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Making a Great Woodpecker –Farquharson/Tedesco

January 2012
Two owls are talking, lamenting about how hard it is to find qualified woodpeckers these days. One of the owls grumbles, “Given the state of the economy, you’d think that there’d be a line of them out the door!” to which the other replies, “It’s not like it was back when you and I were out there.”

As they chat, a pair of woodpeckers land on a nearby branch and begin to prospect for food, repeatedly slamming their heads against the tree. Somewhere in the bark is an insect that, according any given Flicker, is a delicacy. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! They work with diligence and precision. “Is that your guy?” asks the first owl. “Yup,” the second one replies. “And that’s yours, right?” to which the first owl nods in response.

After a few minutes of watching their woodpeckers bang away, one owl asks the other that age-old question: “Are great woodpeckers born or made?” Both owls sit, watch and ponder that query, each considering the wisdom of an answer.

Scientists are divided on the subject. There is a contingent who believe that the qualities that make up a great woodpecker must be present at birth—woven into their DNA. Sure, you need training, but there has to be some “there” there. Others believe that you can teach any given woodpecker to be great, that external factors matter more than internal wiring.

Both camps are firmly entrenched and their tents erected in an “Occupy the Forest” kind of way.

Now, we’re no wise owls, but having slammed our heads on our share of trees (especially before writing this month’s column), your pals T.J. and Bill set out to weigh in on the argument. But, before we attempt to answer the question, it is important to note one word found within the question: Great. The question isn’t about the good woodpecker. We aren’t looking for good and we aren’t willing to settle for good.

Nope. It’s great, or nothing. Achieving good in a woodpecker can be accomplished through training, time and desire. But, people who think that good is good enough eat their seafood from Red Lobster, watch American soccer and have never had Vermont maple syrup (light amber, of course). Moving from good to great, then, takes a number of factors. Let’s look at each one:


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