110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jun 16, 2014 - 9:04:21am
A young pileated woodpecker was a special guest at a recent West Volusia Audubon Society meeting. His rescuer and doctor were the speakers that night, talking about rescuing wildlife.
The woodpecker, who is shown in the photo accompanying this column, was about 4 days old when found on a stormy night in a woman’s driveway. He had fallen or been blown out of his nest. The little bird was only bruised, but was fairly helpless without a parent or nest in sight. The rescuer took the chick to the bird clinic to stay until he is large enough to be released.
When the woodpecker is an adult, the gray feathers will become black, and the pale-red triangle crest on the crown will be a bright red. He will have a white throat and white stripe from his bill to his shoulders.
Male pileated woodpeckers eventually have a little red mustache, but females don’t.
As the largest of all the woodpeckers, a pileated woodpecker will be 16.5 inches long with an impressive 29-inch wingspan, yet weigh only 10 ounces. The eyes of a juvenile are dark, but an adult’s are yellow.
The bird’s long, stiff tail is a brace to hold him sturdy while he pecks with powerful force. He chisels up to 30 holes in hollow trees, making escape routes in case a predator enters the tree. Squirrels, snakes, Cooper’s hawks, Northern goshawks, and barred owls are among his enemies.
Another thing woodpeckers will do to be safe is peck the bark around holes they’ve made, to make the sap run, thus keeping away some predators.
Pileated woodpeckers live in the eastern half of the U.S. and across all the Canadian provinces -- in wooded areas, of course, with hollow trees being their delight.
The call of a pileated woodpecker is a methodical drumming that is unforgettable once you’ve heard it! These birds live in flocks and share their territory of 1,000 to 4,000 acres with their relatives.
At mating time, between February and May, the male creates the 10- to 24-inch cavity nest for his mate and her three to five eggs. It takes three to six weeks for the male to chisel the nest. The parents do not line the nest, other than with the chips the male just chiseled.
Both parents incubate the eggs for two weeks. When the woodpeckers are done with the cavity nest, other birds and mammals like bats and raccoons use it for shelter or a nest.
The pileated woodpecker’s chisellike bill is perfect for pecking in a search for ants or for making a nesting spot. Then the bird’s loooong, sticky tongue gets into the hole or under the bark to get the insects. Carpenter ants are their favorite food, but wood-boring beetles and other insects are eaten too, as well as a variety of fruits such as swamp tupelo and sugarberries.
The little orphaned woodpecker at the Audubon meeting was lucky to get a second chance at life, which I know he’ll enjoy when he’s released. He could live up to 12 years!
The pileated woodpecker is one of the most distinctive birds of Florida’s forests and swamps.
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at email@example.com.
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