Fun in the Garden with Critters

Male Pileated WoodpeckerBy Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

Ahhh! Who doesn’t love a spring day? The birds are singing and the flowers are blooming and it’s just a beautiful free for all.  We’ve spent a lot of time in the garden recently, planting and weeding and the general stuff.  I was standing there in the garden, when a beautiful pileated woodpecker sailed by me and beyond, into the woods.  I suddenly thought of an interesting gardening experience from some years before – and in another garden. It involved a pileated woodpecker, a hollow tree, a mess of squirrels, and me.

For a week we had been hearing the strident, rolling “wurrrrp” of a male red-bellied woodpecker as it canvassed the yard for potential mating territory. We’d heard it pounding on nearby trees trying to attract a mate. But except for the occasional bright red flash in the forest, we have not seen him much.  We have been seeing a lot of the pair of pileated woodpeckers who have determined that our yard in definitely their territory.  They come just about every day and bang on one thing or another.  They are huge, beautiful birds and I always stop what I’m doing and watch a while…

Today, they are tormenting the squirrels denning in the big tree next to the garden by continuing their hammering. Even with a regular pounding, they don’t seem to be hurting the tree much. But sometimes, they make that old, gnarly tree ring like a bell.

I had always suspected that the tree was hollow.  And I was soon to be assured that it was.

I was working on the green bean fence, which stands less than five feet in front of the big oak, when I heard a strange sound.  I stopped what I was doing and listened for a few minutes.  It was just the wind in the leaves, I thought.

But a few minutes later,  I heard it again. This time the sound was louder, clearer, and somehow closer than before.  I stopped again and listened. Soon enough it was obvious that the sound was coming from the tree, so I casually walked over to it and pressed my ear against the rough bark, like I was checking the tree’s heartbeat. I stood there for some time, but all I heard was my own heart pounding.

Something is fishy here, I thought. I went back to the squirrelbean fence and just as I turned again to my task, the sound came once more. And once more I went to the tree.  As soon as I got close, the sound stopped again.  So now I’m pretty sure the tree is hollow and that a squirrel inside is making the noises – not really a big surprise, or anything, but now I was hell-bent on finding out for sure.  As I was walking away, I wondered how the squirrel always seemed to know I was coming.  Was that a coincidence or could it hear me walking towards it?  I returned to the bean fence one last time and like a cat, feigned disinterest.

I waited until the squirrel was again fully engaged in its gnawing and scratching before slowly tiptoeing around to the opposite side of the tree like a cartoon thief.  All I needed was a black mask to complete this picture of skillful stealth.  Slowly I crept on. When the sound stopped, I stopped. When it began again, I crept closer.

After a several surprisingly long minutes, I finally made it to the tree without alerting the squirrel.  I put my ear ever so gently to the trunk and this time the gnawing was loud and definitive – I could hear each scrape of those huge incisors digging into the soft inner flesh of the oak – right next to my ear.

At first I was pretty proud of my stalking prowess, but quickly began to wonder why it could hear me before, but not now.  I slowly searched the trunk for any kind of clue.  Just when I was about to call it quits, I found a tidy small hole the diameter of a pencil. It went all the way to the cavern inside.  It was kind of eerie. The hole was perfect and hardly any bark damage visible, but it was obviously the work of the pileated’s.  No wonder I didn’t see this earlier.

I don’t mind that the tree is hollow, it has been hollow a very long time and will live a long, long time just as it is. But it tickles me to no end to imagine the moment that woodpecker finally broke through to the inside, only to find a very angry squirrel scolding him!  And now I know how the squirrels knew I was coming.

And that’s the way to have fun in the garden with critters! lol  Find this and many other great critter stories in my book, A Journey of Seasons!

Happy gardening!

© 2014 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


AJOS-214x32813A Journey of Seasons

Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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2 responses to “Fun in the Garden with Critters

  1. Great story! I love your picture of the woodpecker-I had one up north here a few years ago-much larger than our common ones + what a beauty! I had no idea what type of woodpecker it was but they do come this far north!

  2. Thanks, Robbie. They are truly spectacular! Huge birds and so colorful, too. But despite their size, they are very shy. I’m so glad you had the chance to see one…:-)

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