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Crime Scene Photos

Monday, September 8, 2008

Toward evening, I happened on another thing you don't see every day. I've never seen it, in fact--evidence of a crime that is vanishingly rare, even in our birdy woods.

A big bird, black and white, met a violent end here. I can't imagine that pileated woodpeckers,
huge and wary as they are, very often become prey.

Blood sheaths on most of the wing and tail feathers indicate that the bird was in heavy molt, and probably a juvenile. The white areas have a faint lemon-yellow cast, something that I've seen on the only other dead pileated woodpecker I've seen--a roadkill.

My first hunch, that an owl was to blame, proved incorrect. When subduing and processing large prey, which can take many minutes or even hours, raptors generally relieve themselves a few times, and this one was no exception.

But instead of dropping its feces straight down in a puddle as an owl does, this raptor ejected them forcefully, creating a line of whitewash. Lacking goshawks in southern Ohio, my best guess on the killer would be a Cooper's hawk, and if I had to hazard a guess as to its sex, I'd say it was a female, who'd be big and bold enough to tackle such outsized prey. Of course, an opportunistic red-tailed hawk might take a pass at a pileated woodpecker, too, so I can't rule that out. We have nesting redtails nearby, but no Cooper's hawks that I know of, and this happened in August, a bit early for the fall accipiter migration. I'd hoped to find perhaps a feather from the predator, since long struggles with big prey often knock a few of the hawk or owl's breast feathers loose, but the hawk left only its whitewash for me to puzzle over.

Hawk it was, though, and we are one pileated down from the brood that was raised on our land this summer. Though they were a daily fixture before, I haven't seen a juvenile pileated around the yard since finding this crime scene.

Today, I am blogging outside, sitting under the four Virginia pines we planted in 1992. They were tiny, only 8" tall, and now they're 20' or more, and almost as big around the middle as I am. I listen to the crickets and katydids, the chirrup and mutter of dozens of birds, and the slow kuk kuk kuk of a pileated woodpecker.

In other news, The Swinging Orangutangs gig on Friday night went wonderfully. We held down five hours of music with only three short breaks, and the sets flowed as freely as the beer at the Marietta Brewing Company. The place was packed until almost 2 AM; we started playing at 9 PM. I was so proud to be there with our band, working hard at having more fun than you could imagine. I was proud of our product, and the four long, intense rehearsals that it took to get back to gig readiness. We tackled and conquered the nitty details of arrangements and vocal parts and just exactly where the guitar solo comes in and how many times the guitar twangs before the riff...all the work that goes into making a tight band. We're like a five horse team, throwing our weight into the harness and pulling together. At one point during  "Burning Down the House" I turned around from the microphone and watched Andy's flying drumsticks and Clay's strong but nimble fingers, a blur on the bass strings; I looked over at Vinnie with his gorgeous sinewy leads on guitar; at Jess, filling the room with her keyboard and her flawless voice, and then over at Bill, fronting us all with strong and melodic guitar, voice and his unique, irreverent and hilarious personality, and I thought, yes, this is it, this is as good as it gets, that is my husband right there, and I am grateful to be here, standing on these sore old feet, sure of my own voice and ready to sing the frat boys, all young enough to be my sons, to bed. 


Wow, my first episode of BCIS (Birder CIS)... I was wondering about how you all made out on Friday night. I totally wish I could've been there. A bit of a drive for me, though, from Canada. And, the frat boys just don't turn me on. If you're ever up this way, let me know :O).
I nominated you for an award Julie, if you'd like you can check it out at my blog on today's post. I really love your blog. Really really.

Awwww man, a Pileated. :c(

Glad to hear the gig went well and was so much fun! If we'd been there, you'd have heard the rowdy table of us cheering you and Bill along as we hoisted a brew, or two, or...

Oh, poor baby/teenage pileated...I love them. If you have a moment, check out my recent blog post. I have a photo of a feather I found while cleaning my gutters last week (there's a first time for everything!) I'm sure it's a hawk but not sure what kind.

Did you put your voice lessons to work on Friday? Could you tell a difference in your stamina?

I ran the gamut of emotion with this one. I do so love Pileated Woodpeckers and I cringe to think that the unthinkable happens to them. What a bummer.

Then, came the cleansing...first with the vision of your trees and sounds of the outdoors. Next with the wonderful description of the gig.

Great post!

Oh, bummer! I love our pileateds. It was fun to watch a juvenile try to figure out how to land on the feeder to get to the suet cake (the adults just gracefully fly in... the kids fumble around on the roof).

I watched a Cooper's squeeze a starling and was impressed with how long it took and how hard it was for him/her to keep hold of the struggling starling. I wondered why they never seemed to go for the squirrels in our yard - now I know. Probably too much work for a meal.

