The Tale of the Red-headed Woodpecker

Father Byrd loves to come to camp to share some of the stories he told as a former staff member. Sitting around the campfire, with the attention of all our campers, he tells about the famous red-headed woodpecker who makes it’s home at Gravatt.

There was once an old woman who lived deep in the forest. She lived in a little cabin on a hill all alone. She was a small, selfish, old woman who thought only of herself. On a long cold winter’s night she tended to her hearth fire and baked cakes with dough. Suddenly, a stranger wandered in from the woods. The man had tattered clothes, a long walking staff, and seemed to be tired. The traveler looked to the woman and said, “Hello, may I please have something to eat? I have been wandering all day and am exhausted. It has been a very cold winter and I am very hungry.” The selfish woman looked at him and with little hesitation turned him away. He left to brave the cold for another night, but returned the next day, saying, “Please, may I have something small to eat? I am cold. I am tired. I am very hungry.” Begrudgingly, the old woman took a tiny pinch of dough and put it into the oven. As the dough baked, it became bigger and bigger until it was the largest of all her cakes. She pulled it out of the oven and said to the man, “Oh, this will not do. It is too good for you. It is far too big.” The old woman set the large cake aside. She took another smaller piece of dough and put it in the oven. As it baked, it grew bigger and bigger until it was even larger than the last cake. The woman looked at it, confused, and decided again to keep it for herself. She took an even smaller piece of dough, this time the size of a pinhead, and put it into the oven. While baking, this tiny piece of dough grew to be the largest cake of them all. Annoyed, the old woman put all the cakes aside for herself. She went to her pantry and from the very bottom shelf, she grabbed old pieces of crust for the traveler. “Here,” she said, “You can have this.” The old man took the crust and looked at the woman saying, “You selfish woman! The dough you baked was too good for me? I am the spirit of the forest. You should be very ashamed.” The woman looked at the wandering traveler and was taken-aback. The spirit took his walking staff and cracked it over the woman’s head, turning her into a bird. The blood runs down her head and turns her feathers red. He says, “You will fly for the rest of your days through the forest and live with your shame.” Thus the red-headed woodpecker was born. Legend says, if you ever see a red-headed woodpecker it will always move to the opposite side of the tree away from you because it is hiding in shame.

At Gravatt, we love learning about our native wildlife during our GEEP program! Our GEEP director, Sam Robinson, took these really neat pictures of the beautiful bird in its natural habitat.

Sam tells us that the red-headed woodpecker is a beautiful native bird that lives in the southeast. They are commonly seen in pairs and are great indicators of a healthy forest. They live in dead pine trees and have an extremely long barbed tongue which they use to dig insects out of the dead wood. The scientific name for these birds is Melanerpes Erythrocephalus!