Spring cleaning

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…

a beautiful male Pileated Woodpecker drumming at the top of a 60 foot dead tree.

a beautiful male Pileated Woodpecker drumming at the top of a 60 foot dead tree.

After a succession of drumming solos, he disappeared around the back side of the tree, so I followed and got closer.

Aha!  He was working on a nest cavity.

Aha!  He was working on a nest cavity.  (The male’s mustache is red; the female’s is black, so we know this is Mr. Pileated).

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 woodpecker-male excavating nest cavity-3

He kept this up for several minutes, throwing out some pretty hefty chunks of wood.

He kept this up for several minutes, throwing out some pretty hefty chunks of wood.

Then he emerged and climbed out of the hole, although not very gracefully.

Then he emerged and climbed out of the hole, although not very gracefully.

It's not easy getting out of a little hole and finding something on which to cling while getting upright again.

It’s not easy getting out of a little hole and finding something on which to cling while getting upright again.

Inspecting the entrance again, deciding whether to go drumming again...

Inspecting the entrance again, deciding whether to go drumming again…

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.

11 thoughts on “Spring cleaning

  1. Your woodpecker shots are making me want to go and look for the woodpecker I can hear from my garden. There are several types in France but I have visions of me tramping around the wood as he sits high in the trees watching me and laughing. Amelia

    • I’ve seen photos of a beautiful green woodpecker that lives in the UK. I wonder if you have that one too. You could try putting out some suet feeders and see if they will come down out of the tree tops.

      • In the UK the green woodpecker comes into the gardens to feed at feeders, as well as the lesser and greater spotted which are great fun to watch. They have never come to feed at our patio in France although there is always food and fat out in the winter. I am talking about Surrey, UK where there is a much higher number of gardens with feeders.

  2. Awesome shots, Sue, of the pileated woodpecker. I have been trying all winter to get decent shots, but have not yet been able to isolate one from the branches of a tree as you did so well. It will be really cool if this turns out to be the nest.

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