Friday, December 5, 2014
The Pileated Woodpecker
The Pileated Woodpecker is by far my favorite of the woodpeckers.
A Pileated Woodpecker at a suet feeder (photo: Gay Schroer)
It is a large bird, about the size of an American Crow, with a large red head crest, a long neck and the black and white body that characterizes the woodpeckers. There is no doubt when identifying this beautiful bird. The most wondrous characteristic of this bird is its high, clear series of piping vocalizations that lasts several seconds. For me, it can be easy to confuse the Pileated Woodpecker vocalization with the Northern Flicker’s loud, rolling rattle that rises and falls in volume.
Pileated Woodpeckers are common year round in the extreme northwestern United States, all lands east of Texas, and across Canada where there are trees big enough for Pileateds to drill a nest cavity. They are forest birds that can be found foraging primarily for carpenter ants, as well as other insects and a great deal of fruits and nuts, in standing dead trees and downed wood. They live in mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests. In the west, they are often found in old growth forests, where in the east they are found in young forests as well as partially wooded suburbs.
A Pileated Woodpecker at another type of suet feeder (photo: Gay Schroer)
This species is monogamous and a pair will defend its territory against other Pileateds all year round, but it will allow some trespassers during the winter non-breeding months. When an individual dies, the other will go in search of a new mate.
During nesting season the males will excavate a nest cavity, but the female will assist in lining the nest with woodchips. This process takes approximately 3-6 weeks. Nest entrances are not circular like other woodpecker holes; rather they are oblong. Clutch size ranges from 3-5 eggs,.which take 15-18 days to incubate. The chicks take approximately a month to fledge, or fly from the nest. Nests are rarely used again after the breeding season, but other birds and mammals will often use them.
Dead trees are an excellent source of food and shelter; therefore, there is a great deal of competition for territory with other animals. Not only do other woodpeckers feed on insects from dead trees, but these nesting sites are highly prized. Wood Ducks, European Starlings, Eastern Bluebirds, and Great Crested Flycatchers will compete for nest sites and, at times, a Pileated Woodpecker will be found sharing a nest with bats or swifts.
The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary keep your eyes and ears open for the sight or sound of the Pileated Woodpeckers that inhabit our woods.