The Pileated Woodpecker

Published 6:06 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Whether you say Pill-eated or Pile-eated, this woodpecker is still a very impressive bird. While it now holds the distinction of being this countrys largest woodpecker, this has not always been the case. The almost (or completely) extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker was larger by around 3 inches, but this species is now one of legends, although rumors of its continued existence still persist, especially in the heavily forested swamps from Louisiana into the Florida Panhandle.

The Pileated Woodpecker is nonetheless a magnificent bird, and one that is familiar to even the casual birder. It is fairly common throughout the Carolinas, and is a frequent visitor to suet feeders in suburban gardens, especially here in the western part of the state. However, it is scarce in many areas of the piedmont where large tracts of forest have been removed. These large woodpeckers need large woodlots to survive and it does not seem to matter whether there are buildings or structures within the forest, as long as the integrity of the ecosystem is preserved. Where the forest is damaged by excessive fragmentation and destruction, Pileated Woodpeckers will quickly disappear, but upon forest rejuvenation they are again able to re-colonize these lost areas.

Both the male and female woodpeckers are large birds just under 2 feet in length- about the size of a crow. They share the crows black plumage, but offset it with diagnostic white wing-linings and a typical woodpecker-style flight pattern. The sexes are relatively similar to each other, but to really tell the difference between the male and female, you have to look closely at the birds head. Both have a long, shaggy red crest, but the females forehead is black. Also she has a black moustachial stripe compared to his red one.

Like most birds, the best way to find Pileated Woodpeckers is to first learn their calls, and this one is easy. Both sexes utter their loud, rapid calls at frequent intervals, with a strident, almost laughing quality to the notes.&bsp; There is only one other bird that these calls may be confused with; the Northern Flicker, but these notes are on a flatter pitch without the rhythmic quality of the Pileateds.

One question that I often get asked is that of woodpecker damage to houses, and to examine where a Pileated Woodpecker has been feeding on the siding of a house, it does look very destructive. However, it is not the woodpecker that is the problem. The culprit is the

carpenter bee, which lays its eggs in the wood of decks, porches and siding. To prevent any potential woodpecker damage, it is important to prevent any egg laying by carpenter bees. After all, the woodpeckers are only coming in to feed on an available food supply, and you cannot blame them for that.

With the overall decline of many of the birds around us, it is satisfying to see that the largest of the remaining North American woodpeckers is able to adapt to a changing world, and will still be with us in the future.

Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 16 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours. www.birdventures.com.

If you have birding questions, please drop Simon an e-mail at the above site.