Bird Lore: Pileated Woodpecker

Photo by LeRoy Van Hee
Photo by LeRoy Van Hee

Woody Woodpecker came to life as a cartoon character in 1940. His popularity resulted in television broadcast of The Woody Woodpecker Show starting in 1957. So many of us became familiar with the Pileated Woodpecker, which Woody most resembles, from those famous cartoons. The Woody Woodpecker show continues to this day in Yost Park and the Willow Creek Hatchery and their surrounding environs. At least one pair, if not several, have made their homes and breeding territories within the city.

One writer describes the Pileated as “a big, dashing bird with a flaming crest, the largest woodpecker in North America.” Its status as the largest is based on the presumed extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It has a mostly black body, a long neck for a woodpecker, and a black and white head. White wing patches can be seen in flight or when it spreads its wings in courtship displays.

The range of the Pileated Woodpecker includes Florida, the Gulf Coast, most of the Eastern U.S. and Canada, the West Coast through Northern California, and protrudes north into the southwestern part of Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Although individuals will wander from their territories, and there is a dispersal of young birds, adult Pileated Woodpeckers are permanent residents where they are found. They do not migrate north in the summer to breed and do not migrate south to avoid northern winters. So the sight of the red, flaming crests can brighten a dreary winter’s day.

Pileated Woodpeckers forage on mostly ants and other insects. Fruits and nuts make up a smaller part of their diet. These birds will gouge deep holes in rotten wood to get at ant nests. They will also tear apart stumps and sections of fallen logs. Large, rectangular holes are evidence of the presence of these woodpeckers. They do not drill holes.

Territory is defended with loud drumming and ringing calls. You can listen to its drumming at this link: Its long, laughing call can be heard here:

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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