Friday, June 7, 2013

Pileated Woodpecker

I would enjoy seeing a Pileated Woodpecker at my backyard feeder, but that isn’t likely to happen.  The Pileated Woodpecker is North America's largest woodpecker.  They’re not rare, but they’re not your typical backyard bird either.  A Pileated Woodpecker is about the size of a crow with a 26-29 inch wingspan. If you get one at your birdfeeder, he is probably very hungry.

Pileated Woodpeckers prefer decaying trees with ants and insects inside.  They particularly like carpenter ants. By chiseling holes into decaying wood, they search for ant tunnels.  Their tongues are barbed to assist in drawing ants, insects and grubs out of hiding.
I was at Keith and Sally Schnese’s farm in Wild Rose.  
I went to this central Wisconsin city to see my nephew, Brian Block, during one of his visits to the Golden Glow Farm.  The farm specializes in breeding stock and genetic material for Piedmontese cattle. Brian claims to be the ‘hired man,’ but 'partner' is more accurate.  Most of the land is good cropland, but the bottomlands are damp and soggy.  Keith told me a Pileated Woodpecker lived in the bottomlands. There the soil is rich, black and squishes underfoot.  This is boots territory and the more waterproof your boots, the better. The mosquitoes were not bad today, but I suspect they can be ferocious.  

Brian did most of the heavy lifting…camera, lens, binoculars and tripod.  I carried a small digital recorder with the calls of a Pileated Woodpecker, downloaded from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to get the woodpecker’s attention.  I know 'calling' is a controversial practice among birders, as some like it and some do not, but for a Pileated Woodpecker there are few option for pictures without a recording.  Pileated Woodpeckers are very skittish and certainly would not come near us without the belief there was an intruder in his territory.

Within minutes of hearing the recording, he flew overhead.  Landing in a tree one-hundred yards away,  he could see us, but paid little attention to us.  His attention was fixed on the imaginary intruder. He flew over our heads once again, landing on a tall snag to continue searching.  Now he was close enough for pictures.  He swiveled his head 360 degrees in an attempt to detect the stranger…no luck! This male is willing and able to defend his territory.  Males and females look similar, but the male has a red ‘mustache’, where the female has a black stripe under her eye.
Well armed with a chisel-pointed bill and substantial claws, he will fight when challenged.  First he has to find the intruder though.

He flew still closer for a supposedly better angle.  Circling the tree laterally, he found no intruder back there. 

Not wanting him to leave…he left anyway. Not wanting to stress him…we hope we didn't. Were we disappointed? Yes.  

Thankfully, we enjoyed his presence for a few exciting minutes. It was a brief, but good experience…good pictures…good company…good memories.   He is an impressive bird.   Everyone should have the opportunity to view a Pileated Woodpecker up-close.  Please accept these pictures, if you don’t have one yourself.