Yesterday I took my big dogs Rosie and Henry out for a swim on Marsh Creek here in Gettysburg. (I won’t say exactly where because we’ve adopted the area .) Though I call myself a “birder,” I suppose I’m first a dog-walker and then a birder since I never go walking or hiking without the dogs. That said, birding isn’t easy with dogs along.
Even so, I was lucky enough to spot an obliging Pileated Woodpecker who posed for at least two minutes while I fumbled with my camera. Most birds take flight as soon as you “eye” them, but not this crow-sized woodpecker, the largest species of woodpecker in North America if you don’t include the Ivory-billed, deemed extinct by most authorities but not all. (In fact, though no birding authority, I belong to the hopeful group, the one that insists that . . . the “The Ivory-bill is out there.” In fact, I even wrote about this elusive bird in book two of my trilogy Of the Wing.)
But back to the Pileated. This woodpecker is conspicuous for his large size and flaming red crest. The male (pictured here) also has a red cheek stripe that the female lacks. Otherwise, white facial stripes run down their necks. When hugging a tree trunk, the Pileated appears mostly black, but in flight the underwings are mostly white while the upper side of the black wings are traced with white moon-shaped crescents.
Pileated Woodpeckers pound the trunks of dead and dying trees with their thick pointed bills in search of hollow cavities containing carpenter ants and other insects, but they also eat fruit and nuts. You can identify a Pileated’s handywork by the size and shape of his/her holes—large and rectangular. Otherwise, these woodpeckers drill circular openings with deep holes for nesting. Then, after the kids “leave the nest,” other birds . . . or even bats . . . can move in! That’s what I call hospitality.
Until next time . . . Keep birds in your heart . . . and check out my middle grade trilogy Of the Wing at . . .