To anyone who has ever studied forest management or natural resource
conservation in the north Florida area, the red-cockaded woodpecker is
a well-known endangered species. They make their habitat in widely-
spaced old-growth longleaf pine trees, which have yielded their former
status as Florida's most populous pine to their cousin, slash pines.
He was called Krik, because that was the sound the eggshell made when
he had hatched out. He grew up in the tree cavity his parents had
hollowed out of a living pine tree. Krik's species is the only type of
woodpecker that can peck out holes in living trees, because they can
sense which trees have a certain type of mild heart-rot that makes
their wood not as impossible to burrow into.
Krik had a brother, and both juvenile males stayed in their parents'
nest for several seasons to help find food. Krik loved the trees of
his home. They sprang up in tall and graceful columns scattered around
a groundcover of bright green saw palmetto. There was always enough
food, even when their parents were raising a new brood.
But he had dreams of stretching his wings and seeing what else was out
there, beyond the edge of the flatwoods. Birds that flew in from
beyond the pines came bearing strange seeds, or even the juicy,
strange exotic thing that was wild fruit. Branches from the hardwoods
beyond, that had been blown in by strong winds, sprouted broad, flat
leaves whose glossy softness and size served as strong contrast to the
fifteen-inch-long prickly hard pine needles of Krik's home tree. He
knew there were other skies to fly under, and strange creatures to
When the father woodpecker died, their mother left the nest to find
another mate. Krik left soon afterwards, leaving his old tree cavity
home to his brother. The other woodpecker had already found a mate,
and was therefore in more need of the home. Krik was sad about leaving
his brother and missed his parents, but felt thrilled that he finally
had to go out and face the world.
Animal instinct ensured that before venturing beyond the stand of
longleaf pine, Krik needed to check every tree for suitability as a
home site. But his adventurous spirit won the day; all the good trees
were taken. Krik had not found a mate yet, so that was another thing
he had to look forward to in the great unknown.
He spread his wings and flew through the familiar pines, stopping
every now and again to peck some grubs out of a tree. He wasn't sure
what the food situation was beyond the flatwoods, so it was important
to bulk up.
The land was lower in the mesic hardwoods, and pools of water were
stagnating on the ground. He didn't recognize any of the trees ahead
of him, and the feeling scared him a little but mostly thrilled him.
Star-shaped sweetgum leaves waved hello to him, the sun glinting
through their leaves like a winking eye. A maple leaf drifted down
through his flight path. It was the first brief time he had seen such
a leaf-- brilliant red with streaks of orange. It was a leaf of fire.
Such a fire burned brightly in the red streaks of feathers across
Krik's own head, he remembered-- and in his heart.
He spent several days exploring the broadleafed trees and tasting new
bugs, but he didn't meet any other woodpeckers. He was beginning to
get lonely, and besides, it was time to find a companion.
On the far side of the hardwoods was another pine flatwoods, but they
were slash pines. Red-cockaded woodpeckers only like to live in
longleaf pines, and Krik wasn't sure what to do next. These new trees
looked as friendly as his old ones had been, but his instincts telling
him they were somehow biologically unsuitable. He discovered why when
he tried to peck his way into one of them. Slash pines didn't have the
wood-softening heart-rot that rendered longleafs easier to hollow out,
and within seconds, Krik's head was pounding terribly.
He felt very ill, and fluttered around aimlessly for a little while
until fate brought him to a dead tree with a large comfortable cavity
hollowed out of it. He collapsed into the hole and fell asleep.
He awoke to the sound of somebody else pecking on the tree. Pock pock
pock. In a flash he remembered floating dazedly into the hole, which
he now realized belonged to another woodpecker. But it couldn't be a
red-cockaded woodpecker, because they only make their homes in living
He still felt weak from banging his beak into the slash pine and
dreaded getting into a scrap with a strange bird. He was trying to
figure out how he would get out of the hole without attracting
attention when he noticed a pair of grubs flurping past him on the lip
of the cavity. He quickly snatched them up in his beak and edged out
of the hole carefully.
