Ground Hog’s Day Escape Plan

These days, with a bounty of coronavirus induced time on my hands, my wife and I linger more on our morning dog walks. With the arrival of spring in Minnesota nature is coming alive, oblivious and indifferent to the current plight of their human coinhabitants.

Over the last week as my hand grasps the doorknob at the start of my morning journey, I have had the increasing sense that I am in my own little version of the movie Ground Hog’s Day with Bill Murray. This mental blanket gets pulled back by the psychocatalytic effect of the cacophony of bird calls and songs that greet me the moment I step out into the fresh air.

The morning bird symphony pulls me out of my little movie and into their lives, being lived with what feels like a reckless abandon, compared to the subdued state of humans in Minneapolis. Soon I began to notice one bird song in particular, again and again, block after block.

To call it a song isn’t really accurate. It is more of a call, with a “listen up” feeling. Since the sound was so big I figured it must be a big bird. I started to look around to find a big bird. But I never could find a big bird. The sound spread out and reverberated so much that I had trouble localizing it.

With no where special to go anymore, finding this bird suddenly became a mission critical exercise. So yesterday, upon hearing the bird call, I parked myself in the vicinity of a tree that I was certain held the bird prize, and listened, and waited, and scanned, and stared. About 10 minutes into my vigil, my efforts payed off. Here is what I discovered.

Having identified its markings, I scurried home and, feeling like a National Audubon Society bird detective, googled red headed woodpeckers of Minnesota and uncovered its identity: a Red Bellied Woodpecker.

The Red Bellied Woodpecker is one seriously interesting woodpecker. Some fun facts:

1. They really don’t have a red belly, just a hint of red.

2. They have tongues that can extend 2 inches outside their already long beaks and the it has little barbs on the end to grab sap and bugs.

3. They store nuts, seeds, and other food items in cracks of trees and logs and can find them next season.

4. They are very monogamous – often mating with the same significant other season after season.

5. They build their nest inside trees by literally coring out a deep hole by chipping away and tossing the shreds outside.

6. Once the nest is built inside the tree the male hangs out inside and sticks his head in and out while making the sound I have been hearing until he finally gets a call back from an interested bird gal.

7. Once the gal bird is spotted he might regurgitate a seed he swallowed and saved for just such an occasion, deliver it on wings, and offer her dinner.

8. If dinner goes well he will retreat to the nest in the tree and tap and peck constantly to try and lure her to the den.

9. Once they strike up a relationship its time to be parents as they share the egg warming burden in shifts.

This newfound understanding of Red Bellied Woodpeckers brightened up my dog walks considerably. This morning my wife and I brought a small pair of binoculars with us and we were able to see a bird couple doing the in and out dance with their nest in the middle of a tree trunk, singing away. It was lovely to meet such a nice couple of Red Bellies and make new friends that we can say hello to on our dog walks.

Here is the thing. While we are each stuck in our Gound Hog’s Day movie, we have the time and opportunity to soak up so many lovely things, in nature, and amongst our loved ones, if we pay attention, with interest, and with an open, curious mind and heart.

Ellen Langer, considered by many to be the “mother of mindfulness” calls mindfulness the process of actively noticing new things. Ground Hog’s days are the perfect opportunity to sharpen this critical skill which can lead to better performance, ability to pay attention, remembering what you have done, and increased creativity. Plus it is just plain fun to notice new things.

3 Comments

  1. Linda Maddaus-White on March 27, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    We have a family of pileated woodpeckers in the backyard as well as finches, wrens, sparrows and the occasional coopers hawk that hunts them. I have actually seen the hawk go into our pine tree searching for birds, unsuccessfully. He was successful with a rabbit however and hid it in our compost pile. Bird societies are so interesting and I particularly loved this article for its focus on how life goes on in crisis, and how you should not stop living. There is so much beauty in the world even in the midst of a pandemic.

  2. Amy Whitson on March 30, 2020 at 3:56 am

    It’s so important to keep living, and continue to live fully as an example to your children. Because of our jobs, my husband and I are quarantined apart from one another in this pandemic, but we show our children how important it is to continue to love, laugh, learn and grow always, especially during a dark time. We are more often now outside walking and biking, waving to neighbors who are no longer strangers but kindred spirits who are also outside reaching for others in this time of sacred community. Thank you for sharing the beauty that exists in our daily rituals; you’re observations are universal in that the ordinary streets and landscapes become extraordinary.

    • Michael Maddaus on March 31, 2020 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks so much Amy – how difficult to be separated as you are – but as the saying goes, what you focus on grows. Keep paying attention:)

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