Two chicken-sized birds appeared on a tree behind the house this morning and sent the dogs into a frenzy of barking. They were clinging upright to the trunk of a nondescript tree (all trees are nondescript these days, without their leaves), going round and round by making little sideways hops, but always keeping the trunk between them.
They had long beaks and black-and-white plumage, and bright red caps shaped like those silly pointed bikers\’ helmets. They kept on opposite sides of the trunk, so it was hard to compare them, but one did perhaps have a tad more white on the wing than the other. So, according to the bird book, that one–the one with a bit more white–was a female.
In which case, the coyly peeking and chasing around the tree trunk was a prelude to mating. Or, if they were two males, they were establishing territory, as a prelude to ditto. It\’s also possible that they were two females, but if so, the books are silent on the reasons for their behavior.
In any case, in between shushing the crazed dogs and adjusting my dusty binoculars, I did establish that the two birds were Pileated Woodpeckers, the largest woodpecker species in North America if you don\’t count the mythical Ivory Billed W.
I looked up that weird word, \”pileated.\” It comes from \”pileus,\” a felt cap worn by Roman soldiers. But wait. Didn\’t Roman soldiers wear plumed helmets, and those little leather skirts? Perhaps that was their summer outfit, and they reserved the felt caps for the colder seasons. If so, what was the rest of their plumage like?