It’s been a day for birdwatching bar-none. In the morning I caught a glimpse of a Belted Kingfisher through twigs and faded leaves along the riverbank. I haven’t seen many kingfishers in my days but the handful I have observed have never been more than twenty feet from a stream. The ‘belted’ name is for a white band around their neck region while the ‘kingfisher’ accolade tips you off to their innate capabilities for nabbing their food from the water. Sometimes the attire, appearance and surroundings of someone bears witness to their line of work and lifestyle. I’m thinking of the stereotypical New England lobsterman clad in his waterproof coveralls, knit sweater and beanie by the seaside or the midwestern farmer with his weathered face and dusty, sun-bleached shirts and blue jeans haying in the farm field. Perhaps we could tack onto that list the Kingfisher and his perch next’ the river.
The list tallied after my lunch-break walk includes: Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, Dark Eyed Junco, Black Capped Chickadee, American Cardinal, American Robin, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker and Eastern Bluebird.
The Pileated Woodpecker was the real treat. At 16-19 inches tall, they are the largest woodpecker species in North America. They’ve got crested or ‘pileated’ (literally ‘felt cap’ in latin) head feathers ablaze in crimson red and bold black and white feathers the rest of the way down. They’re known for their diagnostic style rectangular hole drilling in dead trees to get at their prey––mainly insects like carpenter ants, wood-boring beetles, etc.
With only a quick glance over considerable distance one might confuse them with a Crow––they’re about the same size and sport the same shade of black. Although, the white streaks, red crest, unique shape and woodpecker behavior would soon rule-out the confusion of Crow, their undulating flight pattern serves as an equally helpful ID. Undulation or ‘rising and falling’ is the flight path of the Pileated Woodpecker while plain and straight is that of the American Crow. Maybe there’s a deeper reason the country turn of phrase is ‘as the crow flies’ and not ‘as the Pileated Wood pecker…”. Perhaps linguistic cadence plays a part, too.