Saturday, October 21st was a sunny, temperate day. This meant if the resident disabled woodpecker Wooka was not ‘working’ at an educational program, we’d be heading outside for some sunshine and pecking in the dirt like we’ve done for years.
Not long after I arrived, I was told that he had not been doing well and that he’d be seeing the vet for an exam. He hadn’t been eating much, wasn’t very active, and had been fluffing himself up a lot to stay warm. The influence of his age was quickly brought up as a factor; he had to be around 7 years old.
I asked if it was OK to still take him outside for recess or if I should pass. I was told that not only was it OK to take him outside but that he might actually enjoy the sunshine and fresh air for a while. Besides, I think we all suspected that it might be our last time together.
With bird in hand, I made my way to an enclosed cage towards the outer edge of the wildlife center’s backyard. I closed us in, set him down on the dirt floor in a patch of sun, and laid a towel down to sit on.
Within minutes of settling in the cage, Lucy, the resident imprinted Canada goose, ambled her way towards us which she almost always does. What she had never done in all the years I’ve been in that cage with Wooka, however, was 1) lay down and 2) press herself up against the cage door. With an almost 360-degree option to select any number of places to lazily walk around nipping at grass and leaves which is her typical behavior, she chose to sit pressed against the door. It seemed deliberate, like no one was coming or going without her permission. It was so cute and out of character that I texted a photo to the director that we were “…being guarded by Fox Valley’s finest.”
She stayed in that position the entire time that I stayed in my spot, while Wooka was left to do as he pleased. He actually surprised me by hopping around and pecking a bit more than I would have expected, given the fact that he hadn’t been feeling well.
He eventually fluffed up in a spot of sun and remained still for quite a while. And there we three sat, motionless and quiet, listening to the other birds around us that were chirping away and the leafy things happening under foot from scampering rodents making their way back and forth from the forest.
Making sure he was OK, I got up to have a closer look at Wooka. That inspired Lucy to get up and come around. It was like she wanted to have a look and check on him, too.
Thinking Wooka had ample time to enjoy being outside but not wanting him to get too chilly, I took him back inside.
Because the center knows how much I cared about Wooka, they were kind enough to contact me to let me know that he had passed, four days later.
That same evening it struck me that what I observed from Lucy the Saturday prior had to be more than a coincidence.
I am convinced that having lived and worked with him for so many years that Lucy had to have known, in her own birdie way, that his time was at hand. I saw a very strong, highly-intelligent bird take a protective stance over another species – a much weaker, smaller bird that had become part of her disabled animal family at the wildlife center. I believe she was making sure that he would have a safe, uninterrupted last time in the sun.
WOOKA was a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker that was transferred to our wildlife center from North Carolina. He was found abandoned and disabled as a nestling. Having developed only one eye, he remained small in size for his species as an adult and never developed the capability to fly or master perching as his toes were a bit misshapen. None of that seemed to matter to Wooka though, because he was a beautiful, lively little ambassador for his species who would at times defend his enclosure, flirt with the ladies, and peck through the dirt for bugs. I don’t see these birds too often at all so to get to care for him and engage with him during my volunteer shifts at the center was truly special. I will really miss exchanging “Wik wik”s with him.
LUCY is an imprinted Canada Goose who is at least 8 years old. She was kept as a pet when she was a gosling (which is illegal since her species is covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act). She was relinquished at some point when she got older, probably because the people decided that this now-large bird that poops everywhere doesn’t make a good house pet. The center attempted to make her wild again but it was too late, she already identified as belonging with people and would not go off with and stay with her own kind. She has since become one of the most beloved members of the animal ambassador team with a personality that you would have to witness for yourself to believe. While I’m sorry that Lucy will never get to be a wild bird living with her own kind, its a privilege to know her and learn about the quirkiness, personality, and intelligence of a species that otherwise remains hidden.
Lucy was able to see Wooka in his cage every day for the 6+ years he lived there since patrolling that area where he stayed was part of her daily routine.
Canada geese are known for being very family oriented and will even adopt orphaned goslings when they have similarly-sized goslings of their own. Perhaps, given her situation, Lucy has adopted the staff, volunteers, and animal ambassadors of Fox Valley as her own.