Species Spotlight - The Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is a very large North American woodpecker, roughly crow-sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is also the largest woodpecker in North America.

Adults are 40 to 49 cm (16 to 19 in) long, span 66 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in) across the wings and weigh 250 to 400 g (8.8 to 14.1 oz), with an average weight of 300 g (11 oz). Each wing measures 21.4 to 25.3 cm (8.4 to 10.0 in), the tail measures 14 to 17.4 cm (5.5 to 6.9 in), the bill is 4.1–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in) and the tarsus measures 3.1–3.8 cm (1.2–1.5 in).

They are mainly black with a red crest, and have a white line down the sides of the throat. They show white on the wings in flight. The flight of these birds is strong and direct but has an undulating quality, similar to the relatively unique flight-style of all woodpeckers. Adult males have a red line from the bill to the throat, in adult females these are black.

These birds mainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. They also eat fruits, nuts, and berries, including poison ivy berries. Pileated Woodpeckers will often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects, especially ant galleries.[4] They also will lap up ants by reaching with their long tongue into crevices. They are self-assured on the vertical surfaces of large trees but can seem awkward while feeding on small branches and vines. Pileated woodpeckers may also forage on or near the ground, especially around fallen, dead trees, which can contain a smorgasbord of insect life. They may forage around the sides of human homes or even cars and can occasionally be attracted to suet-type feeders. Although they are less likely feeder visitors than smaller woodpeckers, Pileateds may regularly be attracted to them in areas experiencing harsh winter conditions.

Usually, Pileated Woodpeckers excavate their large nests in the cavities of dead trees. Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees that the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. The roost of a Pileated Woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes. Pileated Woodpeckers raise their young every year in a hole in a tree. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Once the brood is raised, the Pileated Woodpeckers abandon the hole and will not use it the next year. When abandoned, these holes—made similarly by all woodpeckers—provide good homes in future years for many forest song birds and a wide variety of other animals. Owls and tree-nesting ducks may largely rely on holes made by Pileateds in which to lay their nests. Even mammals such as raccoons may use them. Other woodpeckers and smaller birds such as wrens may be attracted to Pileated holes to feed on the insects found in them. Ecologically, the entire woodpecker family is important to the well being of many other bird species. The Pileated Woodpecker will also nest in nest boxes about 4.6 m (15 ft) off the ground.

A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is a non-migratory species. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate floaters during the winter. When clashing with conspecifics, they engage in much chasing, calling, striking with the wings, and jabbing with the bill.

Drumming is most commonly to proclaim a territory and hollow trees are often used to make the largest sound possible.

Pileated Woodpeckers have been observed to move to another site if any eggs have fallen out of the nest—a rare habit in birds. The cavity is unlined except for wood chips. Both parents incubate three to five eggs for 12 to 16 days. There is an average of clutch size of 4 per nest. The young may take a month to fledge. (source for information was Wikipedia)

The Pileated Woodpecker is a species we often see on our Canadian Workshops. Although hard to get a clear photo of, it is always interesting to come across a tree that they have been feeding on and watch them as they fly through the tree canopy’s. Please check out our Canadian workshops here… http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/

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Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com