Please click on any image to enlarge

Friday, March 21, 2008

Observing a Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker - Dryocopus pileatus
Dryocopus - Greek origin
drys for tree and kopis for dagger
pileatus means capped or crowned
42 cm (16 1/2 in.)
Habitat: mature forests, old growth, where there are fallen rotting trees and dead trees for roosting and nesting.

I've seen this large woodpecker again, this time in a muddy spot near the road. I last saw the Pileated at the beginning of March, when he clung to a hydro pole and drummed on it to inform the world of his presence. How much territory does one woodpecker need? I wonder if this is the same bird.

On this particular day, I surprised him* as I started out for a walk. I hadn't expected to see the Pileated again so soon, certainly not on the ground, and we were both startled. He gave a short squawk and flew low to another patch of earth further away.

I turned back to the house to get my camera, and proceeded down the road, hoping to catch sight of him again. Then I noticed the woodpecker's bright red cap. He was digging furiously in the soft earth at the edge of the property. They are such shy birds, and usually fly off at the slightest approach, but I was able to creep a little closer without scaring or disturbing him.

I stood perfectly still and watched in fascination his excavation efforts. At times I couldn't see his head as he probed deep into the hole he had made. Always cautious of danger, the Pileated lifted his head frequently to have a look around. He was working very hard with bits of dirt being flung into the air.

A short while later, the Pileated flew to some standing dead wood. I think I must have scared him off when I moved to take the picture of him on the dead wood, and he flew deeper into the forest.

By then, I knew what he had been doing and went to check. He had dug into a large ant colony and had been foraging for ants with his long, sticky tongue. The woodpecker definitely woke up the ants - billions of them on the move! Trying to repair the damage - an anthill in distress!

*Note - I can't positively say if this Pileated Woodpecker was a male or female. They have similar plumage, but the male has a red forehead and red feathers in his moustache under the eye. I could see the red forehead clearly, but not the moustache.