Determined and Stately, The Mighty Pileated Woodpecker Strikes Again

Friday, January 12, 2018
If you're looking for one of the hardest working, determined birds in your backyard, I'd like to cast my vote for the mighty Pileated Woodpecker.  Weighing in between 8.8 and 12.3 oz, measuring 16-19" in length and boasting a wingspan of 26-30", the Pileated Woodpecker is definitely one of the most stately woodpeckers in this area.  Since my backyard borders a forever wild, wooded wetland, there are plenty of the things these Woodys like.....dead and decayed trees.  Lucky for them... and for me ...because these majestic and colorful birds are not only beautiful to see but great fun to watch.
Promotional Image borrowed from

Some folks have said that the cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, was modeled after the Pileated and I would certainly agree but after much research today I learned that Woody was actually modeled after the Acorn Woodpecker.  (I really wonder though because after looking at several photos, Woody bears no resemblance to the Acorn Woodpecker). Can you guess when Woody was created?  Walter Lanz created him in 1940 along with storyboard artist, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway.  Mel Blanc was the original voice of Woody, followed by Danny Webb, Kent Rogers, Ben Hardaway and finally Grace Stafford, wife of Walter Lanz.  Woody is probably best remembered by his repetitive laugh and if you listen to the wuk, wuk, wuk call of the Pileated, you'll see the similarity.  That isn't the only similarity.  The Pileated's bright red cap also looks strikingly like Woody's red head.

Aside from looking a little like a cartoon character, Pileateds are a little comical in their behavior too.  Their unwillingness to let a challenge deter them makes for some pretty amusing antics.  Although these birds mostly dine on ants and beetle larvae, they seem to have a passion for suet and especially enjoy Bark Butter.  In fact, they enjoy it so much, they'll do whatever is necessary to partake....

It's obvious to me and most that my little Bark Butter feeder wasn't exactly made for diners as large as the Pileated.  Does that stop him?  Nope.  This is not the first time one has managed to overcome the slightly awkward acrobatic balancing act this feeder necessitates for a big 'ole Pileated.

For size comparison.....

When they're not balancing on feeders several sizes too small, you'll find them perched vertically on trees, rhythmically hammering away, removing bark and drilling rectangular holes in search of insects.  Did you know that woodpeckers have reinforced skulls and necks that allow them to hammer away without harming their brains?  (National Geographic)  These holes can sometimes be so large, they can weaken the tree causing it to break.  Other birds are attracted to these holes eager to access exposed insects.
In April the Pileated Woodpeckers begin to prepare for nesting.  The hole made mostly by the male attracts a female ready for mating.  She then participates with the final stages of the project.  A proper cavity can take 3-6 weeks to excavate and the finished cavity depth can range from 10-24".  Pileated Woodpecker have one brook a year consisting of 3-5 eggs.  Incubation period is 15-18 days and babies remain in the nest for 24-31 days.   Once the brood is raised, the parents leave and do not use the space again next year.  These abandoned nesting holes are then used by owls, ducks, birds and even raccoons. Last spring we seemed to have a family in the vicinity and I was lucky enough to catch their visit....a good distance from my window.
This babe found himself in unfamiliar territory with someone who didn't look quite like Mom.

These feathered friends may not be quite as beautiful as the bluebirds, or cardinals, or most of the other visitors to my feeders but they are pretty handsome in their own way and impressive in their hard work and determination.  I'll welcome them anytime.

For more information about Pileated Woodpeckers and to read a post from earlier in the blog, you can use the links included below.  As always, thanks so much for reading. I promise that when you come back next time I'll have something new for you.  I'll be sharing some of my favorite back road travels in our beloved Easton, NY.  You won't want to miss it.  Don't forget to share with your bird-loving friends and consider subscribing to receive posts in your email!  Happy Birding!

1 comment

  1. They are beautiful!!!! Thanks so much for sharing. I've been lucky enough too to catch several in my life.


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