saw that little assemblage of birds
gathered around the rock-picking
redbelly when I hear a knocking
sound. It’s loud and hollow, and it
has the cadence of a person knocking insistently at a door, wanting
to get the attention of someone
within. It’s not a drumroll by any
and a bit labored.
Oh, the exquisite torture of
wanting to run for camera and bin-
oculars, yet knowing I might miss
something if I do! I stand and stare
at the bird, and it stares back at me.
I desperately want to see it hit the
hollow dead limb with the rock, to
And it’s very loud.
The first thing
I notice about
the sound is that
the blows do not
vary in volume
or speed, or end
in the sound of
as do those of an
woodpecker. Perhaps you’ve heard
a foraging pileated.
again; to confirm
the suspicion that is
growing in my mind
that this bird might
be using a tool. A
tool? No! A musical
Finally, I can’t
stand it any longer.
The artist’s sketch from
17½ years ago.
This was TOCK TOCK TOCK
TOCK TOCK TOCK TOCK!
Once again, I freeze. And cuss
quietly under my breath, because
I can’t wear my binoculars when
I have to do some-
thing. I tiptoe, then
race the few dozen
yards to the house,
grab my telephoto
lens and binoculars,
and race back, being
careful to slow
down and act casual when I come
back into the woodpecker’s view. I
raise the binoculars. It’s a redbelly,
all right—a female! And she is no
longer holding the rock. Had it all
been a figment of my imagination?
I’m running. I strain my naked
eyes toward the sound and pick up
a movement. There it is! At the top
of a dead pine snag, riddled with
woodpecker holes, perches a red-bellied woodpecker. And it has
something large and squarish in its
beak. It looks like a rock.
The sound I’d heard was exactly
what I’d expect from a rock hitting
dead wood, and it was unlike any
sound I’d ever heard a woodpecker
make. Rats, rats, rats. Where is the
rock? I take a few photos of her
sitting there in the light rain. She
stretches both wings, flares her
red nape feathers, calls Kwirrk!
Kwirrk! and flies down lower onto