By Charles Towne                           

“We was starving so we ate a woodpecker.  It was one o’ them big ol’ ivory bill woodpeckers an’ I skint it out, and cooked it up along with four or five robins and a couple of black birds we shot that day. Nowadays folks don’t go in much for shootin’ them fancy birds, but darn it, we was hungry an’ I’ve got to admit, it was either eat that woodpecker or starve!  So, what with us being good church goin’ folks and all, we asked the good Lord to bless that peckerwood and we ate it.  Tasted just like chicken it did to! Now I am here to tell you, even though that old bird was tougher than saddle leather, that was one of the best meals I ever did eat, I mean, like I already said, we was some hungry! “

         Thus was my introduction to wilderness cuisine according to a salty old boy that had lived in the Okeefinokee swamp as a fugitive from the law back in the thirties.  He ran and hid in the big swamp after cutting a fellow in a bar fight.

          I’ll let him tell the story.

         “I sliced that fellow from breastbone to brisket. I calculated when I cut him he was a dead man, but it was self defense ’cause he pulled a knife on me first.   That there tavern was a wild place and there was several knifin’s an’ shootin’s what took place over time.  I probably would’ve got away with cuttin’ that fella ‘ceptin’ he was  brother-in-law t’ th’ sheriff an’ I knew they was goin’ t’ come lookin’ fer me so’s as to keep peace in the family, so I lit out fer the big swamp.  Lived there better part o’ two yar before I learnt that the fella what I cut hadn’t died, so I left the big swamp an’ went back to civilization.”

         That old timer was the only man I ever knew that had eaten a woodpecker, especially an ivory-billed woodpecker.

         That an occasional woodpecker is killed and eaten by a predator is not only possible but probable, I just never gave it much thought until recently.

         I had been down on the Wekiva not far from King’s Landing canoe livery following some bear trails and was on my way home when I heard a familiar racket.  I looked up to see a pileated woodpecker hammering away on the top of a large, dead, longleaf pine tree.

        That woodpecker was drumming for all he was worth tearing chunks out of that tree. He would hammer a little and then move a foot or two and hammer some more.

       I never tire of watching these incredibly beautiful birds.

Suddenly another movement in the same tree caught my eye.

         There, probably no more than eight or ten feet from the woodpecker was a red-shouldered hawk and the way that hawk was eyeballing the woodpecker it was obvious he had something on his mind other than making friends.

         When you stop and think about it the two birds are pretty well evenly matched as far as size is concerned so I thought nothing of it until the hawk suddenly launched his attack.

         The woodpecker must have sensed what was happening because he suddenly let go of the tree and dropped, but it was too late. I watched in disbelief as the two birds collided and cart-wheeled out of sight into the swamp.

         I am pretty sure that the red-shouldered hawk ate that woodpecker.

         Spend enough time in the woods and the wild places and you’ll be surprised by what you will see.

                          AN OUTDORSMAN’S PRAYER

Dear Lord, Open my eyes, my ears, and my mind to what is going on around me that I may absorb your wisdom.  Help me to be teachable.  Help me so that I will be a good listener, and not be so intent on having the last word. Thank you, Father, for working your will in me, in Jesus’ wonderful and Holy name I ask it, Amen.


Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.


  1. Charlie, I think you should change your middle name to “nature”. You sure have a way with words. Thanks again my friend.

  2. Happy Easter my dear friend!I am watching a pileated woodpecker as we speak. They are nesting in our yard and I feel so privileged to watch them with fledglings. Nature is truly spectacular, isn’t it? Thank you for raising awareness of our furry (or feathered) loved ones and the beauty they bring to our lives!

  3. Happy Easter my friend. We wish you and Nancy a blessed day today and every day. Not sure what is for dinner today but one thin for certain it will not be woodpecker…

  4. I bet that guy was glad to learn the man he cut hadn’t died. But, he sure must’ve learned a lot living out in nature for two years! Sounds like just the sort of character you would meet. Thanks for the story and Happy Easter!