He could hear the other bird higher up the tree now, on the side
opposite him. Pock pock pock. Stretching his wings, which were also
slightly tired after his long flight of exploration, he flew to the
other side of the tree and approached the other bird.
Pock tilted his head curiously at the arrival of the other bird. This
newcomer had red streaks on his head like himself, but the feathers on
top were flat and his head was round and mostly black. Pock's own red
crown feathers were dramatically sculpted into a point at the back of
his head like a cardinal's. But he knew they were both woodpeckers,
and that, at least, was something to go on. Pock had a scientific
mind, for a bird, and liked to classify things.
Krik flew up to Pock and landed on the tree in a space beneath him. He
lifted his beak up to Pock, who took only one of the grubs. Krik was
glad that Pock wanted to be his friend instead of fight him, and also
glad that he had left him some lunch.
Krik noticed that Pock wasn't pecking holes in the tree himself, but
was instead exploring holes in the tree that had already been made by
insect pests. There were quite a few of them, possibly explaining why
the tree was dead in the first place. Pock even showed him how to tell
which holes were more likely to have grubs inside, and the best way to
insert his beak to spear the grub without smushing it first. He and
Pock hopped around the tree for hours, sharing whatever grubs they
A nagging thought in the back of Krik's birdbrain was speaking of the
need to find a companion of the same species who was female and could
pass on his birdy genes. But he liked the strange new bird of this
strange yet familiar place, with his pointy head and smarts at finding
food. He was an explorer, and this was what he was exploring for now.
Pock understood that Krik wasn't genetically able to make his own tree
cavity, so he let him stay in the dead slash pine with him, even
though his species wasn't at all social like the other bird's. They
were both well-fed when they settled down for the night, and slept
At dawn, Krik awoke to the glow of the sun streaming in through the
hole's entrance. He looked happily at his sleeping new friend, and
hopped outside to grab some grubs for breakfast. That was when he saw
A sleek yellow rat snake was rapidly slithering up the tree towards
the hole. The snake had known that there would be at least one
woodpecker inside such a structure, and was after the same mission as
Krik's heart beat louder within his feathered breast. Pock was still
fast asleep in the hole and even if he went back into the hole and
woke him up there could be no escape, because within seconds the snake
would have the hole blocked.
In the haze of the early morning, Krik remembered what his father used
to do when a snake was near their tree back home. He and the other
birds would peck a large wound across the tree-trunk, from which would
pour a generous helping of sticky, oozing sap. Once it encountered the
tree resin, a snake could crawl no farther.
But this was a dead tree, and Krik had already knocked himself out
once on a slash pine's hard material.
Krik frantically stared into the hole. Pock was sleeping peacefully
and he had no warning cry with which to wake him, even if there was
some means of escape.
He decided what he had to do. He liked Pock, and didn't want him to
Screwing up his eyes in pain, he pecked as big of a gash as he could
manage into the dead tree trunk just outside the cavity's entrance.
The miracle of sap bleeding from a dead tree could be easily explained
away by the tree's relatively recent time of death, but to Krik it
seemed like a sign from the Great Bird. The last thing he saw before
he fainted backwards into the hole was the snake reaching his newly
created barrier and changing its mind about paying them a visit.
When Pock woke up, he realized what had happened. He found some
toothache-plant, which he had discovered had numbing properties, and
let Krik peck at it when he woke up. Pock did the rest of the insect-
gathering that day, leaving Krik to recuperate in the cozy little
hole. It was nice to have a warm body to come home to, even if he was
That night, as they fell asleep, full again, under the moonlit tree
canopy, it occurred to Krik that the feeling of longing for new
adventures and new places that he had known all his life had been
modified somewhat. He now felt that anything exciting he did in his
life, he wanted to do it with Pock alongside him.
He hadn't exactly found a mate, but there was room in his head for
more than the dictation of genetics. The thought of seeing new places
and experiencing new things with Pock there to provide friendship and
insight made him happy. He snuggled up to Pock and smoothed the other
bird's feathers tenderly with his beak.