Success! At last I found a Pileated Woodpecker that sat still long enough for me to photograph.
Tap,thunk, bonk, just like a hammer on a hollow log — that’s what a pileated woodpecker sounds like when it is chipping away dead wood in its search for food. I heard the bird but couldn’t find it, until I finally caught just a flash of red in the sea of brown bark.
This bird visited every broken branch in a group of large, mature oaks for about 15 minutes, but it was impossible to get a clear shot of it with all the spiny buckthorn undergrowth in the way. Why are there always branches between me and my subject?
Compared to the rat-a-tat of downy woodpeckers, this bird’s bill operated in slow motion. But each strike was a measured blow, like a chisel, and when that bill hit the dead wood, the chips did fly — out of the hole, onto the bird, etc. In several of my photos, I noticed the bird pulled its nictitating membrane (thin skin located between eyelid and cornea/sclera) over the eye, making it look gray. I assume this is for protection from flying wood particles.
I think this is a female; she has black instead of red feathers above the beak (forehead area), and she has a black chin stripe instead of a red one, as in the male.
Their body size is impressive, as are the large feet with strong toes and long nails. All woodpeckers have two forward and two backward pointing toes which enable them to perch on vertical surfaces. Short, stiff tail feathers offer additional support as a prop against the tree.
After the woodpecker finished excavating, chickadees came by to check out the hole and see what the woodpecker might have exposed for them to eat.
Pileated Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout their range, and seem quite adaptable to a variety of forest types, including suburban trees. Like northern flickers, they may specialize on ants, excavating their galleries deep in the wood and then lapping them up with their long tongues. But when insects are in short supply, they eat fruits, nuts, berries (including poison ivy berries), and even seed from bird feeders. I’ve seen them at my feeders already this winter and will keep looking for the perfect photo op (i.e., bird without branches.