Sometimes the best way to find cool wildlife is not by watching, but rather by listening. As I walked through the woods, I heard a noise that got my attention. The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent.
Males can be differentiated from females by their red “mustache” and red crest extending from the forehead, rather than starting at the crown of the head.
This crow-sized bird is quite secretive and more often seen than heard. Its call is often described as a maniacal jungle animal sound, somewhat like a monkey.
Pileated Woodpeckers excavate holes in trees for food storage and nests. The cavities are also utilized by other animals, such as ducks, owls, snakes and squirrels. Unlike the cavities created by other woodpeckers, the holes they create are rectangular, rather than circular in shape.
Pileated Woodpeckers stay with the same mate for life. Pairs of these birds establish forest territories of 150 acres or larger in woodlands where many large trees are present. They drum on trees with their beaks to attract mates and to announce the boundaries of their territories.
This one is using its powerful, chisel-like beak to pry off tree bark in search of its main food, Carpenter Ants. It uses its long, sticky tongue to poke into holes and drag out the ants. They also eat wood-boring beetles, as well as wild fruits and nuts.
Seeing one of these birds is always a noteworthy experience. I have a pair that live in my neighborhood and sometimes they visit my backyard.