Pileated Woodpeckers on Christmas Day

Christmas day began with a soft orange light above the southeastern horizon that grew more and more intensely orange. A Carolina Wren sang, then a brilliant, shimmering red sun slipped up between gleaming gray clouds and behind a tangle of pines and bare branches. But only for a minute or two. It was quickly gone, hidden by a thick layer of clouds, but leaving a sheen of silver over the sky for a few morning hours.

Around 10 am, we heard the calls of two Pileated Woodpeckers in the trees on the edge of the woods behind our house, and watched them in the dead pines and other trees for several minutes, a male and a female. Several times they flew very close to the house as they moved around from tree to tree. Their black and white plumage and vivid red crests stood out against the drab gray and brown winter landscape, but after those first calls, they were quiet, except for the occasional thunk of their bills hitting a trunk, the scratch of claws on the bark, and the soft click of pine bark falling.

At the same time, several other woodpeckers and smaller birds were active around the back yard – a Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Goldfinch, and a pair of Northern Cardinals.

By early afternoon, a cold, steady rain had begun to fall. It continued the rest of the day and into the night – turning into a magical, picture-perfect snowfall before midnight, and by the next morning, our world was white, covered in three or four inches of snow, with a light, fluffy snow still falling. It was a pretty, dreamy snow, falling thickly, but fun to walk in, and before it ended the wind picked up and kept the trees blown free, so no harm done, and we enjoyed a rare snow day.

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