The thud I heard while sitting at my computer was unmistakable. A bird had just flown into my picture window, and my heart sank. Despite employing numerous strategies to reduce such collisions, birds still occasionally see the reflection of the forest in my windows and think they can fly through.
Usually they recognize their mistake at the last moment and only lightly bump the window before they fly off in a more appropriate direction. Rarely, they fly with such force that they break their necks and die a quick death. The most heartbreaking incidents are in between these two outcomes, when a bird becomes stunned and unable to move, and they lie on the ground still alive for some time, unable to seek shelter or escape predators.
That’s why, whenever I hear that awful thud, I rush outside to see if the bird survived. That time it did.
The bird was a male red-bellied woodpecker, and he lay spread-eagle on the ground beneath the window, his black-and-white striped wings outstretched and his bright red head turned to the side. I feared he was dead, until I noticed his eye blink. So, as I’ve done dozens of times before, I gently picked up the bird and held it in my hands to protect him and keep him calm.
After about 20 minutes, he slowly regained his senses and began to recover from his injuries. So I placed him on a tree branch and left him to carry on.
That’s when it got weird. An hour later, that same bird was clinging to my window frame and pecking the window – seemingly to get my attention. So I went outside expecting that he would fly away as soon as I approached. But he didn’t. He allowed me to pick him up once again, so I placed him on my platform feeder and gave him a piece of suet.
But the bird refused to stay on the feeder. Instead he jumped onto my arm, crept up to my shoulder, and fluttered up onto my head. For the next seven minutes, that woodpecker repeatedly climbed up and down my body, clambered onto my head several more times – scratching my forehead with his claws each time – and even pecked my head and probed inside my ear with his beak.
What a bizarre and wonderful experience! I’ve tried to get birds to eat sunflower seeds from my hands before – and I even succeeded once or twice – but never would I have imagined that a woodpecker would crawl all over me like he enjoyed my company. I just stood there letting him do whatever he wanted, occasionally contorting my body so he wouldn’t fall off.
Eventually, with the bird on top of my head once again, I leaned my head against a hanging feeder onto which he climbed. And then I left.
Luckily, my wife Renay watched the entire escapade, shooting pictures and a lengthy video. Had she not documented it, I’m sure no one would believe my tale. The video quickly garnered attention on social media and beyond.
My fame was short lived, however, and so was the bird. I found him dead the next morning just a few feet from where I left him, apparently unable to recover from the concussion he endured from striking my window. But the story of my head-scratching encounter with a red-bellied woodpecker will likely never be forgotten – or repeated.