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The Pileated Woodpecker: Observations of a New Family

Nature and wildlife know exactly what to do to survive and thrive. Shauna believes we can learn valuable life lessons by observing nature.

A family emerges

A family emerges

Birding Tips: Observing Woodpeckers in Nature

In a previous article, I shared my observations of the nesting process of these beautiful birds. During the early part of May, I noticed Mr. and Mrs. P relieved each other of their nesting duties much more frequently than they had before. Something was up. Something had changed.

Then, sometime between May 7th and May 12th, it was obvious to me that the PW eggs had hatched. Ma and Pa P still took turns in the nest, but now they were feeding babies, as evidenced by their movements and new sounds I heard coming from the nest. As Mom or Dad approached, I heard a sound that can only be described as a cross between a cicada and a cricket—an unusual-sounding squawk.

Then Mom (or Dad) would rapidly poke their heads in and out of the opening. This told me they were feeding the hatchlings. You see, Pileated Woodpeckers feed their young by regurgitating into the little ones’ mouths. Gross, I know, but that’s what they do.

Woodpecker Calls

You can listen to the sound of a newborn pileated woodpecker; the third selection on AllAboutBirds.org is the sound of the newborns asking to be fed. While you’re there, play the other two “calls” buttons to hear adult calls. Finally, there’s a button to activate their drumming sound.

Another Look at the Nest

Thankfully, my woodpecker family is used to me nosing around with my camera. On one such expedition, I noticed these growths (see photos) on neighboring trees that look (and feel) like clam shells; they’re hard as rocks.

I’ve since discovered the shell-like protuberances are bracket fungus, also known as shelf fungus. The bad news is they form on dead or diseased trees. This scares me somewhat because when the fungus forms on tree trunks, the entire tree is weakened and can fall over. It’s interesting to note that the rings on the fungi indicate the amount of growing seasons they’ve survived. In other words, just as do tree rings, the rings on this type of fungus determines its age.

How Woodpeckers Design Their Nests

As I looked up at the PW nest, I realized Mr. P built the habitat directly underneath a bracket fungus. What an ingenious architect he is! I’m thinking he did so for the following reasons:

  • To provide shelter from the elements
  • To provide shelter from predators and/or squirrels
  • To provide shade (the nest faces south)
  • To provide an educational tool for the nestlings

The reason I make the last statement is, although the chicks were still being fed by their parents, I witnessed the young male pecking at the growth. I don’t know if he was strengthening his bill or actually foraging for bugs—possibly both.

The fact of the matter is, Mr. P chose the site he felt was most conducive to giving his new family all the comforts of home, including an on-site classroom. Pretty smart, huh?

How Woodpeckers Tend to Their Young

Over the next few weeks, I noticed changes in the parents’ and babies’ behavior. Oh, by the way—we have two babies: a male and a female. I saw them both peeking out from the nest one day but didn’t have my camera handy. Bummer!

The parents feed the little ones every 30–60 minutes. Whereas they would crawl inside the nest after feeding the hatchlings when they were young, now they simply fly off and do whatever it is they do when they’re not tending to their young. They don’t go far, though. They stay pretty close to home. Sometimes both parents arrive at the same time. One observes and the other feeds.

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers making a couple's appearance

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers making a couple's appearance

Woodpecker Behavior

They remind me of my cats, somewhat. My feline children see me making their meals, but have to keep meowing at me as if to say, “Hurry up, Mom. We’re hungry!” I noticed the woodpecker parents waited a little longer, at this point, when landing on their driveway before feeding the impatient kids. I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere.

The male youngster seems to spend more time perched on the lower round of the hole than the female. Perhaps his personality is more dominant than his sister’s. However, I’m thinking he’ll be the one to take the initial flight from the nest, since it’s the male that scouts, selects, and begins construction on the home for his future family.

I’m looking forward to that first flight. I feel as if they’re my kids, too. Watching them grow from Dad’s need to start a family and actually seeing it happen on a day-to-day basis is one of the most exciting things I’ve been privileged to witness, with the exception of the birth and growth of my own child, of course.

