Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bird Droppings: The Saguaro and Gila Woodpecker Make Fine Companions


Guest Column by Pat Bean

With few exceptions, you can only find saguaro cactus in Arizona. The same can be said for the Gila (pronounced heela) Woodpecker. The plant and the bird go together like apple pie and vanilla ice cream. If you see one, you almost always see the other.


Images by Michael Ehrhardt



The pair share a mutually beneficial relationship. The saguaro provides shelter and food for the woodpecker and the woodpecker rids the plant of harmful insects. I’ve seen the plant and bird together often when I go out birding. I also see the woodpecker quite often on my third-floor balcony, where it hangs upside down on my hummingbird feeder so it can get at the nectar. It’s a rather comical sight.

Since I live next to some undeveloped patches of land that have been left to Mother Nature’s whims – and her whims include saguaro cactus – and where I can escape daily out of sight of city chaos, Gila Woodpeckers often make my daily birding list. These woodpeckers don’t migrate but stick around in the Sonoran Desert through both the summer heat and the cooler, if not cold, winters.

Earlier this year, I saw a pair of these brown and zebra-striped woodpeckers raise three chicks in a hole pecked out in a tall, three-armed saguaro, which was most likely over half a century old. Saguaros grow slowly and can live well-past 150.


By Pat Bean

I probably wouldn’t have discovered the woodpecker’s nest if it hadn’t been for the young ones clamoring to be fed. I saw them about a half dozen times after that, and then one day the nest was quiet and deserted.

I wonder if one of those young Gilas will one day visit my humming bird feeder.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist and now a freelance writer who is passionate about nature, books, art, – and birds. A native Texan, and longtime Utah resident, she now lives in Tucson with her canine companion Pepper, and is putting the finishing touches on a book about her nine years of full-time travel across North America in a small RV

Write and Smile RainbowPat Bean

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