Posted by: Dave Neads | February 21, 2008

Woodpeckers, fir snags and hummingbirds

The connectedness of the seasonal rhythms in the ARK are truly wondrous. This morning as I sat down to the computer, I was greeted by bursts of the staccato tattoo that only a Pileated woodpecker can produce. We went outside, tea in hand, and watched as a magnificent male with his scarlet red crest went about the business of announcing to the world that this old, half dead fir was a corner of his territory and that he was open for courting.

In that marvelously intricate way that wild systems have, the old snag and the Pileated outside my window are connected to the welfare of the hummingbirds which arrive, every year, on or about the 18th to the 23rd of April, long before there are any flowers for them to sip nectar from.

After flying thousands of kilometers back from Mexico to reach their summer digs, the hummers require a prodigious amount of food to keep warm in the freezing nights of late April. How do they get the food they need? There are no flowers out, snow is still on the ground in many places and it seems like magic that the tropical guests survive.

They get the extra energy they need by eating small insects trapped in and the sap oozing from, you guessed it, holes in the bark drilled by the Pileated when he makes music on the snag or drills for insect larvae.

So, part of the mystery of early spring feeding is solved. Like the venerable folk song, the old growth forest is connected to the fir snag, the fir snag is connected to the woodpecker, the woodpecker is connected to the holes in the bark and the holes in the bark are connected to the hummingbird and all are connected to the mysterious ritual of spring.

So the next time you hear a woodpecker drumming, think of hummingbirds. It’s just a natural connection.


Thanks to my friend Jeffery for this closeup of a Pileated Woodpecker


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