Bird brained stories!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spirit guide or happy coincidence?

Lady Pileated struts her stuff as we searched for letterbox hybrids in Brown County

While I love any bird with which I'm sharing oxygen, one bird, it seems, has become a personal totem or spirit guide for me. I've always been especially partial to Pileated Woodpeckers. Who isn't? Their huge size, their ability to soar, pterodactyl-like, over our head in the woods, vanishing on sight while laughing at us, are all the makings of a fun kind of bird. If you've read this blog, you know I've written about my encounters with Pileateds more than once.

Lately, I've begun to understand the idea of spirit guides and how they come to us. While I am not a person whose culture or belief system embraces such things, my experiences with these birds have shown me the way. My husband, a non-birder, has learned to identify the raucous calls of these birds, and to expect that if we hear them, he can plan on stopping whatever it is we're doing until I spot it. It's that simple. Every successful marriage is based on the partners' abilities to accept and adjust to the quirks of each other, and this is one of them.

This moves beyond quirkiness. When I've been privileged to have very close or special encounters with these birds, it seems they happen at times when I need signs or reassurance. The very close encounter, accompanied by dead camera batteries, came at a time when life had thrown me some hard stuff, and that moment gave me a chance to remove my thoughts, if only briefly, from those challenges and be truly in the moment. As my husband and I have been sucked deeper into the geocaching world, we've sought out those caches that take us to wonderful new places, hiking up the side of felsenmeers or canoeing along riverways. As we've done so, a Pileated will often call nearby. It seems to correlate with those hunts we expect to be most challenging, the ones where the dreaded "did not find" might be the end result. Every....single....time; if the Pileated calls, we make those difficult finds. I looked for one along the Wisconsin River near Portage last month, one that had not been found in months and that was buried under a thick blanket of snow and at least a half inch of ice. As I threw snow and freed deadfalls from the chokehold of ice, I heard that happy laugh...just as I was about to put an end to almost an hour's worth of searching. That gave me the incentive to press on, and sure enough....there was the cache.

My spirit guide goes beyond being a lucky charm for a treasure hunting game. Recently, I had a health scare. I had to go in for tests in the morning, and they wanted me to come in later that afternoon for more tests. It was troublesome to make the drive home, as I'd just be turning around and coming back. I chose to hike some trails overlooking the city that had not been hiked by any but the deer in quite some time. Not one, but two Pileateds, probably a nesting pair seeking a suitable nest site, were calling each other....and following me up the side of the bluff to the ridge top and beyond. I took their presence as a hopeful sign.

I was right. My health scare was just that, a scare.

Though I'd suspected it for a long time, that experience cemented in my mind that Pileated Woodpeckers are truly my spirit guide, appearing at those times when I need one, providing reassurance that my path is true.

I'd love to hear others' stories of their animal guides. Share them in the comments, and thanks for visiting.


  • Hey Gwyn,

    My name is Jeremy Kahn. I'm a consultant, currently working in Rwanda to help develop the birding tourism product here. We are trying to get some serious birders to fill out a survey, which would help inform the government here on how best to develop it's product. I was wondering if you would be interested in helping us by posting a little article about birding in Rwanda, with a link to the survey. I can be reached at

    Very Best,


    By Blogger Jeremy, at 7:01 AM  

  • Hey Gwen I gave you a blog award over on my post today. :)

    By Blogger lisa marie, at 11:31 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Nidhi, at 12:31 PM  

  • Hi,
    Your blog has got some great content that i love reading.
    I am also blogging about Birds.I have included a link to your blog on my blog "An Indian Birder".
    I would like you to also place a link to my blog on this blog.

    Please visit my blog.

    By Blogger Harshit Singhal, at 10:27 AM  

  • Good Afternoon,

    I was surfing the internet and came across your blog. My name is Chantelle and I have recently opened a new bird-centered ecommerce store called I have hired a biologist to write content related to birding (with the experience listed below). I would love to be able to provide you with an article of approximately 500 - 1,000 words based on a topic of your choice. In exchange for the content, I would like to insert 2 links back to my site within the article. Please let me know what you think. Thank you!

    Purdue University
    2008-Present - Research scientist

    Rocky Mountain Research Station
    2008-2008 - Biological Scientist

    Oakland County, Michigan
    2007-2008 - Natural Resources Technician

    Michigan Department of Natural Resources
    2006-2007 - Stewardship Leader

    PRBO Conservation Science
    2007-2007 - Terrestrial Ecologist

    Michigan State University
    2003-2004 - Lab Associate - Neuroscience

    Institute for Ecosystem Studies
    2003-2003 - Wetland Research

    Best regards

    By Blogger info, at 5:49 PM  

  • Heya Gwyn

    I just read your story Cause I was googling if someone had the same experiences with bird guides as I do..and so there are..

    I also have a bird guide other species tho mines a bird of prey a smaller version of the eagle, called buizerd in our country. whenever I am troubled by something or uneased I see this bird and I know everything is gonna be okay and that always has been proven right so far! as to the why I don't know, but just wanted to say I had same feelings bout spirit guides from the animal world.



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:01 PM  

  • Nice Work....

    Chirag Patel
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    By Blogger Chirag Patel, at 7:22 AM  

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