Discover more from Laura Erickson's For the Birds
Two Little Boys Turn Three!
Happy Birthday to Walter and BB.
(Listen to the radio version here.)
On August 14, 2020, a tiny baby entered the scene and just like that, I was a grandmother. From the moment my eyes met Walter’s, I’ve been overwhelmed with love.
The two people of my childhood who meant more to me and shaped my values and outlook more than anyone were my grandpa and grandma, and in my adulthood, the one person who taught me how to be a kind and patient mother even when I was frazzled and cranky was Fred Rogers, so I have a lot to live up to in this new role. I always assumed that any grandchildren I might have would call me Grandma, but Walter had his own ideas. When he was barely two, he came up with his own name for me, “Dee Dee Nana!” (“dee dee” being his word for chickadees). It’s the only name he's ever called me, which gives me even more to live up to.
Another little guy who is a big part of my life now also turned three this year—his birthday or, more appropriately, his hatch day, was sometime in May or June 2020, so he’s just two or three months older than Walter. I wasn’t around when he hatched—indeed, I didn’t know of his existence until he was over a year old in the fall of 2021, when I noticed that a Pileated Woodpecker visiting my feeders had a band on his leg. I called him BB, and after I worked out his 9-digit band number and sent it to the Bird Banding Laboratory, I learned that Frank Nicoletti had banded him in November 2020 when BB was still a hatch-year bird.
There are many differences between a 3-year-old child and a 3-year-old Pileated Woodpecker. For one thing, Walter can say “BB the Pileated Woodpecker,” but BB cannot say “Walter.” Walter weighed in at 7 pounds 6 ounces when he emerged from my daughter. Nobody weighed BB when he emerged from the egg, but one study found that Pileated Woodpecker hatchlings weigh less than 15 grams, or about half an ounce. In other words, Walter weighed 236 times what BB weighed to start with. But a few months later, BB was full sized, weighing roughly 300 grams, or 20 times his birth weight. Walter thrived, too, but presumably won’t weigh 20 times his birth weight, or almost 150 pounds, for quite a few years.
BB not only put on weight relatively more quickly than Walter—he also matured in every other way, too. I know he had a mate last year—I got a nice photo of the two of them in April 2022.
That was the last time I saw him for a few months. I don’t know where they nested or what happened with the young. In October, I saw him in my yard at the same time I was seeing what in retrospect may have been at least one male and two female offspring.
They looked pretty adult and I never saw him feed them, but I suspect they were juveniles—they didn’t quite understand how to get food out of bird feeders—and I suspect they were BB’s kids because he seemed relaxed around them.
This year I got a photo of BB with his mate on March 28, the last day they came to the feeder together.
I saw him once or twice most days throughout the rest of spring and early summer, though I seldom saw her and never the two at the same time. Presumably he was visiting my yard when he had a break from incubating eggs and then brooding and feeding nestlings. Like last year, I have no idea where in the neighborhood his nest might have been. He disappeared for several days in early July, right when his nestlings would have started fledging, when he’d need to stay close to the nest all the time. But on July 10, I saw him again, only this time he wasn’t alone—he had a daughter with.
In the month since then, I’ve seen him with at least two daughters and one son, and on August 12, he was in my yard with all three babies at once!
Pileated Woodpeckers usually produce 3 or 4 eggs, and when the young fledge, parents sometimes stay together and sometimes cover more foraging ground by splitting up, each taking one or more of the babies. My yard has been a primary part of BB’s foraging range for two years, so it’s not surprising that he’s bringing his children here.
Assuming those other Pileated Woodpeckers I saw last October actually were BB’s babies, this three-year-old is not just a father but maybe even a grandfather. So yep—there are a lot of differences between a 3-year-old human and a 3-year-old Pileated Woodpecker, and there are big differences between my love for BB and my love for Walter. But these two three-year-old boys, each in his own way, have made me feel like the luckiest, richest person on the planet.