WALES — When Barbara Sanborn opened her bird cage and set her little woodpecker free, she figured Woody was gone for good, flying the friendly skies above her Wales home.

Then, he landed on her head.

“I could not believe it,” Sanborn said. “He adopted us.”

The black-beaked, red-topped bird she nursed to health in June now hangs outside her home near Sabattus Pond, bathing in the bed of her grandchildren’s toy dump truck, pecking holes in her picnic table and swooping in for impromptu visits.

“We couldn’t go outside,” Sanborn said of his first days last month. “He was right there on us.”

He has yet to venture far.

On Tuesday, she fed him from a little dish she cupped in her hand. A moment later, he flew to a nearby tree and began to tap the bark.

It was Sanborn’s son, Barry, who discovered the bird as a fledgling. He brought him to Barbara, who tried her best to get the baby healthy.

“We had him in a cardboard box with some newspaper,” she said. “I didn’t think he’d live the night.”

He spent about two weeks in the house.

From a book, she learned that birds eat a combination of seeds, bugs and fruit. She came up with a concoction of wheat flakes and apple sauce and fed him with a baby spoon.

‘I had to pry his mouth to begin with,” she said. Before long, he outgrew the spoon. And she began to give him beetles from her family’s nearby barn.

As he began to improve, she gave him a test flight — “I took him out to the garage to see what he could do” — and she set him up in a cage outside.

He wasn’t there long, when she opened the door and set him free.

“I couldn’t believe it how he became attached to us,” she said Tuesday as he swooped over from a tree, landing on her shoulder and began hopping.

From her shoulder, he wandered down her arm then up again. Then he crossed her back and sat on her other shoulder.

Sanborn pretended he was not there.

That may be best, said Susan Hayward, president of Lewiston’s Stanton Bird Club.

Capturing a migratory bird, even one that’s helpless, is against the law, she said.

“It may or may not have the skill to survive,” she said of Woody.

People who discover a helpless bird are encouraged to leave them alone and call for help, Hayward said. Several area organizations, including Avian Haven (, have local representatives.

Sanborn doesn’t pet the bird and rarely gives him food anymore, she said, as he left her shoulder for a tree trunk.

“He’s pretty busy this morning,” she said. “I’m trying to ignore him the best that I can, to get him ready for the winter.”

If Woody doesn’t migrate to warmer climes, as most woodpeckers do, she won’t like having to walk in the snow to make sure he’s got enough food.

Then again, she figures he’s finding his own food these days. At least most of the time.

“He takes care of himself, pretty much,” she said.

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