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Pileated woodpecker. Photo courtesy https://www.bioexpedition.com/pileated-woodpecker/

NATURE’S TURN: Pileated woodpecker in the winterberry bush, drought update

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By Monday, Jan 2, 2017 Home & Garden 4 More In Real Estate

PILEATED (Woodpecker) – PIE-lee-ay-tid, PILL-ee-ay-tid (having a pileus or cap). This ….[is] commonly pronounced as the two alternate versions listed from the dictionary. If it bothers you when people say it differently than you do, lighten up. …. THEY don’t care what you call them.

— Cornell Ornithology Lab

Mt. Washington — A pileated woodpecker is my trophy feeder bird this season and the feeding station is a specimen winterberry bush (Ilex verticillata) in my garden.

Early one morning when I opened the door and walked out of the bedroom at the top of the balcony stairs, I turned my head to the bank of windows on my right. Outside, about 50 feet away at the edge of the garden, the foot-and-a-half-tall pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) clung near the top of a 10-feet-tall locust post, a remnant of a pergola. I assumed that the phenomenal, red-crested, black-and-white bird that, according to Audubon, is the largest extant woodpecker in North America was exploring for insects in the wood. Riveted, I watched as the bird turned its head away from the pole and, leaning and stretching over its shoulder, reached its enormous bill into the adjacent winterberry bush to pluck the inviting red berries that are there for the taking.

Soon the great bird backed down the post in pulses, turned its body and leaped onto a branch near the middle of the bush where it proceeded to feed on the red fruit. I was smiling all over, delighted with my visitor who had developed a strategy and the momentum to carry it out, going first to the steady post and then confidently propelling its big body into the midst of the small twigs that held its breakfast.

Pileated woodpecker standing on a cross piece between two poles to the right of a winterberry bush. Photographed through window glass from indoors. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Pileated woodpecker standing on a cross piece between two poles to the right of a winterberry bush. Photographed through window glass from indoors. Photo: Judy Isacoff

The next day, while out fetching firewood at about 8 a.m., I heard the characteristic squawking, or whinnying, coming from the vicinity of the Ilex and, scanning the area, discovered the bird feeding on a low branch that nearly touched the ground. I’m not sure whether I’ve been observing a male or female or even the same bird each time; neither binoculars nor a camera have been within reach when I was outdoors and had the best view. Males are distinguished by a larger crest and a small red stripe at the side of the bill. My impression is that this bird is a male because its flaming red headdress appears as broad as its head.

When I glanced out the divided lights of the kitchen door at sunrise on another recent morning, I noticed the pileated was already perched in the middle of the bush from which he lifted himself up, revealing the white undersides of his broad wings that spread about 30 inches from tip to tip; he flew to the top of a nearby hemlock, hesitated and then disappeared over the treetops.


The National Drought Mitigation Center United States Drought Monitor map, as of December 27, indicates that our region is still in severe drought. Recent rain and snowstorms have charged streams and ponds but recovery from the drought of past seasons is not complete.

According to the narrative summary page:

“All of the precipitation contributed to general reductions in the coverage of dryness (D0) and drought (D1 to D3) across the Northeast. Despite the December improvement, year-to-date precipitation deficits through December 20 remained greater than 10 inches in locations such as Hartford, Connecticut (12.84 inches below normal); Islip, New York (11.17 inches); and Boston, Massachusetts (11.10 inches).” — https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/Narrative.aspx








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4 Comments   Add Comment

  1. DB says:

    This was a terrible drought this year with very little food being producednfor our wild animal friends. Berries acorns, catkins, ferns and grasses all suffered. The flowers of a lot of fruiting trees were frosted early, leaving little or no crabapples and other fruit for the animals to feed on. After the mild winter of 2014-15, in which a complete abundance of food swelled populations, these same animals are in for a very lean and rough winter even if we don’t get much in the way of snow. A lot of snow will mean a lot of winter kill.
    Our water table is closing in on returning to normal, but we still need to come up a couple of feet to reach normal, and this time of year it is good to be a bit over normal. We were two feet above normal coming into this drought so we were extremely lucky. We also got a rare couple of rains that kept many things from perishing. It could have been even worse.
    But, just because we are coming close to normal again, the damage and ravages of this drought still play on.
    I hope our wild friends pull thru…fill your birdfeeder.

    1. judy isacoff says:

      Very appreciative of your added emphasis, DB.
      I’ve continued to conserve water even more than usual.
      And yes, a great diversity of birds are flocking to my full feeder.

  2. Harriet Bergmann says:

    How wonderful to have a Pileated! I’ve seen them a few times on the mountain, and heard them more. Think of the quick rat-tat-tat of a hairy or downy woodpecker, make it three times as loud, and then slow it down by at least fifty percent. RAT. TAT. TAT. They are fine with perching on a low stump–I guess with their size they aren’t afraid of a chipmunk!
    I’m going to start a winterberry!

    1. judy isacoff says:

      Thank you, Harriet, for the enhanced woodpecker perspective.
      Oh, yes, a winterberry for every border or yard!
      Know that winterberries are dioecious: you’ll need a male and female,
      although you may find a male in the landscape surrounding your property.

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