Pileated Woodpecker

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.    

Bird Bio: Brown Creeper

I recently had the pleasure of spotting one of my favorite, but seldom seen, birds of winter, the Brown creeper.  It is not a rare bird to be seen but elusive for sure.  Every winter I get a few glimpses of a Brown creeper heading up the trunk of a tree where I have a suet feeder.  This is the only species that we have that only goes up a tree and never down.  It has an unusual way of foraging for food by creeping up a tree and then dropping down to the base of another tree and spiraling up. It’s very interesting to watch.  It’s found as an uncommon winter resident statewide October to April.  Brown creepers are very small and slim, and quite well camouflaged keeping to trunks of trees.  They are brown above and whitish below, with a slender de-curved (downward curve) bill.  Like a Carolina wren they have a prominent white eye stripe.  Brown creepers are primarily insect eaters but suet seems to be its preferred food at feeders, probably because it is found often on trunks of trees. So, next time we have a little inclement winter weather, that’s when they seem to appear, watch your suet feeder a little more closely. Look for this interesting and elusive little bird.

AND…check out the video I recently took of a Pileated woodpecker taking advantage of a water fountain in my yard.  It’s always a treat to see this bird and observe its interesting habits and behaviors, not to mention its stunning plumage, but it was especially nice to see it drinking.  I had never caught one using one of my water sources before.