Pileated woodpecker

I shot this video from my front porch on Tuesday morning. Pileateds are common here because we have an old forest with lots of standing dead and dying trees full of their favorite food: carpenter ants. They’re really neat birds, and I end up mentioning them often in The Morning Porch. This video doesn’t capture their oddness in flight, but it does show calling, drumming, and excavating.

For more on their life history, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s page. Here’s a selection of Morning Porch entries mentioning pileateds.


Dec 25, 2007

Christmas—the quietest morning of the year. The stream is a full chorus. A pileated woodpecker flaps overhead, cheering itself on.


Jan 27, 2008

Commotion among the pileated woodpeckers: cackling, drumming. One swoops past and lands on the side of a tree with a magician’s flourish.


Feb 26, 2008

It’s snowing. A pileated woodpecker drums twice in Margaret’s yard: a resonant timpanum. Then sleet: rapid brushes on a taut skin.


Oct 1, 2008

A pileated woodpecker hammers on a dead tree, resonant as it never was in life. I watch ground fog form and dissipate into a clear dawn sky.


Oct 12, 2008

BAM. BAM. BAM. The red crest of a pileated woodpecker flashes into view from the dead side of a maple, sunrise orange on the hill behind.


Nov 14, 2008

Thick fog prolongs the dawn light for hours. A screech owl is answered by a pileated woodpecker, dirge giving way to second-line ululation.


Mar 8, 2009

The distant drumming of a pileated woodpecker is the loudest thing. A faint rustle in the field, the yard, the woods as the rain moves in.


Oct 19, 2009

Heavy frost. In the clear, still air, black birch leaves fall like rain. A pileated woodpecker dives cackling into the treetops.


Oct 31, 2009

Peeled flesh of a black walnut leaks pus onto the sidewalk, more indelible than a blood stain. A woodpecker cackles from a bone-white snag.


Dec 21, 2009

A pileated woodpecker herky-jerks to the top of a tall locust and flies off. My apple core disappears into the white yard without a sound.


Mar 6, 2010

Clear and cold. A silent pileated woodpecker propels itself through the sunlit upper air with great slow strokes of its shining oars.


May 20, 2010

So clear, even the mourning dove sounds joyful. Muffled thuds of a pileated in a dead tree, knocking—as Rumi would say—from the inside.

11 Comments


  1. Damn. I love these birds.

    During CBC 2008 I got to watch one go to town on a snag. Chips were FLYING as if he was a logging fool in a contest.

    A better birder than me pointed out the rectilinear hole shapes are always the work of a pileated (like yours) vs. the round holes of flickers, downies, hairies, etc.

    Reply

    1. Good point. (I’m also impressed that you thought to use “rectilinear,” a word that somehow always escapes me. I would’ve written “rectangular.”)

      Reply

  2. Very cool! I think that was what I saw briefly perching outside Mom’s window last year (apparently it decided that the porch railing wasn’t rotten), though I remember the crest shape as different (more rounded, esp. in back).

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      1. OK, “crow-sized” sent me on a Google hunt to this. I had not realized that jays and magpies were corvidae, but it makes sense…. And yeah, it was about pigeon-sized. (The more common local corvidae seem to be ravens, often in rather intimidating crowds.)

        Reply

        1. Maybe a red-bellied woodpecker, then? They look pretty dramatic, too, and make plenty of noise.

          Yup, corvids are a fascinating family. Poets might like identify with ravens (and not just becasue of Poe), but I think most of the time we’re more like magpies.

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  3. Amazing! I hear the odd green woodpecker from afar here in leafy Hertfordshire. No close encounters of this third kind, though!

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    1. The Campephilus genus is unique to the New World. See here for some of the others. They are amazing birds, and always a great find on a field trip for beginner nature-enthusiasts.

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  4. Wow! It seems to be a very itchy bird! I love to hear the sound of the trains in the distance in this…

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    1. Yeah, I was pleased the train sound made it into the video. I wonder if woodpeckers might not spend more time in grooming than other birds just to keep the wood chips off.

      Reply

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