The dogs and I walked south today in bright sun, with the mercury rising to 35°F. But the spectacle of two pileated woodpeckers whirling around a grove of beeches turned our winter ramble into a Mardi Gras parade.
Bigger than other woodpeckers, these exotic creatures boast brilliant plumage of black and white as formal as tuxedos, with a blood-red crest on their heads. Unlike the machine-gun rattles of downy and hairy woodpeckers or the syncopated beat of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, the sound that the pileated species makes while excavating large holes in trees is a slow, percussive “Thock! Thock! Thock!”
This krewe of two chased each other around the pearl-gray trunks, occasionally hovering in midair, beak to beak, wings flashing and heads bobbing. Were they fighting or flirting? Males and females are about the same size, with equally vivid colors, so it was hard to tell.
Their battle—or dance—took my breath away. The dogs stood perfectly still and watched the birds with close attention, rare for them.
Then, suddenly, as if they’d noticed us staring, the birds disappeared into the darker hemlocks that lay just beyond the beeches. The parade was over.