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.
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!