Tag Archives: Pileated Woodpeckers

Up Close With A Pileated Woodpecker

We were out winter hiking in Peninsula State Park, when we thought it’d be fun to take a short cut through the interior on the little used Trail Trampers Delight trail.  Someone had fun naming that trail!  Just beautiful and so quiet after a fresh overnight snowfall. Yes, there’s a trail there 🙂

Lots of animal trails snaking through the fresh snow…like this coyote catching up to friends.

and this Canadian Goose apparently taking a trip to the outhouse 🙂

But the most exciting part of the trip was the Pileated Woodpecker that didn’t show any fear of us and just went about his business. We had seen one earlier on the walk, but he was a little too far and high to really get a good look.

But this one flew in front of us and landed about about 30 feet away at eye level.  He went hungrily to work. You can see all the large chunks of wood that he’s been pecking out suggesting a lot of very recent activity.

Steve headed in for a closer look. Wish he had bought his good camera but in this case the handy iphone will have to do.

Getting ready. There’s a lot of power behind that hit.

They also carve out the distinctive rectangular hole quite purposefully. We watched him at times pecking from the side to wedge out a loose shaving.

The male Pileated has an entirely red crest, and the female a dark forehead. The male also has a red stripe on his face that is missing on the female. So this one is we’ve been watching is a male. There was another nearby, probably his mate. Pileated Woodpeckers stay together as a pair all year round, and rarely tolerate others in its territory.

I decided I wanted a closer look and the Pileated and I began a little game of hide and seek. I wasn’t quite as stealthy so he moved around back and kept poking his head out to see if I was there.

Movie time!

Watching this makes my head hurt and would certainly give me a concussion, or kill me, if I tried to strike a tree with that kind of force. Scientists estimate that a woodpecker may strike the tree with forces greater than 1000 G’s, far more than a human can withstand. We can certainly learn some things from a woodpecker.

To begin with, their strong neck muscles diffuse the blow and a third eyelid protect their eyes.  A woodpeckers brain and skull and also specially designed to withstand the G forces. The brain is surrounded by trabeculae, tiny beamlike projections of bone that form a spongy bone mesh that protects the brain, and the brain fills the skull so there is no “sloshing around” on impact. There’s also a hyoid bone, which in humans it is found in the middle of the neck. In a woodpecker, this bone wraps around the skull to act as a seatbelt to keep it in place and further minimize the impact on the bird’s brain.  Even the beak itself helps in minimizing brain injury. While the outer beak appears longer than the lower, the actual bone structure of the lower is longer and stronger, sending much of the impact to the lower parts of the skull, away from the brain.  Scientists are continuing to study these amazing birds and hopefully learn from them to protect human brains who sustain repeated impacts, like football players.

Of course, I have to show one of my mom Peggy’s backyard photos.  This female (note the gray on the cap and no red cheek bar) was visiting her suet feeder. How lucky she is to have these spectacular visitors to her backyard.

Photos by Peggy

Photo credits:  most photos by Steve; last picture is a Photo by Peggy

The Blue Jays are Back (and That’s Not a Good Thing)

Blue Jay

My mom, Peggy, has had an ongoing issue with blue jays in her yard.  As I wrote before in Bullies at the Bird Feeder, they can be a real nuisance at her feeders.  They eat an obnoxious amount of bird seed and really act as bullies when other birds try to eat.

Now the latest problem is that they are arriving first thing on the morning in groups of up to 35 and staying to dine for 3-4.  You can only imagine how fast they can clean out the feeders and certainly scare off any other bird who may want to eat breakfast.

So what to do?  I guess Mom could have given up and just stopped feeding the birds altogether, but that would make for a very unhappy backyard.  Instead, she worked to makes the feeders blue jay unfriendly.

First, some of the feeders like the platforms and cardinal feeders just had to come down. Luckily the cardinals and mourning doves were able to find enough seed on the ground to keep them happy.  On occasion they’ll even find nice handfuls of sunflower seeds set out on the ground for them.  For cardinals, this works best in the early morning or late afternoon.

Then, some of the others were put in cages that would allow the smaller birds access, but keep out the bigger birds like blue jays out.

Photos by Peggy

The downy and hairy woodpeckers can still get in and enjoy the suet.

Photos by Peggy

The pileated woodpeckers prefer to visit another suet feeder that the blue jays haven’t seemed to find!

Photos by Peggy

The weighted squirrel proof bird feeder can be set to keep off larger birds like the blue jays.  It’s settings are sensitive enough that the cardinals and smaller birds can still feed on here.

Photos by Peggy

The most popular feeders in Peggy’s yard are actually the colorful and fun little sunflower seed ball feeders.  The clinging birds are constantly on them and the blue jays haven’t been able to figure these out.

Photos by Peggy

Photos by Peggy

Photos by Peggy

Photos by Peggy

Photos by Peggy

The oddity Mom’s encountered with these feeders is the pine siskins’ habit of just pulling out seeds and dropping them.  Maybe they’re looking for just the right one?  Still no waste though, since the ground feeding juncoes are just fine hanging out under the feeders and eating the treats.

Lastly, this ground feeder is filled with cracked corn enjoyed by an assortment of birds and bunnies.  I asked Mom why she’d be feeding the bunnies.  She said it was better they eat the cracked corn than eat her plants!  Can’t argue with that!

Photos by Peggy


Have you had to adjust your feeders for some nuisance birds?

Sunday Feature: Wildlife on the Golf Course

One of the best places I’ve found to observe nature has been on the golf course.   I’m not really a very good golfer (been known to just pick up my ball on occasion), but I love being out on the courses with friends and family.  Right from the beginning, I’ve always had a little bag with me with binoculars, a camera and in the old days, my old trusty bird book. I am always careful though, not to slow anyone else down. That’s a good way to irritate the other golfers on the course. IMG_3488

Nowadays, I’m more apt to have just my iPhone, which has a great deal of memory taken up with the Audubon series of nature guides.  It can also substitute for a camera, if I need to cut back on something.    I’ve seen the mundane, as well as the very exciting, once in a lifetime types of sightings.   It was on golf courses on Kiawah Island and in MI where I’ve seen the only Pileated Woodpeckers I’ve ever seen.  I’ve also seen many interesting herons, storks, hawks, ospreys, Bald Eagles, ducks, as well as songbirds like Baltimore Orioles, hummingbirds, goldfinches, wrens, swallows, killdeer, and bluebirds.  I’ve even seen one of my partners attacked mercilessly by an overprotective, nesting red-winged blackbird, and twice seen killdeer putting on their broken wing act to distract us away from its nest.

Then there’s the mammals, insects and reptiles.  Many different types of  squirrels, which I swear sometimes steal the balls for fun, deer, turtles, snakes, dragonflies, butterflies, and of course, alligators.  You learn quickly to just leave those balls behind that roll near the ponds or into the swampy grass.  That low, grumbling noise of a mother alligator calling her babies is not something to mess with.

Enjoy some of my more recent photos.

Snowy Egrets

Snowy Egrets


Wood Stork

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Great Blue Heron

Tri-color Heron








Pileated Woodpecker

IMG_2408 (1)



Fox Squirrel







BIG alligator

Baby Alligator

baby alligator

Have you seen anything interesting on the golf course?  Next time, be sure to keep your eyes open to see what you can find around you.

Purchase the new edition of this field guide from Barnes and Noble

Purchase the new edition of this field guide from Barnes and Noble