All right: Enough with the Big Advice already. I think we all know there’s only one thing in this world that truly concerns any of us: Manic Woodpeckers.
There I was, near to my goal of ogling nest innards.
And then came the bird call heard ’round my nervous system.
Upon hearing that lone, initiating call of the BAS, I dared hope it was an errant vocalization. Maybe it was a bird new to the neighborhood, one not familair with the idea that you’re only supposed to start the Bird Alarm System when a Troubling Predator has made an appearence—not a lonely, dorky teenager who is nonetheless continuing to radiate the kind of peaceful Tarzan vibe that any animal would have to be anti-instinctual to find threatening.
Clinging to the tree trunk, seven feet off the ground, I froze, and listened for what I dreaded was coming.
And then I heard it: The second BAS call, coming from about half way down the meadow behind me.
I panicked. Which, I discovered, is difficult to do if you can’t actually move—which I couldn’t, since I was one Nerve Pulse away from dropping off that tree like a sack of door knobs.
Frozen, yet panicked, I decided to go for it. Who knew how far away the Owner Bird of this nest might be? Could be really far! Could be in China! Or maybe the bird was deaf!
I had to take a chance. I was young. I was impetuous. I was … poorly groomed, I think.
The whole thing was just ugly.
But dang it, nature is nature—and it was calling me in a way that, well … didn’t involve me hiding behind a bush. No, this time nature was calling to me, “Quick! Look in the nest! Before something happens!”
So I scrambled further up the trunk—until I was right beside the nest of my quest. Only about one more foot to go!
And that’s when I heard the most God-awful (are we allowed to say that? If not: sorry! I don’t mean it in vain! Or vein! Or …?) screeching sound in the history of exploding nerve cells.
I turned to look back across the meadow.
And that’s when I saw the winged vision that haunts me to this day. Seriously: the sheer visual of it is something I know I’ll remember forever.
A mature (well—let’s say full grown) Pileated Woodpecker has a wingspan of about three feet. Not vulture-size or anything—but pretty impresive. And I am here to tell you: When you’re seven feet off the ground clinging to a fat, rough tree trunk, and you look behind you and see a full-grown PW flying straight at you, with its freaky-looking red mohawk, its long white neck with what looks like a black collar strapped tight around it, it’s three-foot wingspan—when you see this giant, angry, punk-rocker of a ticked off, screaming bird coming at you—it can be a distinctly impressive sight.It sure was to me, anyway. My whole body went into “Well, We’re Done” mode: I froze like a statue. All I could do, it seemed, was watch my terrible fate fly right toward me.
For a moment there, through the haze of my sheer terror, I couldn’t help but Actually Admire the way the bird commanded the air. That thing was definitely clear on how to gain the most momentum in the shortest amount of time. It had the whole Flap-Distance-Wind Velocity calculation down. If woodpeckers ever get jobs at NASA, we’ll be on Jupiter before you can say “Now, glide.”
The last thought I had before the bird actually banged into me was, “Isn’t it going to stop?”
That’d be a no. This was Roller Derby Bird, for sure. That thing hit me hard. It did this awesome thing, where at the very last moment it sort of swooped in from the side, tucked its head, and just butted me with its shoulder.
And then there I was, knowing for sure I couldn’t fly. I hit the ground like the frenzied sack of teen bones I was.
And that bird soooo wasn’t done with me. Once I was down, it latched onto the tree trunk about two feet above my crab-walking backwards body, and cussed me out with a long, shrill, shrieking string of Bird Invectives that I’m sure had gophers and mice all over that meadown holding their ears shut.
It actually poked at me a few times with its beak! It had this amazingly long neck—and suddenly its whole head was dangerously near my crotch; I was in imminent danger of getting the bird’s voice.
I had frozen pretty good in that tree—but once I was down on the ground getting grilled and almost-drilled by the scariest creature I’d ever seen, I became Joe Backwards Hustle, for sure. I think I scooted backwards about half-way across that meadow before I slowed down. I practically burned a trail betwen me and Psycho Woody.
Anyway, that’s how, one day, when I was 17, I got attacked by a woodpecker. It was totally my fault, of course. And I’m absolutely positive that somewhere within this experience lies a lesson for me. The moment I figure out what that lesson is, I’ll let you know.