dead tree

The accompanying photo, taken by Tim Eiden near Rome, shows what woodpeckers can do to a dead tree while looking for carpenter ants, their favorite food.

Even with the bright sun, my world this morning is mostly white and black with grey tossed in for effect. The kitchen table is my vantage point and I must say the hemlock, with boughs drooping with wet snow, does have a beauty with the loaded branches.

But this old bird is ready for greening grass. February is a good wishing month. But a dear, now-departed mother, would tell me from her kitchen table, ‘Why wish for a loaf of bread, when you can have the grocery store.”

The present is all I have, so thank God for the many bird feeders on the deck railing. The bird activity can give February a kick in the butt! Bird feeders have been very active lately, with plenty of juncos, chickadees, mourning doves, cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches and, of course, the woodpeckers.

I think the little downy woodpeckers have ganged up with the bigger Hairy and the “big guy,” red-bellied dropping into the gig fairly often.

It is hard to believe that cardinals were not about when I was a kid. They have expanded their range from the south. Daily, we have five male cardinals to spruce up the feeders.

Feeling pretty smug about those numbers, I mentioned it to a fellow bird feeder. He has 10 males at a time! Take that! But I wander in this writing. Permit me some leeway to dwell on those woodpeckers mentioned. Get your pencils ready to flesh out the meat of information concerning woodpeckers. Quiz later.

In my mind’s book is a chapter on these birds, and I like to think our Maker got the big tool box down from the top shelf when it came time to make woodpeckers. Now, flight already was in the books, and the idea for birds to have a wonderful lung system with five pair of air sacs coming off of those lungs results in good breathing and makes them lighter. These air sacs that protrude out into body spaces and hollow bones already were in play. (Waterfowl hunters know if a wounded duck is retrieved with a broken wing, it can breathe through that wing bone if its head is held under water. You bet!).

Back to the woodpeckers. The Maker gave them feet with two toes aiming forward and two backwards, to cling on tree trunks. Now to help with this job, make the tail feathers pointed and stiff to help the feet. Aha! Tough, pointed bills and muscles to get at insect larvae (grubs) in that tree trunk.

Now comes the clincher! Most birds have tongues that barely reach the end of the bill. Beneath the skull of a woodpecker are hyoid bones that support the tongue. They are so long that they curve up the back of the skull, over the top of the head and out to the bill.

There are corresponding muscles and sheaths to house and move these bones. Some woodpeckers now can stick their tongue out four times longer than the bill. Ingenious! Add barbs to the end of the tongue and grubs, look out!

Now to wow everyone, that Maker designed a woodpecker that is a real “pecking machine.” Twenty inches long, and with a 30- inch wingspread, the black and white flying machine, with undulating flight, can make the chips fly, with some as big as your hand. We gave it the name: pileated woodpecker. A flashing red crest seems to scream out,” Look at me!”

The accompanied photo, taken by Tim Eiden near Rome, Wis., shows what woodpeckers can do to a dead tree while looking for carpenter ants, their favorite food. If you get the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, outdoor writer Paul Smith has a great article in the Thursday, Feb. 13, issue of a pure white pileated woodpecker spotted near Glendale. Scientists call this lack of color, leucistic coloration.

Pileated woodpeckers prefer large woodlots but are becoming more common in this area. February, have your way. Hooray for woodpeckers!

And remember that wishing mentioned earlier? Robins have been spotted this past week, a friend got a picture of a sandhill crane standing in a field on North Shore Road on Feb. 4 (others heard them also), and spring flowers called snow drops were blooming on the south side of a house on Rankin Street.

Did I mention that the “Buck Sputzies” sparrows (Germans call them that) have a black bib. It is gray all winter, but the ends of the feathers wear off and it becomes black. If I remember correctly, the male goldfinches’ feather ends are wearing off also and their gold “underwear” soon will be seen.

I wouldn’t bet the farm on that goldfinch observation. That might be another story.

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