I'm really envying you your remote acreage right now. I've had nothing but assault from redneck morons who are uneducated about wildlife and one who stopped today to say "your flowers are ugly". Having never met an ugly flower, I'm thinking most things are ugly to this person, but our neighborhood seems to be declining quickly and I wish I lived in the boonies. One guy started kicking stuff around our drive - he wound up with a police case number for his efforts. :P

It's nice to read that somewhere, people are normal and there is still fun to be had.

The gig sure sounds like fun! But oh the poor woodpecker. I had a Coopers Hawk fly into my yard today. Amazing to see even though I live in the city.

Burning Down the House! Now we need the full setlist. Glad you're having so much fun, whatever the Significant Birthday. Or do those sharpen one's attention to what's happening... "I know a place there's still somethin goin on", as the song has it. Must be in Marietta.

Burning Down the House! Now we need the full setlist. Glad you're having so much fun, whatever the Significant Birthday. Or do those sharpen one's attention to what's happening... As another song has it, "I know a place there's still somethin goin on". Must be in Marietta.

I'm probably the only reader here who has never seen a Pileated and I'm so sorry you lost one of yours. You chimped on the Cooper very well. Your forensic science skills are super.

As for the gig? You are blessed.


It is too bad you did not witness the crime in action! It would have been a sight to see!! When I lived in Florida I heard the distressed alarms of a young Pileated who frequented our yard pestering his mother. I looked up to see him maneuvering through the branches of a massive live oak with a Coopers Hawk in a spectacular, hot-pursuit matching the poor young woodpecker's dips, dives, and turns! I generally do not intercede, everyone needs to eat, but I had become rather attached to the little guy and without thinking I clapped my hands. The hawk looked, and the woodpecker escaped. It only took a moments hesitation and dinner was gone. Hopefully, the Pileated learned the lesson to stop being a self-absorbed adolescent screaming, "FEED ME" for all predators to hear! And the hawk learned not to look at crazy clapping women!

Jayne: Dream gig!

Heather: Thank you very much! Everybody, check out Heather's cool sheep/farm blog, and don't miss the baby chicks walking around the smiling doggeh.(Stampede to Heather's blog)

Christine: Can't get your blog to come up--have been trying since last night. Ack! Yes, I could tell a difference mostly in my range and the ease of hitting higher notes! Still blew a vocal chord by the end of the night, though. Rats.

Mt.woman--good to know I'm in proper Homerian form, always striving for it!

Nick: Setlists are closely guarded, especially when they have things like Love Rollercoaster on them. The element of surprise (They're covering THAT?) is key. ;-)

Mary: Yes, yes, yes. I never stop saying thank you!

Pam: Our baby pileys were very noisy, too--it's a wonder they aren't all knocked off. I suspect that's what happened here, too. Amazing to witness the chase. And I've done exactly what you did--clapped my hands and shouted, in this case to get a sharp-shin to drop a male bluebird, who went on, slightly crippled, to nest for eight more years in our yard, and raise 54 fledglings. The Butterfly Effect, in reverse.

Julie--sounds as though LIFE IS GOOD, except, of course, it you are a pileated.
I remember a prior post you wrote: nature red in tooth and claw. And it is. It is fascinating how emotional we humans become over the death struggles of animals. We grieve when perhaps the bird victim calmly (after struggling, of course) accepts its birdy fate.

That's a neat find. Shortly after we moved in to the new house here, we were out on the lake and were witness to an attempt by a goshawk to take a pileated. All three pileateds got away and the goshawk was left empty-taloned. It's been the only goshawk we've seen here so far - wish I'd been able to document the whole thing!

Maybe if you google Possumlady you can click on that way? If I can find your email I'll send you the photo.

I also forgot to thank you helping me ID a bird last week! I saw this gray and yellow bird flitting around for maybe all of five seconds. I was cleaning under my bed and pulled out your Identify This book and there on the cover was my mystery bird--an immature male redstart! A lifer for me.

Great post, Zick. And you capture the magical majesty of the gig quite nicely. And you sang really well, too.

Julie need I say that evidence of a crime is for others just evidence of lunch! :-)

Actually that scene is a familiar one to me. I spent 3 years in Florida banding and tracking Cooper's hawks for the state wildlife agency.

In finding nest sites within our study areas, walking with our heads down in search of prey remains proved much more fruitful than looking up for nests. Nest-looking masses are very common but plucked birds are the true sign of accipiters at home.

You might be surprised how common they are. We had them nesting at a density of about one pair per square mile in good habitat. Yet in most territories we saw the birds only rarely, even when we knew them to be home from the radio signal. They are masters of the Ninja arts.

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