by Pat Jaquith
Skip’s journal post about Pileated Woodpeckers inspired me to add a few more images and some of my observations of these unforgettable birds that the American Birding Association has named the 2021 Bird of the Year.
Around the middle of April, 2016, I began seeing a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers near our house and I really hoped they might be scouting a nest site. The hammering commenced on a dead Ponderosa Pine; construction was underway! The male frequently does most of the excavation of the oval-shaped nest hole; the female on right would fly in off and on as if to check on progress and encourage her mate.
I’d watch with binoculars from a distance when I happened to see them in the area. As excavation progressed, the male would disappear into the hole and come out with a beak full of chips. I don’t have pictures of the activity after this; I didn’t want to scare them off.
Insects are the principal attraction when the Pileated Woodpecker excavates a rectangular hole in a tree. I enjoy watching them work! They cling to the bark with all 4 clawed toes, lean back on the barbed tail feathers and pound as if splitting firewood with their beak instead of a maul. If you find a freshly-excavated hole with a pile of wood chips at the base of the tree, you can poke about gently with a stick: it’s likely you will find shiny black pieces of ant exoskeletons in white excrement.
Recycle, Reduce, Reuse has long been practiced among birds! Woodpeckers are designated a keystone species because they are key to some other birds’ nesting. Wrens, owls, kestrel, tree swallows, White-breasted nuthatches, Brown creepers, bluebirds, and some species of ducks such as Wood ducks, goldeneyes, and buffleheads are cavity nesters that are unable to excavate their own nest holes; they frequently make use of woodpeckers’ holes. In winter, small birds may congregate in old woodpecker holes to stay warm. Let’s think twice before we cut down those old dead trees!