Monday, January 23, 2017

My morning buddy

One morning, on the way to work, I spotted him while stopped at a light on a busy intersection.

He was at the top of a utility pole busily poking at it. His red head struck me as it shone bright in the morning sun not unlike that of the red stoplight.

Suspecting it was a woodpecker because of holes I saw in the side of the pole and the way he perched at the top, I attempted to identify the species as soon as I could. After doing a web search, the ID came swiftly as images matching him surfaced. 

He's rightly called a Red-headed woodpecker.

He became my morning buddy as he seemed have a routine just like me. I would pull up, wait at the light or drive on through the intersection, and there he'd be - same time, same place.

I often saw him atop the same pole or the pole diagonally across the intersection but mostly on the one I originally found him. Occasionally, I'd see him fly off into the woods just behind the pole or perch on a high-wire.

Eager to know more about this striking bird, I read up on the species. I was disheartened to learn the Red-headed woodpecker is a near threatened species, perceptively close to endangered.

The bird has declined severely in the past century due to habitat loss and a change to its food supply, acorn and beech nuts. They've adapted to use utility poles for nesting but it's not enough.

I've seen many types of birds in my forays into nature but this woodpecker is the first I've seen of his kind and the only, except for another.

One morning, about  a quarter of a mile where I'd see my buddy, I spotted something small lying on the side of the road. Even though I was a distance away, I could discern the colors of red, black and white. Especially the red. 


As I drove past I could see it was, indeed, a Red-header woodpecker. My heart hit the pavement as did my stomach. The image haunted me all day and I chastised myself for not stopping. I felt I lost something as sure and as enduring as the sunrise.

But a few days later I saw him perched on the top of the pole. Although glad to see him, I wondered if the one I saw lying in the road was his mate or, perhaps, it was him and this one on the pole his mate? I will never know. 

From time to time, I think of that small body lying on the pavement in the morning sun. I think of the decline of the bird, the threats it endures and scold myself for not stopping and burying the bird to bring it some dignity and honor its life.

In the ensuing days, I've kept an eye out for him but see him less and less. The last time I did he flew from the pole into the woods.

Just yesterday, I saw a sign posted on that very piece of land. It read, "VALERO GAS STATION COMING SOON."

Now, there will be even less habitat for this vulnerable woodpecker -- to his loss, our loss and that of the Earth.

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