Pileated woodpecker

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Profile

The pileated woodpecker is a shy bird and has what would seem like a constant headache. Despite being a woodpecker, this bird is about the size of a crow. They are about 19 inches (49 cm) in length and have a wingspan of 30 inches (75 cm.) They weigh at most 12 oz (350 g) which is the same as one and a half cups (355 ml) of water. The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. The largest wood pecker is the twenty-three-inch (58 cm) great slaty woodpecker in south-east Asia. The pileated woodpecker is also thought to be the largest woodpecker in North America. Although there were two larger species of woodpeckers in North America, these have not been seen in a long time, and could be extinct.

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Diet

One of the the main foods of pileated woodpeckers is carpenter ants. They sometimes find these tiny treats by ripping off the bark of trees. When one of these woodpeckers discovers a colony of these ants in a tree, it will insert its long tongue into a hole it drills with its beak. Because pileated woodpeckers have barbed tongues, ants will stick on and become the hungry birds next meal.These birds also eat insect larvae, fruits, and nuts.

Drumming

Pileated woodpeckers drum on trees for various reasons including marking territory and attracting mates. When the woodpeckers make these noises, they do not hit the tree very fast and therefore do not make a hole in the tree. You can listen to some recordings of various pileated woodpecker sounds here.

Attack!

Fights to keep territory normally start peacefully with vocal warnings and drumming against trees to try to keep the intruder away. If the other woodpecker does not go away, the owner of the territory will resort to chasing the unwelcome visitor. Sometimes the woodpeckers will hit each other with sticks and poke with bills until one finally gives up. Every once in a while mating pairs will allow a non-mating individual into their territory, but this normally happens more in the winter.

Mating

When pileated woodpeckers find a mate, they will stay with that mate for life. The only time they will mate with another individual is when their original mate has died. During the spring, mating pairs find a hollow tree in which to nest. They prefer trees with multiple openings because if a predator is coming in one, they can escape through the other. If they cannot find a tree which they like, a male pileated woodpecker will bore a large rectangular hole in a tree. They will then nest in this hole. Any holes that are bored will be lined with shavings made during the creation of the hole. It can take to up to six weeks to create a hole large enough for the birds to fit in comfortably. That’s a lot of noisy work!

Young

After mating, the female will normally lay four eggs in whichever nesting site was chosen. Both male and female woodpeckers will sit on the eggs to keep them warm, but the male does it all the time during the night. According to animal diversity web, the eggs will be left alone for as much as twenty minutes during the first few days but are guarded virtually all the time after that.  After close to 18 days, the eggs will hatch. During the next three to five months, both parents will feed the hungry young until they are old enough to live on their own. Despite being independent at this time, the young still stay close to where they grew up.The young will not stay too close for very long, however, because pileated woodpeckers are very territorial.

How old are you?

One way to tell the difference between younger pileated woodpeckers and adult ones is the color of their legs. Young woodpeckers have flesh colored legs, while the older ones have black legs. Another difference is that the young have black eyes which turn to gold when they get older. These birds can live to be up to 23 years old.

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Photo credits:

  • Pileated woodpecker: Wikipedia user: Joshlaymon
  • Pileated woodpecker range: Public domain
  • Mystery animal: public domain
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