It’s a great day when I get to see our largest woodpecker, the Pileated, in the open and can get organized quickly enough to get some photos of the bird. It’s an even greater experience to see a pair of them pose for me close enough to hardly even need the telephoto lens.
These birds are truly impressive, almost as large as a crow in body size, with a striking black and white pattern, a flaming red crest, and an impressive chisel at the end of their long beak. I wouldn’t want to try to take one of these guys out of a bird net!
The pair stay together all year on their territory, though its size or shape may change in area seasonally, as they expand it in search of food in the winter. Although I have heard them calling out in the wetland and occasionally seen one of them flying around, I’ve never seen them together, and here they both were at the suet feeders.
Even though this is a mated pair, their harmony seems to depend on an established social hierarchy — i.e., whoever gets to the food first owns it, no sharing. It could be that males are a little more possessive about this, but I didn’t observe whether the female would defend her own feeder from him in a similar manner.
So, if you have to compete with your mate for food, then what’s the advantage of staying together during a time when food is so limited in the winter? To protect the area from other Pileated Woodpeckers that might want to establish a breeding territory there? To get a jump start on the breeding season, without having to spend time and energy looking around for prospective nest holes? Perhaps these advantages outweigh the disadvantage of competition for food, or perhaps there really is no competition because the male and female forage in different ways that nets success for both.