  5. Kristin, my dear friend! YUes, you are right, he was a salty character but then when you are hungry it is interesting what you will eat. I hope all is well and you are happy, happy, happy! May God bless you this happy season. Here is wishing you much happiness and joy, Chaz


  7. Mike, I was about the size of a wart on a tiny toads behind when I accidentally on purpose killed a cardinal with my slingshot. Not being too bright at the time I took it home to show it to my dear old mama. She looked at it, admired it’s beauty, and then started picking its feathers. She taught me a valuable lesson then because she cooked that little songbird up and guess what I ate for dinner? Honestly, there are some critters that weren’t intended to be eaten! I never killed another songbird. You and yours take care, be happy, and have heaps of joy, Chaz

  8. Another enjoyable read . . . you have been blessed with the friendship of many interesting characters – and now you are gifting your readers the experiences with your vivid description. Regarding your previous response, I remember you telling about Mama making you eat the cardinal (her favorite wild bird). Her choice to have you eat the bird is an example of her compassionate wisdom. Actually, I attribute my deep love of nature to Mama.

  9. Oh Judith, how rich and fortunate we are to have our blessed mama as an example of unlimited love. I miss her and look forward to that great day of reunion. I appreciate your wisdom my little sister. Blessings on you and yours. Chaz

  10. I love woodpeckers. I have been blessed with 2 very large ones, who visit my yard frequently and I enjoy watching and listening to them at work.
    After reading your article, I don’t think I will observe them in the same way ever again.
    You have a gift for storytelling!
    Bless you, Chuck…
    God bless you and Nancy.

  11. Dear CSG, There is something so majestic about the pileated woodpecker! Not just due to its size but also its call, and the way it hammers on trees as it searches for insects. The old timers called him “Hell’s hammer!” for very good reason.Some friends of mine had a sheet metal cover over their fireplace chimney. One summer a pileated woodpecker visited their home frequently to drum on that sheet metal cover. You can just imagine the racket that bird made! Crazy woodpecker! Blessings on you and yours dear my friend, Chaz

  12. Ah, my friend! Thank you so much for that great story, I have read about and visited some of the places in southern florida near the everglades where the locals were mostly swamp people and/or smugglers and it was not at all unusual for the local watering hole to have several knife fights a week! In fact I have an idea of in what bar that gentleman’s experience took place! As they teach in military survival schools, you will amaze yourself, what you will eat if you are hungry enough! God’s great classroom (nature) teaches us about beauty, love, hard work, and also that sometimes things work out differently than we have planned or expect! Give thanks He doesn’t let things get boring, He keeps us from becoming complacent!

  13. Richard, you are showing a great deal of charity when you call him a gentleman because he and his kind lived by a code of their own, and yet, he was faithful to that code. His word was his bond, he was honest and would never betray a friend, so yeah, I guess he was a gentleman. When I think of what a true gentleman was back in the day I see those rough fisherman on Galilee. Wow, what men they were! Blessings on you and yours, Chaz

  14. Another good one, Chuck! I had an encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker one time, and I will NEVER forget it! I worked for AT&T Western Electric installation dept. We did all the installation and modifications to all of the Bell System Telephone offices, small or large. Very small was too small to have a rest room in them. We were working in one of these very small ones at Cocoa Beach, when it was only a wide spot in the road. one gas station was about two blocks away, but real handy was a small but thick group of scrub oaks. This was way before NASA was there with their space program! So, if we needed to “relieve” ourselves, the scrub oaks was what we used! One day I was really hurting and mad a mad dash to our group of oaks! Just as I was ready to get down to business, a Pileated Woodpecker came into the oaks, crashing the party!! He landed not more than 4-5 feet away from me and scared the living XXXX out of me!! That was a BIG bird and I will never forget how BIG he looked! After NASA started their space program, the Cocoa Beach Telephone Office was a two story building. And, I never saw another Pileated Woodpecker around that area.

  15. Hey Donald, how right you are my friend. Having a pileated woodpecker drumm on your roof would be enough to make you forget everything else! THAT HYSTERICAL LAUGH ALONG WITH HIS DRUMMING WOULD SURELY GET YOUR ATTENTION! What a bird, yes, what a bird! You take care pal and many blessings on you and yours, Chaz

  16. I often see and hear them in my neck o’ the woods in mid Michigan…love pileateds! Love to read your stories! Will have to buy the book when you get one available!!!

  17. The CAREGIVER BOOK IS IN THE PUBLISHERS. IT IS A SLOW PROCESS BUT IT WILL HAPPEN. Bless you and yours and thanks for the kind words Sweetie, Dad


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