Posted by: ktzefr | February 9, 2015

5 Facts about Pileated Woodpeckers

I saw him when I was having breakfast.

Pileated Woodpecker; Photo:Wikipedia

Pileated Woodpecker; Photo:Wikipedia

My feeders are crowded every morning with purple finches and cardinals and chickadees. There are titmice, juncos, and the occasional nuthatch, too. Grackles come during the migratory season, as do the cow birds and red-winged blackbirds. Downy woodpeckers and the big red-headed guys love it when I have peanut butter suet or nuts in the feeder and they come back until it’s all gone. I give whole peanuts to a family of blue jays that have been visiting for years. They sit in the snowball bush outside my kitchen window and squawk until I come out with the treats. Crows stop by sometimes, too, and I don’t really mind them. They’re interesting creatures. Very smart.   They like peanuts, too.  And there’s always a large contingency of doves.   I do watch for hawks, however, and I’ve been known to rush out the door on occasion wearing a black cape and flapping my “wings” to scare them away.   But every now and then there’s a special visitor.

I saw him when I was having breakfast. He was not the least bit interested in my feeder, but was terribly obsessed with something in my neighbor’s maple tree. My guess is a nest of carpenter ants.

Pileated woodpeckers are rare sights in the suburbs.  They’re big, beautiful forest birds that easily get one’s attention. I grabbed the binoculars and watched. For a minute or two I debated whether to get out the camera or just enjoy watching the bird. Since it seemed he had found a jackpot of ants and would stay awhile, I hurried upstairs for the camera. I was all set, zoom lens pointed in his direction, when a woman suddenly came down the hill with her dog. And the bird was gone.

Little “miracles” happen all the time in a birdwatcher’s world.   Surprise visits. First sightings. “Friends” that return again and again. And then there are dogs. Or cars. Or the shrill beep of a garbage truck. Special moments are fleeting. They just “fly” away.

Five Fun Facts about Pileated Woodpeckers

(from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

1) This woodpecker is one of the biggest and most stunning birds on our continent.

2) It can be almost as big as a crow.

3) The bird is black with cool white stripes down its neck and a fiery red crest.

4) Dead trees and fallen logs are a big attraction in the search for food. The tastiest meal is a nest of carpenter ants.

5) The woodpecker drills rectangular holes in the wood, and the nest holes are often used as shelter for swifts and martens, owls and ducks, and even for bats.

I have learned over the years to listen, as well as look, for birds.  Their voices used to mingle and become one big song of summer for me.  Then one morning I followed a Mayan bird guide in the Yucatecan jungle and watched him “find” birds by listening to their call.  I started to listen, too.

Check out the Pileated Woodpecker’s call at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.






  1. Konrad Lorenz used to dress up as a crow and go flapping through his village followed by a gaggle of the birds. I think when there’s a bunch of them, it’s called a murder of crows…

    • A murder of crows, a raft of ducks, a charm of finches…I grew up thinking everything that flew did so in a flock, but almost every kind of bird has its own “group” name. I’m not sure, however, what you call an old lady in a cape who looks as if she’s trying to fly. 🙂

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