How much wood would a PIWO chuck…?

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For Woodpeckers Galore, a post based on the same visit to Anarchist Mtn., click here.

May 1, 2015: As promised at the end of the Woodpeckers Galore post, I want to share photos of one of the most industrious Pileated Woodpeckers I’ve the pleasure to observe. We get so see him in dust covered overalls in the midst of his renovations of an existing cavity that is apparently to be reused. His mate sat quietly in a shady nearby tree about 30 meters away. By the way, we know he’s a male by his red malar stripe.

I have watched PIWOs excavate before, chipping away at huge chunks of a tree mainly in search of grubs living in the wood. The shot below was taken Dec. 31, 2015 in Kelowna.

PIWO excavating in mid-winter.jpg
My best ever Pileated Woodpecker shot; a fine specimen in peak condition, working clean….

This spring, however, PIWO’s digging reminded me, ironically, of what I saw last year when the smallest of nuthatches, the Pygmy, was working on a nest in a burned Ponderosa stump. There was a steady stream of detritus and dust being flung from the dead tree’s orifice as the shot below shows.

Pygmy Nuthatch excavating.jpg
Pygmy Nuthatch in Spring 2016 hard at work: dust and small chips everywhere!

Woody, the subject of this post was in almost constant motion between 12:47 when I took the first shot of him already enlarging the cavity to the last one at 1:05. He had been at it, our ears told us, for some time before we located him, and he wasn’t finished when we withdrew for lunch. Around the time we left, he did take a break to communicate with his mate and to check the area.

Here are the photos. The blurriest betray the constant motion mentioned earlier. In many cases, I had to time my pressing of the shutter button to catch his full profile….

Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus)
Posterior of a PIWO preparing a place for progeny….
Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus)
Ruffled feathers but a noble profile, don’t you think? Does he know we’re watching?
Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus)
In this photo, I think we have the answer. He knows, and he’s okay with our presence….

Doing the job! Click any photo in cluster to enlarge them all….

Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus)
This shot shows the dust better and shows the resemblance to the PYNU’s work….
Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus)
More chunks in motion; shutter speed catches him in the moment….

I hope to return from time to time to find out whether Woody and Wimsie are successful in raising another generation of these largest of our many fascinating woodpeckers….

From Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology:

“Cool Facts

  • The Pileated Woodpecker digs characteristically rectangular holes in trees to find ants. These excavations can be so broad and deep that they can cause small trees to break in half.
  • A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate new arrivals during the winter.
  • The feeding excavations of a Pileated Woodpecker are so extensive that they often attract other birds. Other woodpeckers, as well as House Wrens, may come and feed there. (Interestingly, we saw a House Wren on the day we visited this guy!)
  • The Pileated Woodpecker prefers large trees for nesting. In young forests, it will use any large trees remaining from before the forest was cut. Because these trees are larger than the rest of the forest, they present a lightning hazard to the nesting birds.
  • The oldest known Pileated Woodpecker was a male, and at least 12 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Maryland

Food: Insects

The Pileated Woodpecker’s primary food is carpenter ants, supplemented by other ants, woodboring beetle larvae, termites, and other insects such as flies, spruce budworm, caterpillars, cockroaches, and grasshoppers. They also eat wild fruits and nuts, including greenbrier, hackberry, sassafrass, blackberries, sumac berries, poison ivy, holly, dogwood, persimmon, and elderberry. In some diet studies, ants constituted 40 percent of the diet, and up to 97 percent in some individuals. Occasionally, Pileated Woodpeckers visit backyard bird feeders for seeds or suet.

Nesting: Nesting Facts

  • Clutch Size: 3–5 eggs
  • Number of Broods: 1 brood
  • Egg Length: 1.2–1.4 in ; 3–3.5 cm
  • Egg Width: 0.9–1 in ; 2.4–2.6 cm
  • Incubation Period: 15–18 days
  • Nestling Period: 24–31 days
  • Egg Description: White.
  • Condition at Hatching: Naked and helpless.

Nest Description

“The male begins excavating the nest cavity and does most of the work, but the female contributes, particularly as the hole nears completion. The entrance hole is oblong rather than the circular shape of most woodpecker holes. For the finishing touches, the bird climbs all the way into the hole and chips away at it from the inside. Periodically the adult picks up several chips at a time in its bill and tosses them from the cavity entrance. Pileated Woodpeckers don’t line their nests with any material except for leftover wood chips. The nest construction usually takes 3-6 weeks, and nests are rarely reused in later years.* Cavity depth can range from 10-24 inches.” * This appears NOT to be the case for our bird….

Range of the Pileated Woodpecker

Distribution of the Pileated Woodpecker birdsna.jpg

We need this species in our forests! Thanks to Birding North America for this note:

Considered a keystone species, the Pileated Woodpecker plays a crucial role in many forest ecosystems in North America by excavating large nesting, roosting and foraging cavities that are subsequently used by a diverse array of birds and mammals—for shelter and nesting—particularly the larger secondary cavity users (e.g., Boreal Owl, Wood Duck, and American marten; Bull et al. 1997, Bonar 2000, Aubry and Raley 2002a). Pileated Woodpeckers accelerate wood decomposition and nutrient recycling by breaking apart snags and logs and may facilitate inoculation of heartwood in live trees with heart-rot fungi. They may also be important in helping control some forest beetle populations because their diet consists primarily of wood-dwelling ants and beetle larvae that are extracted from down woody material and from standing live and dead trees.”
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