At this point, the babies are three or four weeks old. There’s always one who spends all his/her time perched on the lower edge of the nest hole, craning its neck to take in all the sights and sounds. They chatter pretty much all day long. They oscillate from the infantile squawking sound to using their grown-up voice. It’s so cute.

When a parent is spotted or heard calling or drumming, the babies employ their grown-up voice and call to Mom or Dad. They get louder once the parent comes to home base or the surrounding trees.

Baby male Pileated Woodpecker contemplating his first flight

Baby male Pileated Woodpecker contemplating his first flight

The Day Came When They Finally Left the Nest

I knew the time was drawing near when the PW family would no longer be my source of entertainment or blog material. The kids will soon learn to fly and fend for themselves. I’m curious to see how Ma and Pa teach or encourage their young to take their first flight. Or is it something instinctual that they’ll just know how to do one day? We shall see.

I feel blessed and honored that this Pileated Woodpecker family trusted me enough to be a part of their journey. I can only hope they continue to allow Auntie Shauna to celebrate life with them. Chances are good that I’ll continue to see all four of them once the kids leave home. Pileated Woodpeckers don’t migrate; they’re homebodies.

Just pray the owner of the wooded lot where they’ve raised their family doesn’t sell out to developers. That would be a crying shame. The observations I’ve made of this most majestic of the woodpecker species has been—and continues to be—an awesome adventure.

I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as I have.

Peace,

Bravewarrior

A Woodpecker Tribute

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Shauna L Bowling

Comments

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on December 09, 2019:

Thank you, Umesh. I couldn't ask for a better comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed the pileated family.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 08, 2019:

Nice. Well narrated. It was engrossing. Thanks.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on November 15, 2019:

Manatita, I've always been a nature/animal lover. I think sometimes where we are in personal reflection makes us more aware. Nature has a way of bringing human souls to the surface and looking at life from a different perspective. Nature and God work hand in hand. Whatever it takes to get through. Know what I mean? (Now you perhaps have a better understanding of my spiritual nature.)

Animals are survivors. They do what it takes and there's no question about how they go about it. They have a routine. A ritual. So do we, but too often, we let ourselves stray. When we open ourselves to observation, we wind ourselves back in and regroup.

I love Deb Hirt. I haven't been in touch with her for a while. I do know that her hubs are so phenomenal because she's a professional in her field. I would imagine she's busy and making a much more lucrative living elsewhere.

Thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate when you take the time to visit my corner. Your comments always bring the best out in me.

manatita44 from london on November 15, 2019:

The pileated Woodpeckers are interesting and I see that you have become an animal and nature lover. Perhaps you always were. You're even studying their characteristics! You remind me of Deb Hirt. How is she? Let me know, thanks.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on September 30, 2019:

Nell, many times I hear them but don't see them, too. That's when I follow the sounds and look in the surrounding trees. It's always fun to spot them when they don't know you're looking.

Nell Rose from England on September 29, 2019:

I have heard woodpeckers near me but never seen one! How strange is that? Thank you for sharing yours, and new babies too! Interesting stuff! :)

Suzie from Carson City on September 01, 2019:

Awwww.....Thanks Sha. You're may Gal-Pal! :)

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on September 01, 2019:

Any time, my friend! Although we're a little cramped for space, I'd never turn you away!

Suzie from Carson City on August 31, 2019:

LOL.....Well, sounds like you live in an absolute FORTRESS, girlfriend! Wow! That's what I call being ready for anything! If I ever want to feel safe, can I come and live with you??? LOL

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on August 31, 2019:

Paula, to help you rest a little easier, I have this to offer:

1. My house is made of block. Pretty sturdy stuff.

2. Several years ago I had all my windows replaced with material that meets Miami-Dade code standards. These were put into place after Hurricane Andrew leveled the city of Kendall in South Florida. My windows are made to withstand hurricane-force winds.

