The Woodpecker Laughs No More

Happier times for our red-headed friend

I walked onto our deck last Saturday and almost stepped on a red-headed woodpecker.

First though: Oh God, West Nile
Second though: Oh God, Avian Flu
Third thought: Oh man, I gotta get rid of this thing before Skippy finds it.

I opened the screen and yelled up the stairs, “C’mon boys!  We have to bury a bird!”

They bounded down the stairs, still in the pajamas, stopping short when they saw me poking the body with a stick.  I remembered hearing a hollow thump against our kitchen window, but had dismissed it.

Now I knew the cause.

“Is it dead,” Nick asked.

“Pretty sure.”

Gabe took a step closer, still clutching his cloth diaper/security blanket “What happen, Nana?”

“It’s dead, Gabe.  It can’t fly anymore.”

“Oh,” Gabe replied, with all the earnestness that only a 2-year-old can imbue into such a small word.

“We should bury it,” Nick decided, with which I agreed.  We opted for the front yard since it was separated from the back by a fence, meaning Skippy couldn’t dig up the body.  And while I got a small shovel and a permanent marker from the garage, Nick and Gabe searched for the perfect headstone.

“What do you want to write, Nick?”

His face turned pensive, eyes looking upward.   “I want to let God know to take care of him.”  As a product of Catholic school, he took heaven’s location quite literally.

As I dug the hole, Nick used his very best block printing to write the bird’s name (Woodpecker), date of death, and a few stars and hearts- classic adornments for the Kindergarten set.  Then, without prompting, he solemnly handed the pen to Gabe, who added his own scribbles.

We said a short prayer:

“Dear God,”  Nick began.  The woodpecker is dead.  We are sad.   We hope he comes back” –

I had to interrupt him.  “Nick, he’s dead, so he can’t come back.”  Visions of Pet Cemetery crept into my brain.  Shudder.

“Jesus is coming back, even though he died.”   You can remember this, but not what number comes between 17 and 19?  This is the takeaway from Catholic school?!  Oh, yeah, I guess it is.

 “True.  But Jesus was the son of God.” Do no self-edit that this is a belief and not a truism.  Explain it in a way that makes sense…to him.  “And he got superpowers. How cool is that?  This bird is just a bird.”

“But, God made everything.”  Again with the theology?!  It was just too early to be having this deep a conversation with a six-year-old.  “Yes, he did, but now it’s time for the bird to hang out in heaven, so we should finish up burying the body.”

He bowed his head, rethinking his approach, then started again.  “Dear God.  I hope you have lots of trees in heaven.  Woodpeckers like them a lot.  And we love you.  The end.”  Gabe has decided to jump on the prayer bandwagon, so I hear Nick’s words in stereo – once from his own mouth, followed by the near-consonant-free echo from his brother.

The three of us slid the rock across the freshly dug earth then headed inside for breakfast.


A few hours later, we mentioned our mini funeral to Lori’s sister, who is visiting for an impromptu lunch.

“You know, they can live a few hours after they’ve run into a window.”


 A quick hit from my good friends at Google confirmed it.  Some birds are merely stunned and need a soft quiet spot to recover.   Oh, and dead woodpeckers were a really bad omen.  We had buried this poor thing in a six-inch grave.

I raced down the front stairs, removed the stone and started digging frantically with my bare hands.

Dig dig dig dig

I swear we put the body right under the rock.  Where the hell was it?  Wait, was this the miracle Nick was talking about in his prayer service.  Had the bird been raptured?!

My flights of fancy come crashing to reality when I saw the unmistakable red at the very edge of the hole I had dug.

Oh, there he is.  If he wasn’t dead before he certainly was now.

Deflated, I walked slowly into the house, head hung in shame.  I had never killed anything larger than a house spider.

“He probably already had a broken neck,” Lori said as I flopped onto a chair.


“Are you going to tell the kids that you guys probably buried a live woodpecker?”

“No!!  That’s crazy!”

“Are you going to be sad for the entire afternoon now?”


“Aww,” Lori pulled me into a hug.  “Looks like my little cynic has a heart after all.”

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