Friday, February 15, 2008

Common Feeder Birds: Pileated Woodpecker

It is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count and Chris, our park manager, spotted a Pileated Woodpecker! They are a welcome resident of Southeastway Park's woods and an infrequent visitor to our feeder area. Today, he was hanging out in the area just outside the feeders, so we could view him from our bird window during our lunch break.

I think the poor bird looks like it has mistakenly employed
Heat Miser as its stylist. Talk about bad hair day!

The Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, is Indiana's largest woodpecker. It is sixteen and a half inches in length, almost the size of a crow. It's size, sleek black back and wings, offset by a red crest, are obvious field marks. The males have a characteristic red "mustache", which is actually a stripe near the beak. The female's stripe is black. Another distinct field mark is the large white area under its wing which is viewed when the bird is in flight.

Male Pileated Woodpecker, photo by John Howard. Note the red "mustache".

Many a birder have quibbled over how to pronounce "pileated". Some lean toward "PIE-lee-ate-ed", while others say "PILL-ee-ate-ed". Actually, both pronunciations are accepted. Its disputed common name comes from the brilliant scarlet crest of feathers on the top of its head, called a pileum (PIE-lee-um). As a side note, in Ancient Rome, a pileus was a brimless felt hat worn by slaves that were freed by their master. The genus name, Dryocopus means "oak tree cutter", with druos meaning "oak tree" and kopos meaning "cutter".

Pileated Woodpeckers are known for the large holes or excavations they produce while foraging for food and producing their nest cavities. The holes can be greater than a foot in length. They have even been known to break smaller trees in half! They are searching for carpenter ants and wood-dwelling beetles, a favorite snack. During their quest, they produce large holes that are relied upon by many mammals, birds, and reptiles for shelter and nesting. They also will eat fruit and nuts.

Though Pileated Woodpeckers are not in any imminent danger, there is reason for concern. Pileated Woodpeckers rely heavily on big trees for their nest cavities. They prefer large dead trees within mature forests. With many areas losing large trees due to disease and clear-cutting, one should watch his species closely. Since so many other creatures depend upon this bird for survival, it would be devasting, if it was lost.

Pileated Woodpeckers will frequent feeders near a large woods. My friend, Andrew Mertz, has a feeding station right outside his patio door where as many as three Pileated Woodpeckers have been viewed at the same time. What is so surprising is Andrew lives in a apartment complex on the north side of Indianapolis, near the Castleton Mall!



judy w said...

Please let me know what your friend has in his feeding station for his pileated woodpecker gang?? I 've seen these birds only twice in my life and I love them. I would love my little girls to see these beutiful creatures. We have backyard full of trees, and suet and finch food out...however I know the p.w eats ants and - you said..fruit? what kind? how is presented? I need details...we live 5 minutes from Castleton!!

Janet Creamer said...

Hi Judy,

All my friend has out at his feeders is a block of suet, plus some seed feeders, which the Pileated's don't use. There are a lot of big trees nearby and White River, so I think the habitat might be what is attracting them more than the suet. As far as the fruit, it is just fruit they find in trees like hawthorns, crabapples, etc.. I am not sure if they like raisins and oranges like bluebirds and orioles, I haven't read that anywhere. Good luck! If you are into hiking, Southeastway has Pileated Woodpeckers that one can see quite often and Eagle Creek Park has a good population of them as well. - Janet

Neil said...

We live out along the Tippecanoe river. Lots of woods around the area. We have 2 pairs of pileated woodpeckers that use the feeders. I have a suet cake underfeeder and one on a house feeder that they use. Closer to the house I have a seed cake feeder that we use the trail mix seed cake that they like. They are pretty wary, so don't stick around if they are disturbed. I have several videos showing them feeding.

Anonymous said...

I have had a PW eat a suet cake in a feeder on my kitchen window! One time, but that was thrilling for me!

Neil - you are correct about them being shy birds. I just saw one in my backyard. I tried to get closer to get a picture, but he flew away. bummer...

Anonymous said...

One male pileated woodpecker working on a very frozen maple tree in yard. Live northeast side Indy.

Anonymous said...

Live in crawfordsville in. A pileated woodpecker was feeding at our suet feeder at noon today. A thrilling sight. Only one I have seen here,