In the midst of coffee and morning paper there was a sudden, sickening WHAM against the window.

We have come to know that heart-rending sound too well, having picked up limp, broken bird bodies from time to time, and it is always a sad procedure. Much better, if still upsetting, is to watch with relief as a sparrow or finch flies up into a nearby tree to perch and recover. Yet even then, one can only imagine their confusion if they have lived through the impact, given what, just a moment before, must have looked like a clear shot into an adjacent tree. Not to mention the consternation they must forever address about what represents reality in bird world. Or their pervasive headache, for that matter.

But this time the thud was huge, far beyond sparrow or finch weight, and certainly fatal.

I ran, as I always do, to the scene of the accident, only to see two pileated woodpeckers flying away. Whew! I thought. Hard to believe, given the impact, but we beat that one!

It was in the afternoon, as I was doing my daily walk-about through the garden, checking the progress of the recent “window pane-ing” on the leaves of the Joe Pye Weed, assessing the redness of the Juliet tomatoes, scouting for deer damage on the tiger lilies, that I saw him.


He was lying amongst the Lamb’s Ears and Coral Bells on the west side of the house. So still, so lovely, his head tucked inward. When we picked him up, his body was still warm from the sun. I caressed his feathers and grieved for his beauty and, I must admit, sobbed a bit.

The 19” pileated woodpecker, with it’s flaming red crest and crazy, maniacal, laughing voice – kuk, kuk, kuk, woika, woika, woika – is the bird my “Enjoying Woodpecker’s More” book describes as – “THE woodpecker in the eyes of many; the sight of a pileated often triggers an exclamation that is it’s common name in much of the country: GOOD GOD!”


I can vouch for that. The first time I heard that sharp, electric voice, I ran outdoors in a frenzy, not knowing what in the world to expect in this new and unfamiliar land of Minnesota.

Now I’m listening and hoping for the pileated’s fleeing family to return at the same time I’m rejoicing over other life in the garden.

After lamenting all summer about the peculiar absence of bees, butterflies and hummers, and regularly cursing the wholesale perennial growers who feel they have to systemically add insecticides like lethal nicotine to their plants, and ranting to whomever will listen about the evils of Monsanto – there was a glimmer of hope this past week.

I was walking among the tomatoes one day, mumbling to myself something about not seeing “one, not even one butterfly!” just at the very magical moment when a Monarch flitted past my shoulder. I followed him all about the garden until he settled in for a long mid-day lunch upon the Asclepias next to the bird bath. And just now as I was writing these lines, I looked down into the garden and saw him there again. Ahhhh.

And yesterday. Finally. Two hummingbirds, battling it out among the lilies and lupine. I couldn’t get the fresh sugar water boiled up fast enough.

When I first became aware of the dangers (i.e.neonicotinoids) inbred into certain plants today, I vowed to grow my own bee/butterfly/hummer meals from seed. But unfortunately, what most home gardeners don’t know, is that over 40% of the U.S. seed companies have been bought out by GMO titans Monsanto/Seminis.


Fortunately I came across a list of safe seed choices, and I will be perusing their online catalogues for next year’s perennials, hoping to enrich my friend Valerie’s bees, who make their honey in hives just down the road. And provide sustenance for the Monarchs before their arduous trek to Mexico. And a celebratory feast for the hummers after a long, strenuous journey.

You can too. The list is online at

There will always be death in the garden. But I promise to do my part to give it life.
















This entry was posted in bees, Birds, education, favorite things, Gardening, insecticides, minnesota life, Wild Life. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Amy says:

    So sad. Life is like that….

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