The bird is the word

“Who wants to go find a pileated woodpecker?” Clyde said at breakfast.

A whole bunch of us are in the north woods and staying in a big log cabin. I’ve never heard of a pileated woodpecker, but walking with Clyde is motivation enough.

We wandered through the forest for a few hours, seeing lots of birds and creatures but no pileated woodpecker.

Every year for a few decades we gather in the same place and every year Clyde takes us pileated woodpecker hunting. We never see any and I’ve gone from youth to middle age.

Naturally, I consulted bird books to see what makes the pileated woodpecker so special.

Jim Whitehouse

They are huge! They stand 18 inches tall and are noisy, both vocally and with their chop-chop-chop sound that sometimes breaks small trees in two. Woody Woodpecker is inspired by one of these copper birds. Now I really, really want to see one.

My beloved wife Marsha’s parents are moving from New York State to Georgia and building a house in the woods. On our first visit, we were sitting in lawn chairs on their screened porch when a large bird swooped to the ground right behind my mother-in-law.

Finally! This is my first sighting of a pileated woodpecker. It’s a magnificent bird.

“It’s a tails!” I whisper. “Not moving !!”

My mother-in-law turns around and sees the bird standing two feet behind her on the other side of the screen.

She jumps up, turns around and starts flapping her arms and shouting, “LEAVE!” GO AWAY!”

No surprise. It disappears.

“I hate that bird,” she said. “It happens all the time.”

Twenty years of stalking the Northwoods for one of these magnificent creatures, and finally, in the Deep South, I see one only for my mother-in-law to hunt it.

Fortunately, over the years I have seen many great birds and it is always a joy to see and hear them. There is a couple that lives near our current house in the woods.

Just yesterday, while I was driving my…

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