Forest Creatures: Pileated Woodpecker

photo: allaboutbirds.org
Yesterday I was cycling through a nice stretch of trees on the Galloping Goose trail up the Sooke River when I noticed a couple of striking creatures. 

Clinging to the bark of a large diameter tree were two pileated woodpeckers, the largest woodpeckers in North America.

A little larger than a crow, these flame-capped birds are year round residents in mature forests. I watched the two as they flew from tree trunk to tree trunk, poking into the furrowed bark. I could hear the wind through their ample wings as they flapped from tree to tree.

What a thrill to see these birds here, poking around the spectacular linear park that is the Galloping Goose Trail. This narrow corridor preserves some nice larger, older trees of the type that the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) requires for nesting. In younger forests, it will use any large trees remaining from before the forest was cut.

Pileated woodpecker range
The largest woodpecker in the world was the Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico. The largest woodpecker in North America was  the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (although since 2004 there have been potential and encouraging sightings).

Both were driven toward extinction due mostly to habitat destruction - the loss of the old growth forests they relied on.

Pileated Woodpeckers require the complexities of a multi-storied canopy, large stumps and rotting fallen trees. Their nests have been found in a variety of trees including ponderosa pine, larch, hemlock, western red cedar, alder, and maple trees, amongst others.

Crucial to their survival is the structure of the forest that develops as it 'becomes' old growth (>250 years old). It makes these areas ideal nesting and foraging sites, with plenty of food found in the dense, damp understory. Clear cuts and newer forests do not provide the habitat these amazing birds require.
Old Pileated nests are used by many other creatures

I ended my bird sighting with one of the woodpeckers peeking out at me as I sat on my bicycle, stopped on the trail. The large, inquisitive bird was peering out from behind yet another tree trunk.

All of a sudden its red crested head would appear, then bob up and down in what looked like a display directed toward the bright red coat I was wearing.

Maybe I looked like a giant woodpecker, an interloper that would only be tolerated in this bird's territory during winter. Now that it is spring, I would be considered a threat to be actively driven off.

Smiling at the Woody Woodpecker routine, I rode on allowing the bird to forget about potential competition, and resume its hunt for juicy ants and beetle larvae living under the bark of the big trees.

1 comment:

  1. Our hugh red cedar is being hollowed out by a very determined
    Pileated. She has been pecking away for days now and has made half a dozen big holes including one just like the photo here with the chicks. The tree has a diameter at the base of maybe 5 feet and height of maybe 100 feet. Does anyone know if this work compromises the tree. I beleive it is a healthy tree.


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