Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Primeval Pileated Woodpecker

Though I haven't posted for weeks, I have been regularly visiting my local nature preserve (Strawberry Hill) to see  and hear the birds of spring migration. To be honest, my warbler identification skills are weak. While living in Clearfield County, before moving to Adams County,  Pennsylvania, I learned a handful of warblers who came  each spring to breed in the forested mountains around my property.  Among these were the Black-throated Green Warbler, Black and White Warbler, and the Common Yellowthroat. Thus far this spring, I have heard two of my old friends and am yet waiting to hear the buzzy yet musical melody of the Black-throated Green.

However, today I intend to write not about warblers but woodpeckers, that is, the Pileated. You see, I never fail to hear . . . and recently on several occasions have seen . . . the magnificent Pileated Woodpecker. (Public Domain Photo by Mark Musselman, USFWS)

The Pileated is the largest woodpecker in North America, nearly the size of a crow, though much showier. (I will give credit to the crow for being more vocal, but not by much.) To see a Pileated flying through the trees of a hardwood forest is to feel a primeval  thrill, as if witness to a world long vanished.  You likely first catch glimpse of the flashing white and black wings. Your eyes lock on the moving target just in time to see the vibrant red of his or her crest. If the Fates are kind, you might be given a moment to ogle the bird through binoculars while it investigates an ant hole in a tree trunk. If so, you determine whether you peep upon a male or female--the red crest of the male covers more area and he sports red malar stripes (the female's are black). All this you might see if you're lucky.

More likely, you are graced to hear the Pileated drumming out some message to his mate or some territorial competitor, for woodpeckers use drumming to communicate much like songbirds use song. But if you don't hear the Pileated drumming, no doubt you'll hear one calling. Though he has a variety of calls, the one I like best reminds me of hooting monkeys--ha! At least, that's what comes to mind. I guess I'm thinking of old movies and chimpanzees. You can judge for yourself. Take a listen to the "wuk" call provided on Cornell Lab of Ornithology's web site, All About Birds:


Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart!

Georgia Anne