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.