Opinionated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

“There goes a pileated woodpecker,” mother blurted out to the ladies she was hosting for dominos. The large woodpecker had flown to a big pine no more than 30 feet from the sliding door where they were sitting.

“Opinionated woodpeckers? What is that?” one of the ladies exclaimed. Seems none of them had heard of, much less seen, a pileated woodpecker.

These large, crow-sized birds sport a distinctive, red crest and have a loud, rattling call.  Woody Woodpecker seems to have been modeled after this bird. Pileated means cap or crest. These charismatic birds prefer deep, mature forest where they look for trees, both standing and downed, which are infested with insects on which they depend. Carpenter ants are said to be a favorite. These woodpeckers move from tree to tree where they cling, turning their head from side to side as they listen for insects moving deep in their tunnels. Once the insects are located, the woodpecker goes to work chiseling out large chunks of wood until it finds the insect track. Several large pines at Valentine Farm Conservation Center bare elongated holes excavated by pileated woodpeckers as they follow the insect’s path. Fresh chips are occasionally found, indicating a recent visit. 

These birds stay in Oxford County year round and can be easier to see when there are no leaves on the trees. In the spring, these birds set up breeding territories. The males attract mates by drilling on trees, poles and houses – anything they find to make a shattering sound that can only be appealing to a potential mate. I remember reading articles years ago about the difficulty power companies were having in the south because these woodpeckers were destroying the wooden pole towers used for some high-tension wires. The poles were replaced with metal towers which seemed to delight the woodpeckers even more. They could be heard for miles hammering away on the metal structures advertising their availability.

This is not unusual and, during breeding season, the males will look for material to hammer on that will make the loudest sound for advertising their availability. It seems the ladies in my mother’s domino group may have been right. These birds may, in fact, have opinions about the best way to attract their mates.  

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit us Valentine Farm, 162 North Road Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James send your emails to info@mahoosuc.org.