Middle Run Bird Walk Highlight: Pileated Woodpecker

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
A male Pileated Woodpecker excavates a cavity (potentially for a nest) at Middle Run Natural Area. Image by Derek Stoner, March 6, 2012.

The inspiration for the famous Woody Woodpecker laugh used to give voice to the cartoon character is a bird that lives in our local woodlands:  the Pileated Woodpecker.  After leading a bird walk at Middle Run Natural Area this morning in which several participants made wishful requests to see a Pileated Woodpecker, we ended the walk at the parking lot without yet adding this bird to our checklist.   While we discussed the walk’s highlights, I heard a distinctive “laughing” call not far away.   Training binoculars on a nearby dead tree, we came upon the scene above:  a male Pileated Woodpecker actively excavating a cavity.  What luck!

March is prime time for our local woodpeckers to be creating nest cavities and beginning the process of laying eggs in these protected holes.  We watched the male Pileated through the spotting scope, and soon he was joined by a female Pileated who seemed to be inspecting the hole-making project.   Pileateds also build large cavities to roost in (sleep) at night, so we may have witnessed the creation of a bedroom rather than a potential nursery.

Sharon and her grandson Karl enjoying great views of a perched Northern Flicker. Image by Derek Stoner, March 6, 2012.
During our walk we enjoyed good looks at other woodpeckers, including a perched Northern Flicker that seemed to be basking in the sun, and a female
Hairy Woodpecker that quietly chipped bark off an oak tree in search of insects.  Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers were heard but not seen.
A male Eastern Bluebird perches in a Red Maple tree bursting with spring color. Image by Derek Stoner, March 6, 2012.

At the beginning and end of our walk, we observed the classic behavior of Eastern Bluebirds hunting from perches.  Sitting atop posts or on the tips of branches, they cocked their eyes towards the ground and looked for the movement of insects.  If a chilled cricket made a feeble hop or a lethargic caterpillar twitched, the bluebirds swooped to the ground to nab these easy prey items.  The morning’s temperature started below 32 degrees, but we actually saw plenty of insect activity.  Our best sighting was an adult Winter Stonefly, freshly emerged near a tributary stream.   Future food for another bird!

2 thoughts on “Middle Run Bird Walk Highlight: Pileated Woodpecker”

  1. I love to know how you got the photo of the wood duck the other day. I took a hike up the stream on Sunday and saw about 6 or 8, but all I did was end up chasing them upstream. I could never get close enough for decent shot.


  2. Jill Constantine

    No fair! I left right away, I needed a cup of coffee. I didn’t know you would pull out the best for last! You now owe me a pileated for next time. 🙂

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