More From the Woodpecker Files

Photo: OhWeh

Photo: OhWeh

 

The European Green is the clown of the woodpecker world, with red, yellow, and green plumage. He makes nest cavities in trees but mostly forages for insects on the ground.

The video involving a Green below is one of the stranger woodpecker stories you’ll ever hear about. Do you think this is real?

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New Post on Moon Books Blog

View from Blueberry Cobbles.

View from Blueberry Cobbles.

Here is the link to the short piece I wrote for Moon Books Blog.

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Drawing in the Light

 

After a feast of new material, I have not been posting much original content lately, so I thought I’d tell everyone what I’m up to right now.

I just finished a short essay with photos for Moon Books Blog and will have that link up next week. I also finished a piece recently for the Mago Books anthology She Rises volume 2, which I believe will be out later this year. I have articles in three other upcoming anthologies but don’t have dates for those yet.

I am focusing on finishing my second book as much as I can. Right now I’m working a chapter on (surprise!) the woodpecker. I will have a short graphic story in this chapter, which is something I’ve never tried before. I’ve had to learn how to draw in order to do this, which means it has been very time consuming. It is coming along well though.

I am enjoying the sun and the warmer weather today. The ice is gone and water birds are returning. So grateful for spring!

 

Northern Flicker. Photo: Dominic Sherony.

Northern Flicker. Photo: Dominic Sherony.

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woodpecker

 

Uggh! I’m doing taxes this week. Not as bad as eating bugs, though.

 

Hairy Woodpecker. Photo: Doug Knuth.

Hairy Woodpecker. Photo: Doug Knuth.

 

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A Family of Artisans

Black Woodpecker. Photo: Alastair Rae

Black Woodpecker. Photo: Alastair Rae

 

More from Fannie Hardy Eckstrom:

No other bird has so much work to do all the year round, and none performs his task with more energy and sense.…He is artisan to the backbone,—a plain, hardworking, useful citizen, spending his life hammering holes in anything that appears to need a hole in it.

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A Most Persistent Tree Climber

Photo: Dick Daniels.

Photo: Dick Daniels.

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This is the Pileated Woodpecker, in my opinion the most handsome of a very beautiful group of birds. Both males and females have this striking red crown.

Fannie Hardy Eckstorm writes in her 1901 woodpecker treatise:

… one of the most persistent of our tree-climbers and more than any other woodpecker I ever observed given to scratching rapidly round and round a tree-trunk, clinging at ease in almost any position except head-downward, and drilling incessantly and at all seasons for grubs; he is a typical woodpecker of the largest size …

Source: Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, The Woodpeckers. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co.: 1901.

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Spring Tap Tapping

As spring approaches look for more posts about the woodpecker. This is a Gila Woodpecker, a familiar inhabitant of the Sonara Desert, in a saguaro tree.

Photo: Gary L. Clark

Photo: Gary L. Clark


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Here is a longer piece posted four years ago about the woodpecker.

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Raven and Wolf

 Wolf, ravens, coyotes and grizzly bear on a carcass on Swan Lake Flat, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Jim Peaco/US National Park Service

Wolf, ravens, coyotes and grizzly bear on a carcass on Swan Lake Flat, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Jim Peaco/US National Park Service

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The Crow Goddess in Ancient Greece

Apollo with Crow.

Apollo with Crow.

Another excerpt from my book-in-progress. Crows and ravens are conflated in ancient Greek myth.

A less familiar goddess who has a link with crows is Coronis. She is one of the Hyades, the seven sisters of light who are rain-makers. Olympic genealogy has her the parent with Apollo of the healing god Asclepius. She is also tied to Apollo in a story where the mistrustful Apollo sends a crow to spy on the goddess, and she does indeed cheat on him with another god. Apollo has Coronis bumped off by his sister and punishes his crow for not halting the liaison by changing him from white to black. This story accomplishes three things: 1) it solidifies Apollo’s ownership of the crow while denigrating the crow at the same time; 2) it explains why the god of light would have a black emblem; and 3) it justifies usurpation of the goddess’s cult by making her demise a result of her own betrayal. Reading into this story a bit, I would guess the unruly priestesses of Coronis resisted the cult of Apollo effectively for awhile.

The goddess Athena is believed to have turned Coronis herself from a white crow into a black crow. This is why the raven rests on the bust of Pallas in the Edgar Allan Poe narrative “The Raven.” Pallas is another name for Athena. The story goes that Coronis brought Athena some bad news, and the goddess in a rage changed the feathers of Coronis from white to black and banished her from the Acropolis. I disagree with those who categorize the crow as a familiar of Athena on the basis of this story. I think crows and ravens were banished from Athena’s temples because her priests wanted owls to nest there. Crows like to nest in high places (hence the term “crow’s nest”), and they mob owls. The purpose in the mobbing is to defend chicks and eggs from owl predation, and yet crows seem from our perspective to pursue owls with an unnecessary vehemence, seeming to attack them on principle. At any rate the two birds could not have cohabitated, so crows would have to be banished from Athena’s domain. In addition to firmly linking Coronis with the crow, this story again makes the crow an oracular bird.

