The Magestic Pileated Woodpecker Pays a Visit

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Some things never change, and lately around these parts that seems to apply to the weather.  I know it because there seems to be more than a little whining going on these days on Facebook, among friends and neighbors, even the anchors on the local news.  The weathermen seem to be enjoying reporting the upgraded snow totals and the record temps and as much as I normally like my local weathermen, I have to admit they are getting on my nerves just a little.  But hey, it is their "thing", right?  Still, I won't be too upset when they are reporting weather that is a bit less 'arctic'.
This crazy cold didn't seem to be bothering one backyard visitor yesterday.  He seemed to be  oblivious to the temperature as he worked diligently at his task.  I couldn't help but capture his antics and share them with you today.
It's no secret that I love my backyard birds.  If you've been following my blog for any amount of time, you've likely seen them in a blog or two.  There's nothing more beautiful than a pair of cardinals at the feeder, or a flock of little juncos, some bright yellow goldfinches, or a teeny tiny hummingbird, but there's not much more impressive than a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus Pileatus)!  I had just thought recently that I hadn't seen any this winter, and then yesterday there he was!

This handsome fella worked for over 30 minutes on a huge willow behind my house.  Thirty minutes!  Crazy.  And I was crazy enough to watch him all that time!   You know me....I had to do a little research to go along with my photos!  You also know I've just got to share it with you.....

 - Pileated woodpeckers are about the size of a crow measuring in at 15"-19" in length, weighing around 8-12 oz.
 - They have a wing span of 26-29"!
 - Their favorite food is the Carpenter Ant, but they will also gladly dine on wood-boring beetle larvae, termites, flies, and other insects.  They will also eat berries from holly, sumac and dogwood, poison ivy, and will even sometimes find nourishment at your bird feeders and suet - like this.....

- Pileateds will drum on hollow trees to claim their territory.
- They dig 'rectangular' holes in trees - sometimes so deep they cause  small trees to break in half.
 - They will make up to 16 holes in each tree to provide an escape route should a predator enter the tree.   They also peck at the bark around the holes to make the sap run.  This will keep the predators , such as snakes, from entering.
 - A group of Pileated Woodpeckers is called a 'crown' of woodpeckers.
 - Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America.
 - The design of its head is in a manner so the constant hammering of trees does not cause adverse affects.
 - As one would expect, they thrive in areas where there are plenty of dead trees providing food and habitat.
 - They have a sticky substance on their tongues allowing them to collect large numbers of ants at once.  Because they have larger appetites than other woodpeckers, pileateds will spend long periods of time searching for food to eat, as I witnessed yesterday.
 -  The holes created by these craftsmen are often used as nests by other birds and small animals.
 - They are mostly found in northeastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada and parts of the Pacific Coast.
 - They have very few predators with the exception of hawks, and large owls.
 - Except for the damage they do to trees, these birds do a great deal to control the population of many insect outbreaks.

Once a pair has decided to mate, they will find a dead or decaying tree to create a nest in.  The male bores the hole which is lined with nothing but wood chips.  The female will lay up to 4 eggs.   The female will incubate during the day and the male at night.  In about two weeks, the young will emerge and stay in the nest for about 8 weeks, although they begin to fly after about 4 weeks.
The nest is only used one time by this pair, which stays together in this territory for the entire year.

Here's a small sampling of what I witnessed during those 30 minutes, while Mr. Red Cap drilled away - only taking brief breaks to collect and dine on his findings.  Let me tell you, the tree he's chosen for  his dining pleasure is a four story, very old willow which has already lost many of its branches.  While it may not be right next to our house, it is not so far away that the idea of him doing too much damage doesn't scare me more than a little.   I'm hoping he moves along before putting 16 holes in it because it is close enough to come dangerously close to the house if it falls, if not on it.  I feel pretty confident after witnessing this display of sheer determination and hammering that our big guy went directly to the nearest pharmacy for a large supply of excedrine!  Talk about working for your dinner!!!
Notice - this is his second hole!  The first one is probably 4" high when you factor that he is probably 15-19" long.  Some little bird will make a fine nest in here!

P.S. For those of you old enough to remember Woody Woodpecker (who may or may not be modeled after the great Pileated), use this link to view a very time appropriate cartoon from 1941!

So, if you live in an area where there's old and decaying trees, keep your ears out for the hammering of the Pileated Woodpecker.  He's quite handsome, if not a little prehistoric looking, and he'll provide you with quite a show.   Till next time, thanks for joining me on this journey through Life As I See It!
And if you want to read more about Pileated Woodpeckers:

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