Pileated Woodpecker

So this is another picture series that I managed to get in 2020. I had managed to get a single picture of a pileated woodpecker in flight in 2019, but hadn’t been able to spot one in the woods, until Thanksgiving weekend.

Pileated woodpecker flying over Boomer Lake

I had decided that I would look around the wooded area along the creek portion of Boomer Lake, and after hearing a (new to me) bird call, managed to spot a male pileated woodpecker on a dead cottonwood tree. So now that I know the general area that (at least the male) likes to be around, I’ll be on the lookout for more pileated woodpecker sightings in 2021.

The pileated woodpecker is one of the two largest woodpeckers in North America (the other being the critically endangered Ivory-billed woodpecker).

The pileated woodpecker is basically all black, with white stripes on the head and neck, and a very noticeable bright red cap. The males also have a red streak on their cheek (the red is intermingled with the black stripe–so from a distance it may be hard to tell which sex you’re looking at).

Pileated Woodpecker in the woods

The pileated woodpecker is a year-round resident for a good portion of the United States and Canada (though they are rare to absent in a good number of states, and are possibly rare sightings in portions of other states that have year-round residents in certain areas).

Range map for the pileated woodpecker. Map (c) birds of the world

But they do seem to be rare/absent in the Rocky Mountain region of the country.

They prefer mature woodlands–though the type of woodlands will vary depending on the part of the country (so they hemlock forests in the Northwest, beech and maple forests in the New England area, and cypress swamps in the Southeast).

The key feature though for their preference is that there has to be dead or dying trees present within the forest for them to forage on.

Male pileated woodpecker on a dead cottonwood tree at Boomer Lake

So if you’re walking through the woods look for dead (or dying) trees that have large rectangular holes in them–these show that a pileated woodpecker was foraging for carpenter ants (or possibly termites or wood-boring beetle larvae) at some point.

Their main source of food is carpenter ants and larvae, along with other ants, wood-boring beetle larvae, termites, and other insects (such as flies, caterpillars, cockroaches, and grasshoppers). They will also eat fruits and nuts (such as hackberries, blackberries, and elderberries) in the winter.

One interesting thing: other animals (such as swifts, owls, ducks, and even bats) rely on the foraging holes that pileated woodpeckers make as nesting sites. So when noticing a pileated woodpecker food hole–be careful of getting too close, you have no idea of who may have moved in.

Reference: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/pileated_woodpecker