Pileated Woodpecker

2023 January 29

This fine fellow finally started coming regularly to our feeder this month, and I had an opportunity to photograph him on January 29, 2023. We have been seeing a pair of pileated woodpeckers around our yard for years, although generally at a distance. They would normally be seen at the tops of trees, or up on top of the steel transmission line towers making a racket by pecking at the metal. We also regularly hear them in the woods drilling away at dead trees and sounding like a machine gun, or making their call that sounds a lot like crazed laughter:

Anyway, I don’t have a good telephoto lens handy, so this was the first time we had a chance to get reasonable pictures. The feeder he was at was only about 30 feet from the house, so I could photograph him through the dining room window.

This is the largest species of woodpecker that we have around here, he is darned near the size of a smallish chicken. Like the other local woodpecker species (hairy woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers), he is fond of suet, provided it is the good stuff from the grocery store. The bluejays like it too, but then, bluejays are related to crows and will eat most anything.

The red crest and rather striking stripes on his face, along with that big chisel beak, are about as distinctive as one could ask for. The light wasn’t great for making out the colors, but it looks to me like the line running from the beak to the throat is red, which would make this a male. The females look very similar, but the line from their beaks is black, and both sexes have the red crest.

There are two subspecies of Pileated_woodpecker in North America, and we obviously have the northern subspecies which ranges up into Canada. Their large size lets them rip into the bigger rotting logs looking for the insects that bore deeply into the wood. There are a lot of dead trees around our property that have these enormous rectangular holes gouged out of them, and are most likely the results of pileated woodpeckers. They also nest in holes that they drill in dead or dying trees, and are clearly nesting somewhere nearby, although we haven’t spotted a nest-hole yet.

Woodpeckers really rip up a tree, but they don’t do it to healthy trees. They like tree trunks that are kind of rotting and full of bugs, so if they are going after a tree it is probably already done for due to disease and insects. They will also rip into ant nests on the ground if they find them.

Anyway, they are not endangered (at least not locally), and while they mostly hang out in the woods they do come into inhabited areas sometimes. I even saw one on campus once, eating dried fruits off of one of the decorative crabapple trees.

2 Responses
  1. Steve Plumb permalink
    January 31, 2023

    Thanks for this reminder of this wonderful woodpecker. We used to see more of them than we do now. Their sounds still send me looking.
    The funniest sighting here was several years ago. Starting on a rotting log on the ground, they moved to the nearby high bush blueberries. The branches kept bending down and they would fly up to try again. Most birds I would have chased off. But these were just to special. Now cover the berries in July due to the bluejays.

  2. February 22, 2023

    They’re probably doing the other trees a favor by cutting down on the pests.

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