickadees. As an Irishman with the gift of gab, I see no reason to limit my blathering only to people. Everyone talks to their dogs and cats; I used to talk to my horse. Why should squirrels or robins not be included?

I tell my red-bellied he's a handsome fellow and joke with him that since I haven't eaten a woodpecker in some time, he's perfectly safe.

As you know from your own experience, I'm not kidding about the straight-on eye contact. That woodpecker gives me a piercing, gimlet-eyed stare, as if checking to see if I'm kidding about the eating business. After ascertaining that I'm just being goofy but appear otherwise harmless, he pecks away at his corn or suet.

I have no idea why he permits me to be so close—but our current "boundary" is about two yards.

And thank you for asking about my aches and pains. (I'm ashamed that I whined so much about them—but doggone it, they hurt!) Anyway, I'm still sore. It rained here yesterday and looks like it's going to do the same today, so I've rested up and feel a bit better. The "tennis elbow" is still a problem, though, and hurts no matter what I do. My best this morning is that I'll live…

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

I like that the female is more cautious. Seems it's that way in life, as well or should be. Since I am in a bit of a 'quiet storm' most of what I read seems to relate to the details. I wish my daughter were more like the 'female wood peceker' of which you wrote.
And, great photo, as always.

Love Gail
peace.....

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Red-bellies are funny, aren't they? Most of the time they are among the spookiest of my feeder visitors, ....but then in February I had one (a male) sit on my glove for a few minutes--long enough to get several photos. I still have one of them as the background on my computer.

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Could be you ladies are simply smarter. We guys tend to just blunder along. Think of those "funniest video" shows on television—it's always the males who think they can ride a bike off a cliff, or saw down a 100 foot tree that leans over the house, or pat a grizzly bear on the snout. It isn't courage, it's stupidity—a genetic male enhancement.

A bit of caution is a good thing. Especially amid your "quiet storm." You have the right. And we all, always relate to things as we can.

Take care…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

Now was that something—a red-bellied on your hand! What a wonderful moment of trust. I would be thrilled! You need to put that shot up on your blog one of these days…or have I just missed it?

giggles said...

"Could be you ladies are simply smarter."

COULD BE?

;-)

Great photos on the new post.... mosses and lichens are simply beautiful to study. As a kid, I could just study mosses all day long... I'm simple, but smart!