Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pileated Woodpecker at Work & at Home

In recent decades, our largest Woodpecker, the crow sized Pileated Woodpecker, has been an increasingly common sight in our region and at the Nature Preserve. Wherever there is forested landscape containing at least some proportion of mature trees, this species should be there. As is the case with many birds, you usually hear them before you see them, whether it’s their loud drumming or their sharp staccato calls.
A Pileated male visits a well exploited tree
When they excavate a tree containing a colony of carpenter ants, that too can be very loud; the sound could be mistaken for someone building a house in the woods. Dead trees and dead parts of live trees are most often selected for demolition by these woodpeckers, since dead wood is generally used by their insect prey. If you’ve ever seen the Pileated hammering away at a tree, you would’ve seen large wood chips flying off in all directions as they are chiseled off by the most powerful chisel wielded by any North American wild animal. Other than humans, only beavers can make such a large impact on a tree.
Female Pileated comes back to the nest with a beak full of larvea 
I’ve found several active nests of this species over the past few years. Like many other bird species, the Pileated do not always appreciate people taking an interest in their dwellings. I found that out for myself when I tried to take some video of a nest; the parents got quite perturbed and wouldn’t approach the nest tree while I was there. A note to bird lovers: please do not linger at an active nest site (of any bird) for more than a few minutes, especially if the parents are keeping their distance from the nest, scolding you or giving alarm calls. The last thing that we want to do is stop parent birds from feeding their young. I did manage to get video footage of the nest, but I did it remotely, by leaving my camera on and pointed at the nest hole while I stood far back.
A nestling loudly begs to be fed
Pileated Woodpeckers behave at the nest in a manner quite similar to other woodpeckers. The young nestlings inside the tree beg almost incessantly. By doing this they are encouraging their parents to continue to feed them. One could assume that these calls also bring in predators, although few would likely want to tangle with an adult Pileated’s formidable bill. Inside the tree cavity the nestlings vie for the top position at the rim of hole, since a chick perched there would be first in line for incoming food brought by the parents. There’s usually just room for one in this top position and so squabbles between siblings often take place. Bear in mind, a nestling with a prime rim-side seat would likely be standing on top of his brothers and sisters -but they too should get their turn up top.
The wary male guards the nest area
The parent Pileated, again, like other woodpeckers, usually regurgitates food directly down their youngster’s throat, so part of a young woodpecker’s job description is to be a sword swallower.
When the Pileated is done with its nest hole, the abandoned tree cavity makes an excellent home for other wildlife. Famously, Wood Ducks rely on this large woodpecker to provide them with nest holes. Screech Owls, Saw Whet Owls and many small mammals also could consider the Pileated Woodpecker to be their own private contractor. They work cheap too.
The Pileated became quite rare in Central New York after the land was deforested in the 1800s. It wasn’t until maturing forest cover returned to the landscape that this woodpecker’s population was able to recover.
Marsh Marigold blooms in the wetlands
Toadshade Trillium continues to bloom in the woods
White Trillium thrives in a protected woodland garden

Woodland wildflowers continue to bloom at the Preserve. White Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Goldenseal and Woodland Phlox were all found in recent days. Marsh Marigold is blooming in the wetlands.

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