Tag Archives: northern flicker

The Goose and the Woodpecker

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.

My first photo of Wooka taken in December of 2012.
He’s enjoying peanut butter smeared on an orange slice. 

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.”

Being guarded by Lucy, Canada Goose Extraordinaire.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


A Big Boy Beak, Goosey Squeaks, and Lots of Teeth

Saturdays filled with feathers and fur are once again winding down for the year. I already miss the demanding shrieks of hungry baby birds and it has just barely begun to snow here around Chicago.

No two visits to the wildlife rehabilitation center are ever the same. The guests, as I like to refer to them, come in for numerous reasons and I never know how long they’re going to stay. If asked, I’m sure they’d all like an early checkout and I wouldn’t blame them a bit. If something in a big predator suit put me in a confined space and handled me a bit here and there, I too would execute every life saving measure to get away, even from predators who bore a striking resemblance to nice ladies in sensible glasses wearing cute duck t-shirts. I give my kindest expression and will thoughts of pure comfort and well-being while providing care in efforts to calm them but it doesn’t generally work. That’s just the way it goes.

This past year seemed extra special and I’m sure it has had much to do with seeing a greater variety of birds and several new experiences in general with all the animals. I got a warning nip from an owl, was completely startled by a raccoon that patted me on the shoulder, secured a heron’s leg during an exam, provided bird physical therapy, fed a fox, and was winked at by a turtle. Aside from many songbirds I’d cared for previously, new to my own eyes at the center was a scarlet tanager, nightjar, black-capped chickadee, pheasant, peacock, turkey, sora, button quail, sandhill crane, snow goose, peking duck, great blue heron, and grouse. I’d like to give an honorable mention to a snapping turtle that spent a little time lodging in the bird room, too.

A Few Guests of 2012

Juvenile Male Cardinal

Juvenile Male Cardinal (the spot is from mashed berries)

Northern Cardinal: This handsome little fella completely stole my heart. I was there the day he came to the wildlife center as a squawky, sparsely-feathered nestling and there the day he took his first flight of freedom. I watched him eat his first solids, and over time, develop his big boy beak and grow a tail. I am so honored and privileged to have played a role on the team who helped this particular little bird get a second chance. As the first bird that fascinated me as a child, the northern cardinal will always have a special place in my heart. All About Birds: Northern Cardinals



Goslings: The center was filled with the melodious sounds of squeaky young waterfowl. Here are a few goslings that were successfully cared for through to release. As these little goslings tottered and staggered about with their itty bitty baby wing nubbins out for balance, it was amazing to know that they would eventually grow to approximately one and a half times the size of their adult bodies in order to heft them up in flight, and at times, whack nice ladies in sensible glasses who would try to provide them with room service. All About Birds: Canada Goose

Young Virginia Opossum

Young Virginia Opossum

Opossum: This year I learned some pretty cool facts about opossums. As the only marsupials in North America, opossums are immune to rattle snake venom and rabies. When they flash those pearly whites, they’re flashing 50 of them, more than any other North American mammal. Even if you don’t find their hand-like paws endearing, please give opossums a break. They are scavengers that help clean up nature’s waste. The National Opossum Society



Turkey: I am not sure how it came to be that this adult turkey* found his way to the center. I thought that this collection of photos was much more satisfying and representative of the experience of trying to get the perfect shot than the perfect shot itself. He was silly, curious, and sweet. Seeing that he was already people-friendly and was not going to be released in the wild, I was allowed to speak to him and touch him. I was told that he liked to be petted, so I rubbed his chest and buried my hand in his thick, soft feathers. Let’s just say…he didn’t hate it.

Swinhoe's Pheasant

Swinhoe’s Pheasant

Pheasant: Like the turkey, I unfortunately don’t know the history of two identical-looking pheasants that were shuttled to the center. The other bird, not pictured, had an injured foot that successfully healed. I snapped a photo of this curious bird having a little look-see while stretching her legs. Someone on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Face Book page suggested that this is a swinhoe’s pheasant.GBWF.org: Swinhoe’s Pheasant

New Animal Ambassadors

Wooka the Northern Flicker

Wooka the Northern Flicker

Wooka: You could say that Wooka, a male northern flicker, relocated for work. Originally cared for by the wildlife center’s specialist at a center in North Carolina, he joined the animal ambassador team at the end of summer. He is underdeveloped with only one eye and misshapen toes that do not allow him to climb well. However, doing what woodpeckers do best, Wooka likes to peck and lick his pb n’ o (peanut butter and orange) treats. He was a hit with the children who learned more about woodpeckers, other wild birds, and many other kinds of local wildlife at the center’s open house. All About Birds: Northern Flicker


Zihna, Red-tailed Hawk

Zihna: Zihna is a Red-tailed hawk that joined the animal ambassador team in 2012. He was brought in having suffered a head injury. It was later determined that he unfortunately could not be released. Zihna sits very nicely on a perch while demonstrating his laser-like focus on moving objects. Thanks to training by staff, he is now able to accompany the other animals on educational program outings. All About Birds: Red-tailed Hawk

white bar

noah cottontail rabbit

Noah, Cottontail Rabbit

Noah: Noah is without vision. The wildlife center director explained that not having eyes could have been due to a rare birth defect or due to an infection prior to birth. As he is unable to see, he did not vacate the nest with the rest of his siblings when they were mature enough to leave. His reluctance to leave was observed by a home owner who originally took notice of mother rabbit’s nest in her yard. Sweet and full of energy, he is the most recent mammal addition to the ambassador team. He loves his hay and assorted bunny nibbles. National Geographic: Cottontail Rabbit

white bar

The new ambassadors join the ranks of Lucy the Canada goose, Toby the 3 toed box turtle, and Ernie the pigeon.

To a casual observer, I am changing soiled towels in a bird cage or giving a dish of fruit to some squirrels. For me though, it’s the thrill of connecting with and providing care for these amazing creatures that do not have a voice to ask for help. I gasped when I saw the most brilliant red-orange I had ever seen on the tanager. It is completely arresting to lock eyes with a wary, soulful fox. The antics of squirrels just being squirrels make for some of the best free entertainment out there. They give back to us tenfold with the opportunity to once again enjoy their charm and beauty back out in the wild.

Many more new guests will arrive in spring, and I hope that I am there once again to accommodate their needs during their stay.

*I am not sure of the species. Please free to add it to the comments section if you know or have a good guess!