What You Can See on March 7
Submitted by Ted Williams on Tue, 03/07/2006 - 09:25.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Woody’s Courtship The pileated -- our largest woodpecker, which can knock 14-inch-long chips out of dead and living trees -- spends March courting and nest building. Throughout wooded North America, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and south, you may hear the maniacal, flickerlike laughter of these crow-sized, scarlet-crested models for Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker. If you hear nothing, pound a hollow tree with a stick and one may come in to defend his territory. Courting pileateds do much bobbing, head swinging, wing flailing, and crest raising. They will meet on a limb, dance, bow, stretch their long, ungainly necks, appear to kiss, then inscribe lazy circles on fluttering, silver-lined wings. Unlike other woodpeckers, they mate for life and each year cut a new nest hole, leaving last year’s home for other cavity nesters. The females have been seen transporting their eggs from a split tree to a new site. Pileated, which means capped, can be pronounced “pile” or “pill.” Either way, reports birding authority John Eastman, “will be wrong in whatever field group one happens to join.” Hunted to Abundance The only thing a tom turkey displaying on a spring strutting ground can possibly be mistaken for, say veteran wild turkey hunters, is a politician. The fleshy parts of his face turn bright red; he puffs himself up, spreads his tail, struts back and forth, and spews rhetoric best translated as gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble. There are only two species of turkey: Meleagris gallopavo of North America (represented in the wild by five subspecies and domesticated by Indians about 2,000 years ago) and the smaller, more colorful Meleagris ocellata of southern Mexico and Central America. Other species, now extinct, lived on both New World continents, but apparently turkeys have never occurred naturally anywhere else. Nearly wiped out by market hunters, wild turkeys have been restored by intelligent hunting regulations and state trap-and-transfer programs funded by sportsmen. Since 1930 they’ve increased in North America from something like 20,000 to about five million.