I saw our pair of pileated woodpeckers yesterday. When I see these huge (up to 2 feet long with almost 3 food wingspan) and colorful birds, I stop dead in my tracks. I was walking down the hill beside the new salamander pond. A dead pine tree is near the new dam.
You hear pileated woodpeckers before you see them. Coming from the dead pine was a loud rolling drumming. It sounded like someone practicing for the drum line for Tuskegee or Alcorn State. Drumming most commonly proclaims a territory and hollow trees are often used to make the largest sound possible. The sound registered but didn’t stop me. Then the woodpeckers took flight.
Pileated Woodpeckers are mostly black but don’t look like it when they are flying. Then the extensive white underwings show. They also have white stripes on the face and neck and a flaming-red crest. Males have a red stripe on the cheek. Their flight undulates like other woodpeckers so the white underwings flash even more. It’s like they really want you to see them. They are spectacular.
Where you see one, you’ll likely see two. They are monogamous and jointly patrol huge territories of several hundred acres. Maybe that’s the trick with human monogamy, too; you need several hundred acres to work on. The pileated pair stays together on their territory all year round. So, to establish human monogamy, each couple needs several hundred acres and they must stay there all the time. That would sure insure monogamy.
The pair defends their territory in all seasons, but will tolerate strays in the winter. Pretty nice of them to give some room to the homeless on cold winter days.
Pileated Woodpeckers love mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands like we have at Meadowcreek. They can be found in any woods in the US and Canada: the Pacific Northwest hemlock stands, the beech and maple forests in New England, the cypress swamps of the Southeast. They can also be found in younger forests that have scattered, large, dead trees or a ready supply of decaying, downed wood.
Pileated Woodpeckers rely on large, standing dead trees and fallen logs—something that many property managers may consider undesirable. We value the standing dead trees and fallen logs for their mushroom production, so we have lots of habitat for the pileated.
Some are reported to live in the Eastern US in young forests and even in partially wooded suburbs and backyards.
Pileated Woodpeckers probably declined greatly with the clearing of the eastern forests but rebounded in the middle twentieth century as these forests came back.
I’ve only seen them twice in two years at Meadowcreek, but we hear them often. The call is a loud, far-carrying laugh, sometimes described as a “jungle bird” call due its wild, un-fettered quality. You’ll love it when you hear it. We enjoy their laughing from the dorm patio while drinking our morning coffee.
Hearing them makes us glad until we start thinking about the even bigger Ivory-billed woodpecker which appears to be extinct. Only one 1935 recording of its strange call exists. You can hear it at this link.
No use crying over spilt milk, so we don’t waste much time thinking about extinct species. We just enjoy and protect the pileateds and other wild species at Meadowcreek.
It would be fun to know if we have only one pair and if they are producing offspring. If you know a good woodpecker biologist, send him our way.