My Search for the Pileated Woodpecker is a Huge Success
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest Woodpecker in North America. It measures a staggering 16-19 inches (41-48cm) long, with a wingspan of 26-30 inches (66-76cm) and weighs a whopping 8-12 ounces (227-340g). Compare that with the size of a House Sparrow at just 5.5-7 inches (14-18 cm), weighing only .85-1.4 ounces (24-40g) or a Blue Jay at 8.7-12 inches (22-30cm), weighing just 2.3-3.8 ounces (65-108g), and you’ll see why this is such an impressive bird.
We first witnessed this magnificent woodpecker about two years ago for a couple brief moments. Although we’ve heard its call many times since our initial sightings, up until now we were unable to locate it. This had become frustrating because it lives in the woods right behind our house.
Our woods is home to many different birds, as well as deer, raccoons, skunks and squirrels, among other critters. It is filled with a wide variety of trees, ferns, flowers and fungi.
It is also filled with a not-so-nice plant: Poison Ivy! If you’ve ever come in contact with it, then you know how much itching it can cause if you are allergic to it. It is easily spread to other parts of your body by scratching. If you have never seen it, beware. This green vine has leaves that grow in groups of three, and the tips of the leaves are distinctly pointed.
Locating the Pileated Woodpecker this weekend was easier than I expected it to be. My boyfriend, Chris, agreed to join me in my quest to find this big bird (after all, it was half-time during the football game). Wearing old boots (to avoid Poison Ivy), with camera in hand, we entered the woods. We walked only about 100 feet inward when we saw some interesting trees off to the side.
We found a huge, fallen tree covered in really cool lichens. What a great opportunity to try out the macro settings on my new camera.
While snapping away, I suddenly heard a loud knocking sound. It sounded like a woodpecker- a big woodpecker- and it was really close by. Then we noticed little pieces of wood falling from the tree above us. As we looked up, there, right over our heads, was the Pileated Woodpecker! How lucky were we?! If we had come an hour earlier, or later, chances are we would not have found it.
It was truly a sight to see. We watched in awe as she made large holes in the tree, searching for food. The Pileated Woodpeckers main meal consists of Carpenter Ants, supplemented by other insects, fruits, nuts and berries. They leave rectangular holes in trees that can be so large and deep that the tree actually breaks in half.
Pileated Woodpecker pairs stay together year round and mate for life. They nest in dead or mature trees, usually 15-80 feet (4.5-24m) above ground. The nesting cavity can be 10-24 inches (25-61cm) deep with an oblong entrance and takes 3-6 weeks to complete. The female lays 3-5 white eggs which hatch about 18 days later. Fledglings leave the nest after 26-28 days. Both Mom and Dad incubate the eggs and feed the babies. Young birds remain with the parents for 2-3 months. Both males and females have a red crest on their head, however, the male’s crest comes all the way to his beak and he has a red mustache, whereas the female’s crest only comes to her eye and she has no red mustache.
While watching this amazing creature, I could hear another Pileated off in the distance. I wondered if it might be her mate. These woodpeckers do not migrate, so I’ve got all Autumn and Winter to see her again and to find her mate. Pileated Woodpeckers have been known to visit backyard feeders for suet and seeds, so I’m going to increase my efforts to entice them to my feeders and into our backyard. In the meantime, check out this video we shot- she moves fast, so pardon the shakiness and low quality.
I hope you have enjoyed this bird as much as we did. Please “Subscribe” via email or “Follow” to continue seeing new posts right away. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Birding! Karen