Spotlight: Elsah Winter Birds

Ever seen a dramatic black and white flash with a brilliant red pointed cap (pileus in Greek)? The largest woodpecker in North America (bigger than a crow) haunts the deep woods near Mill Street, Joywood, Principia, Elsah Hills—almost any broad forest. Not often seen; the raucous ka-ka-ka-ka-ka is more often heard, suggesting a jungle laugh more than Elsah tweet. Each pair claims a huge, year-round territory—100+ acres (a quarter square mile) or more!

Plants make food from sunlight, air, and water. Animals can’t manage this miracle so they eat plants (or smaller animals that eat plants). One unique way to do this is to drill shallow holes in tree bark and drink the oozing sap. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (in the woodpecker family) does just this and also chows down insects attracted to the sap.


When I put out bird seed shortly after moving to Elsah 35 years ago, the first visitors were small birds dressed in tuxedos fit for a prom. These snappy dressers (Juncos) winter in Elsah and then head to the far northern forests for the summer. Amusingly, their nickname is snowbirds (really)!

Another bird with the same travel plan is the most common winter sparrow in Elsah, the White-throated Sparrow—identified by a striped head, fairly clear breast, and the unmistakable pure white throat. Their song is a simple pure (usually rising) “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” heard around bushes, forest edges, and parks.

Pictures and text by Tom Fuller