Pileated times two

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.

a pair of pileated woodpeckers

The pair played ring around the Buckeye tree for a few minutes, usually with just one of them in view at a time.  Notice how they have their red crests somewhat erected — more on that later. (Taken through the window, so somewhat blurry)

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.

pileated woodpecker female

The female Pileated Woodpecker sports a black mustache, which makes her easy to tell from the red-mustachioed male. Note:  in comparison to this large-bodied bird, a Downy Woodpecker’s body length would stretch only from one suet plug to the next.

pileated woodpecker male

Such a handsome guy! Unlike the little Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who dines for minutes at a time, the Pileateds ate very little of the suet before moving on.

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.

pileated woodpeckers

While the male was feeding at this suet feeder, the female came over and perched nearby.  She might have thought this one had better suet than the one she had just left?  But in response he raised his crest feathers, and then so did she.

pileated woodpeckers

Then she tried to land on the other side of the feeder log, and that didn’t go over well with him at all. Notice those red crest feathers standing out from the back of his head.

pileated woodpeckers

Threat over, he goes back to feeding, and she pretends to hide behind a branch, crest feathers relaxed.

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.

13 thoughts on “Pileated times two

  1. I’ve often wondered about the behavior around food sources with the Anna’s hummingbird pair in our yard…I know male Anna’s don’t help raise the young, but you’d think at least during courtship he’d let the female feed at the nectar feeder! Seems counterintuitive…but Anna’s manage to reproduce anyway so obviously the system works! (We’ve had a pair of Pileateds include our garden in their territory this winter…gorgeous birds.)

    • I have noticed the same thing, which is why I put up more than one feeder, and put some distance between them. The male hummingbird in my backyard this summer drove off everyone, probably his own offspring as well.

  2. Fantastic photos! I am so jealous that you can see these magnificent birds at your feeder. They are so elusive for me. I know where to find them, I hear them drumming, but they stay far away and out of sight.

  3. Great photos of one of my favorite birds. We have a pair here on our property, but they haven’t ventured to the suet feeders that I’ve observed. On Sunday morning I let the dog out, and a Pileated followed her around the edge of the yard, going from tree to tree and chattering at her. It was pretty funny. The moment I called for her, though, the bird flew off. They are so shy around humans, unfortunately.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s