Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pileated Woodpecker

While I was taking pictures of the skunk cabbage at the edge of the wetland one day last week, a pileated woodpecker noticed me and started making a show of hopping up the trunk of a nearby tree.

Pretty soon all was quiet when the bird flew from the tree and disappeared.  But I had that eerie feeling that I was being watched,  Sure enough, what I first thought was the pointy stub of a branch on the side of a tree was actually the woodpecker peeking out of a hole.  I couldn't believe how lucky I was to stumble across this surprise -

That vertical gash on the right side of the trunk is the entrance to a cavity in the tree.  The combination of the low light of approaching dusk and my feeling that I needed to take a quick picture and back off meant I ended up with a disappointingly blurry shot of the opening.

I beat a hasty retreat because I really didn't want to disturb this bird, especially if it has eggs in that hollow.  As I left, the woodpecker flew out of its hole to keep an eye on me.

I discovered a very surprising fact about pileated woodpeckers on the National Audobon webpage devoted to them -

This species requires late successional stages of forest for habitat, as well as younger forests that have scattered, large, dead trees for food, nesting, and roosting. In younger forests they requires larger areas: 3,904 acres of virgin forest supports 3-6 pairs of Pileated Woodpeckers, while the same area of secondary forest will support just one pair. They also require larger trees with dead centers for roosting, where the bird excavates only the entrance hole.

Can it really be that each pair of woodpeckers requires that much territory?  I saw a similar statement on a website  Pilleated Woodpecker Central  - 

Territory size varies between 1000 and 4000 acres.  They will defend their territory year-round.

According to the second website, predators of the Pileated Woodpecker include the Red-tailed Hawk (a pair of which used to annually lay eggs in a large nest located in a neighboring tree), Barred Owls (which we have been hearing at night recently), weasels, and squirrels, among other animals.  These are just the predators mentioned that I know are sharing this same corner of the wetland.  

And these woodpeckers are monogamous.  As in they remain with the same mate for life, not just for a mating season.  That is cool.

Right after my chance discovery, our friend Jeff shared some beautiful pictures of a pileated woodpecker that visited his bird feeder located about two miles upstream from us.  Jeff gave me the go-ahead to share his photos here.

photo courtesy of Jeff S.

Photo courtesy of Jeff S.

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