The Woodpecker I Met Right Outside My Window

THWAAP! I jumped out of my chair and hurried to the back porch window. A downy woodpecker had glided into the glass. Birds sometimes mistake the reflection in the glass for sky.

This little fellow was lying on my porch, dazed. It's a good thing woodpeckers have such muscular necks. It must be from all the exercise they get pecking at trees.

I could see his chest moving up and down, and he was blinking at me. But I think I was more scared; he was just resting.

How different this downy looked close up. I put him in the palm of my hand, the top of his head at the tips of my fingers, and the bottom of his short, stiff tail at my wrist. He was just a little bigger than my pet parakeet. And how light. He felt like a nickel in my palm.

His feathers were black and white. The pattern on his head looked like stripes. And the black-and-white markings on his wings reminded me of a checkerboard. Since no two woodpeckers have the same feather patterns, I tried to memorize this little guy's markings. I wanted to recognize him in case he came back to the suet feeders in my apple tree. And I knew he was a ''he'' because of the patch of red feathers on the back of his head. Females don't have that patch.

I could see up close how his long pointy beak could peck like a toothpick into tree bark to find spiders and ants to eat. He had a ring of fuzzy feathers, too, where his beak ended and his face began. Close up, they looked like stubby cat whiskers.

By this time, he looked comfortable all snuggled in my hand. I couldn't get over how tame he was, but downies are pretty friendly. I felt just like a mama bird scootching her little one out of the nest when I gently put him on the porch railing. He stood up just fine and looked around. With no warning, he flew off into a spruce tree, then down back into the woods. I could hear his song as he flew: teak, teak, teak, teak. He was home.

And I was off to the pet store. I wanted to get one of those owl-shaped silhouettes to attach to my window. When birds see it, they do a U-turn. No more unexpected visitors mistaking my window for sky.

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