Bird Bio: Pileated Woodpecker

 Male Pileated Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker

 Female Pileated Woodpecker

Female Pileated Woodpecker

Migration is in full swing and birdwatching is almost at its peak as neo-tropical migrants are arriving and passing through middle TN.  For daily birdwatching reports to your E-mail you may subscribe to TNBird@freelist.org.

At your feeders you may be seeing the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting.  Keep an eye out for these beautiful birds because their presence at the feeders only lasts for a few weeks.  Usually by mid-May they will have moved on.  Indigo Buntings can be seen all summer long especially in fields and meadows, and in areas along the Harpeth River.  The Harpeth River Greenway is an excellent place to see Indigo’s. There is access to the greenway from the back of the warner parks or from Reese Smith Jr. baseball fields.  Both species are very interested in bird feeders and will go for a variety of feeds including black-oil sunflower, safflower, and millet. 

But this week we are going to profile the Pileated Woodpecker only because I captured some great video of one working an old rotting stump for food.  The normally very shy woodpecker was so intent on extracting ants, beetles and larvae from this stump it did not seem to be concerned that I was close by.

With the probable extinction of the Ivory-billed woodpecker the Pileated Woodpecker is now the largest member of the Picidae family in North America.  This crow sized woodpecker, up to 19” in length, is an impressive bird known for its bright red crest.  In fact, “Pileated” means “crested”.  Males tend to be 10 to 15 percent heavier than females and can be distinguished from females by the red mustache stripes.  Note the red mustache on this male in the video.   On males the red crest extends from the bill to the nape of the neck while on females it is smaller.  They are often heard and not seen in dense wooded areas.  The call is loud, high-pitched and nasal, and is given as a single note or in a series.  

The Pileated Woodpecker’s main food source is insects and when available seasonal berries.  One fall I witnessed a pair of Pileated’s strip every berry off a Dogwood tree in my yard.  They are excellent excavators, as you can see in the video, and are important to other species of birds and animals for that reason.  Other birds and animals eventually take up residence in the abandoned nest sites.  Pileated woodpeckers excavate a new nest site every year and mate for life.

If you live in an area of dense woods you are likely to see these great birds but do not expect them to visit feeders.  Although there are occasions for this bird to visit feeders it is uncommon.  During the spring months while they are on nest is the most likely time to see them take advantage of suet or shelled peanuts.   

Get out there and enjoy some birdwatching this weekend. It will be perfect conditions to get out early and take a walk with the binoculars.