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Pileated Woodpecker

Photo from The Cornell Lab

Now that we’ve talked about birding at Alderbrook, let me tell you about one of my favorite feathered friends. The other day when I was working on the trail, I heard a loud sound that made me think Paul Bunyan was in the forest chopping down a tree with his ax. I rounded the corner to find not Paul, but a pileated woodpecker hard at work on a hemlock tree. I see and hear evidence of these awesome creatures quite often, but seeing one up close is a special treat. Here is why I think they’re so cool:

Similar in size to a crow, the pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in the United States, ever since the ivory-billed woodpecker went extinct.

  • It gets its name from the latin word pileatus, meaning capped, because of the prominent red crest atop its head.

  • Woodpeckers have long, barbed tongues that wrap around the skull underneath the skin. These help brace the brain for the shock of repetitive pecking and allow the birds to grab insects or whatever they’re eating deep inside the trees.  

  • Pileated woodpeckers chip out distinct rectangular or oval holes in trees to get to carpenter ant colonies.

  • Woodpeckers use drumming, or rapid pecking on resonant objects, to communicate with one another, similar to how songbirds sing.

Signs of these birds are all around Alderbrook, so keep an eye and ear out and you'll be sure to come accorss their work. Photo curtesy of The Cornell Lab - allaboutbirds.org.

-MS

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