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Germanic Raven Goddesses

corvus_corax_(NPS)

The following is an excerpt from my book-in-progress about animal divination.

Despite being extremely social, ravens and crows squabble quite a bit between themselves, fighting over food and territory. They even, rarely, perform “executions,” a practice poorly understood though well documented. Corvids do not routinely harm members of their posse who are ailing and will even protect the disabled and bring them food. The dominant theory is that solitary birds with no allies eventually excite territorial instincts. Whatever the reason, the flock becomes very noisy as a number of birds execute the offender. Once killed, the cacophony abates suddenly and the birds abscond, leaving behind the corpse.

More common than executions of their own kind is mobbing of raptors. Any songbird might take part in a mobbing, but jays and crows are the most enthusiastic, while the larger and less vulnerable ravens seldom bother. Ravens do buzz and snap at eagles, perhaps to draw eagles away from nest sites (although this does not totally explain things). Some ravens hang out around wolf packs, waiting to devour leftovers from a carcass. In the meantime they enjoy teasing the wolves, pulling their tails and scampering off.

The raven-wolf pairing is more conspicuous in Germanic lore than the raven-horse, although both can be found. Two wolves sit at the feet of the god Odin, while two ravens flank his shoulders. The names of these ravens are Huginn and Muninn. usually translated as “thought” and “memory.” Odin the Allfather “sends them out at daybreak to fly over the whole world, and they come back at breakfast-time; by this means he comes to know a great deal about what is going on, and on account of this men call him the god-of-ravens.” There is some controversy over the meaning of “Muninn,” who is mentioned less frequently than his sidekick in extant Germanic lore. Two questions not entertained, to my knowledge, would be 1) Are these ravens really guy-ravens or is this a case of default male bias? and 2) Why two ravens?

The gender of the ravens does matter, since ravens are Odin’s servants and the Valkyries called the daughters of Odin, serve him on the battlefield as well as in Valhalla. In the Poetic Edda the battlefield is referred to as “Huginn’s grove,” so one or both of these same ravens are hovering alongside the fight like the Valkyries. Perhaps Huginn and Muninn are the culmination of a process from a dominant raven-goddess to a raven-goddess subsumed under rule of the Allfather to a subordinate raven deity stripped of feminine association.

That two wolves and two ravens flank Odin is curious. Why not one raven-wolf pair? Why not nine ravens? Two is not an automatically recurring number in Norse lore; nine, and occasionally three, are the most prominent numbers. If this were a story of Semitic origin I would attribute the pair of ravens to cultural emphasis on complementary halves, but that is not the case here. When Odin says he has two ravens, he means that the ravens are two, and we do have to ask, why two?

The idea that the mind of the God is divided into thought and memory is suspect, since this is a dualistic concept that, if it existed at all, would most probably have arisen through Christian influence. The translation of Muninn’s name as “memory” is contested anyway. There are marriages between gods and goddesses, which might explain the raven-pair, though marriages are often ways of blending the pantheons of conquerors with those of indigenous people, so a marriage might not fit with the idea of the ravens as vestiges of an earlier matriarchal cosmology. There are other deities that are commonly thought of in pairs, such as the goddess Frigga and her son Baldur, and the boar-goddess Freya with her boar-brother Freyr. Could Odin’s winged familiars be brother-sister raven deities?

Where the number two arises most frequently is in reference to the Aesir and Vanir, the two branches of pantheons that came together under the reign of the Odin. Feminist scholars theorize that these groups represent an indigenous Old European pantheon (the Vanir) linked to a conquering Indo-European pantheon (the Aesir) . We could also call them two allied Indo-European pantheons – the point is that they represent the confederation of two tribes. This would explain why Odin has two ravens and wolves at his command: they represent the raven-wolf totems of each of these tribes. This is supported by Odin’s revelation in the Prose Edda, “Over the world every day fly Hugin and Munin; I fear that Hugin will not come back, though I’m more concerned about Munin.” To me this speaks of a ruler trying to maintain control of an unruly alliance.

Sources

The Elder Eddas of Seamund Sigfusson, Benjamin Thorpe, trans, (London: Norroena Society) p. 143. Accessed at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14726/14726-h/14726-h.htm February 22, 2016.

Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), p. 191.

Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlson: Tales from Norse Mythology, Jean I. Young, trans. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001), p. 64.

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