Way, way, waaaaaaay back in those antediluvian pre-digital, pre-computer, pre-Internet days, I doubt there was a better device for wasting winter hours than a bird feeder. Not that I think watching birds is a waste of time, mind you. I do think it's all too easy to spend half a gloomy, snow-spitting January morning watching a pair of pileated woodpeckers hang onto your suet feeders, jackhammering at the blocks of pressed food you put out less than an hour earlier.
I don't know about you, but no matter how often I see one, I still can't get over a woodpecker the size of a crow that looks like a red-headed pterodactyl. I gape in disbelief every time. And while we each have our own style, I do my best gaping when I'm sitting down rather than, say, washing the breakfast dishes. If the woodpeckers continue to hang and hammer, I can happily gape through a couple cups of coffee.
Of course, watching pileateds eventually leads to trying to photograph them, which is a whole 'nother category of time-wasting. Careful! If you've never tried sneaking to the window, camera in hand, and firing off a few frames before a sharp-eyed pileated spots you…you simply ain't seen spooky in a bird. Pileated are practically prescient. I firmly believe that just thinking about taking their picture often sends them bolting. Attempting to photograph these admittedly spectacular and photogenic woodpeckers can turn from disease into addiction. My advice is to not start. Just say no to pileated portraiture.
If you must, then be forewarned…you can look forward to regular frustration, frayed nerves, humiliation, rug burns on your kneecaps (When's the last time you crawled through a house?) and possible subsequent issues with strong drink.
Yes, indeed—success of a sort is possible. I've been playing this hide-and-seek game for several years. I've managed a few semi-good photos. Even a blind hog finds the occasional acorn. I've also faced my inadequacies, and divested myself of any notion of becoming a viable candidate for winning the Pileated Stalker of the Year award. So far, I've resisted swapping my Nikon for a case of scotch…but there have been days when I've wondered if they hang up bird feeders at the better rehab facilities.
If so…do they consider them a waste of time—or therapy?