Back in 2014 we spent the Memorial Day weekend at the cabin and in spite of the best weather we could remember for this occasion in past May visits, we spent the vast majority of it dealing with a severe water leak. I did, however, manage to make one hike back into the woods (exactly six years ago today). Practically the first thing I saw was a big, beautiful pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) that landed on a tree not quite out of camera range, but fairly close to the ground and with a good deal of brush between us, so that I was able to creep a bit closer. It was soon joined by another, and they spent several minutes there before flying to another nearby tree. I followed them for almost a half hour and was able to get a few decent shots. Considering the size of their red crowns, I believe that they were both mature (or near-mature) females. I’d seen them in our woods before, but this was the first time I’d ever seen them working in tandem. They are very large and very impressive, nearly the size of a crow, and an adult can weigh up to 400 grams.
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I imagine it’d be a rare opportunity to get such a shot as this, how wonderful! They’re beautiful birds and I love seeing photos of them. Just a little earlier I was watching a short video-clip of a pileated woodpecker hopping up a tree trunk and pecking at the trunk and it was amazing to see it in action. It was shared on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/BirdAndGarden/status/1265062339931303936
Thanks for the link, Liz. It’s quite surprising to see how agile they are, considering their size and weight. The way they can hop about on the side of a vertical tree looks to me like someone filmed them on the upper surface a fallen tree and then rotated the image 90 degrees to make it look like they were, in effect, walking up a wall, like the classic scene of Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling. They’re usually pretty shy, but sometimes they won’t get too spooked if one has the time to approach them with patience and respect.
I see that for the ancient Romans a pīleus (or pilleus) was ‘a close-fitting felt cap that was worn at theaters and festivals and was given to a slave when freed.’ I doubt it was as colorful as the heads of these woodpeckers.
I’ve often wondered about the name, but never bothered to look it up. Thanks for your slavish research and the heart-felt enlightenment; it makes perfect sense!
I was on a manumission to free up the etymological truth.
I’ve never seen one of these woodpeckers, and it seems as though my best chance would be in east Texas. I just read an interesting study that outlined the eight species of woodpeckers in that area; it said that pileated woodpeckers are more abundant in mixed pine-hardwood forest than in the longleaf pine/savannah area where I’ve spent most of my time. They kindly provided some specific geographic areas where their studies took place, so I have at least a hint of where to begin looking. I doubt I’ll ever see anything as fine as this pair, though!
I do consider it having been a rare opportunity, and I felt quite flattered that they let me stalk them for long enough to get a couple of acceptable images. They really are magnificent!
What an opportunity, and you took great advantage of it, Gary! Very nice.
Thanks, Pete, at least half of the fun was the adventure of trying to follow their erratic flight to new perches without spooking them into searching out new and more-distant foraging grounds.
Nice sighting and an excusable case of stalking. I’ve seen a few here and managed one shot several years ago. We do get them in the yard, one individual at least, and he/she works on our rotting tree stumps looking for ants. While we generally prefer a clear view, I like seeing them through the leaves. They are like winged jackhammers.
That’s an apt description. I, too, like seeing them through the foliage, as that’s the way they usually appear, very much like ethereal forest spirits.
I love Pileateds, and what a treat to see two females together like this. It seems strange but maybe – oh, who knows! :-) They come to our little suet feeder (one at a time!) and boy, do they do damage. It’s fun to see evidence of them in the woods, too. I’m waiting to find a nesting hole. Some day!
They were cooperating so well in their foraging, I think they were probably sisters, or possibly a mom and her daughter. It was indeed a treat!