National Geographic : 1966 Dec
KODACHROMESANDDRAWING( N.G.S. Before the tree broke: Male pileated woodpecker comes to the nesting hole to relieve his mate on the eggs. ONE SLEEPY Florida afternoon last April, I was sitting in a hot canvas blind on top of a 12-foot tower in Everglades National Park photographing a pair of pileat ed woodpeckers, when sud denly I found myself in a front-row seat at a true-life drama of nature. I saw a bird react to disaster in a way ornithologists would not have predicted-and indeed might not have be lieved without the proof of these pictures. For ten days I had been recording the comings and goings of these big, spec tacular woodpeckers each about a foot and a half long and topped with the red cap, or pileus, that gives them their odd name. The pileated measures only two or three inches less than its fabulous cousin the ivory-billed woodpeck er, now so close to extinc tion that none has been publicly reported in recent 882 When Disaster A NATURE DRAMA years. To see a pileated woodpecker is enough to make anyone rub his eyes-a long-necked bird as big as a crow suddenly materializing, perpendicular, on the side of a tree. For a nest, this pair had chosen a dead slash pine about thirty feet high. Eighteen feet from the ground they had pecked out a nice oval entrance and hollowed a pocket inside-not wisely but too well, it proved. Now the two were taking turns on the eggs. Papa pileated (left), with his larger red cap and red "mustache," had given way to Mam ma at 2:40 p.m., and all was well in their woodpecker world-or so it seemed. Then all of a sudden, 16 minutes later, that world came crashing down around Mamma's ears. I had turned from the camera for a moment when a splintering of wood, rending of bark, and shuddering crash ( of a heavy trunk shattered the silence of the piny woods. Peering out, I saw that the whole top of the tree had broken off at . at the nesting hole, despite a complete absence of wind. Later I found that the wood peckers had so hollowed out the 8V2-inch trunk that the walls at the nest measured only After: Female peers as if unable to believe that the top of her nest tree has vanished. Then she backs down to her eggs...