Walking along the Mississippi River among the trees of the flood plain forest this morning, I heard a deep, resonant drumming that could only come from one bird, so I followed the noise and found…
After a succession of drumming solos, he disappeared around the back side of the tree, so I followed and got closer.
The male and female Pileated pair stay together on their territory in mature forest all year, but almost always construct a new nest each year. These abandoned nest holes are highly sought after by other bird or mammal species to raise their own broods.
The male starts the nest construction process and the female completes it, but the whole process takes 3-6 weeks. Apparently in this part of the construction phase, there was quite a lot of debris that required clearing out, before he could enlarge the hole or excavate any further. Eventually the nest hole will be 10-24 inches deep.
Pileated Woodpeckers are a kind of keystone species in these mature forests, that is, a species on which many other species depend. Their excavations open up resources for a variety of other animals, both for food and for nesting sites. Flying squirrels, red and gray squirrels, owls, tree-nesting ducks, and a variety of small songbirds make use of the (con) and (de)structive work of Pileated Woodpeckers.