3. Our electrical lines are on the fire department's grid. There's a fire station a block down from me. We've only lost power once during a hurricane. That was Irma two years ago. A tree fell on the power line a couple of houses down from me. We were without power for five days. I kept calling the electric company to tell them I thought the reason we were without power was because of that fallen tree. Sure enough, when they finally came out to remove the tree from the power line, power was restored within minutes. Maybe now they'll listen to me when I become a pain in their asses!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on August 31, 2019:

Paula, we're inland. Evacuation areas are typically on the coast. I can't tell you how many hurricanes I've been through. That said, I never left my home nor suffered any severe damage. I'll be fine, my friend. I'm too ornery to let a little thing like a 145mph storm take me down!

Don't be nervous, Paula. I'm not!

Suzie from Carson City on August 31, 2019:

Sha!! If you live in an area that can be affected by Dorian...aren't you suppose to be evacuating?? You make me very nervous, girl!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on August 31, 2019:

It's great to see your beautiful face, Mar. I'm thrilled you stopped by.

I don't know how peaceful this weekend will be; we're awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Dorian. I always wonder: where does wildlife go to find refuge during hurricanes, especially our birds who live in the trees?

I hope Mr. and Mrs. P and their offspring find safe shelter.

Thanks again for stopping by my sweet friend.

Love,

Sha

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on August 30, 2019:

Thank you for sharing this magical journey with us, dear Sha.

Love this rendition of the Woody Woodpecker song too!

Happy Friday and wishing you a peaceful weekend. Love, mar

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 24, 2019:

Chitrangada, I agree with regarding the reliability of nature to human life. If only we would slow down and pay more attention!

I'm glad you enjoyed the journey of Mr. and Mrs. P and their babes. It was exciting to be a part of it.

Thanks for the read and your wonderful comment!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 24, 2019:

I had read your last article about these lovely birds and their nest. This one is also absorbing and quite relatable to human life. The children are raised with so much care and attention and then they have to leave. Emptying of the nest, is such an appropriate phrase.

But, I enjoyed the life’s journey of these wonderful creatures along with you.

Thanks for sharing this excellent article and wonderful pictures.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 23, 2019:

Dora, it was sad that they left the nest, but we all need to eventually, right? I know they're still around because they don't migrate. However, I'm not able to identify the family in this article. They all kind of look alike. LOL!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 23, 2019:

Peggy, what a menagerie you have in your area! I've never seen a roadrunner. Are they as big as they appear in cartoons?

I notice this year we have many mockingbirds and blue jays in the neighborhood. They love my birdbath! Mockingbirds can be mean little buggers. I've seen one repeatedly dive bomb one of my outdoor cats for no apparent reason. What's interesting is, this particular cat has absolutely no interest in birds or squirrels, just mice. As a result, the squirrels have no fear of being in my yard. I like that!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 23, 2019:

Very interesting! Thank you you for sharing your observations on your sweet woodpecker family. I thoroughly enjoy it. Kinda sad that they have to leave, but their life goes on!

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on July 23, 2019:

What a joy it is to see new life begin and watch the way the parent birds teach their young. Your photos are fascinating as well as the story of their development, curiosity and the sounds they make.

We're serious observers of bird behavior out here in the country and are lucky to have many different species nesting in the area including woodpeckers, robins, cardinals, sparrows, mockingbirds, bluebirds, doves, grackles and even a roadrunner or two!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 22, 2019:

Flourish, your comment made me smile first thing this morning. Thank you!

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 22, 2019:

How adorable! You’re lucky to have a “bird’s eye view” on their nesting behavior!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Ruby, send me the link via email. I'd love to read it.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 21, 2019:

Shauna, I did write about them. It was so long ago, I can't remember the title. I not only have hummingbirds, I have an array of birds who come to my feeders and bird bath. I wrote about them too. It is no longer published, but you can find it on the internet, The title, Happiness Found In My Foyer Tree. I took pictures, starting with the eggs and babies hatching.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Ruby, Hummingbirds are such awesome creatures! When they appear, it's usually out of nowhere. Getting a glimpse of them is so magical. I see them occasionally in my yard. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Do you have feeders that attract them? Have you written about them? If so, please email me the link(s). If not, please bless us!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 21, 2019:

Shauna, this was such an enjoyable journey. How wonderful that you have this family to write about. I know from personal contact with my hummingbirds that they are family and we feel close to them. Thank you for sharing..

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Awesome, Genna! Your comment means the world to me. I'm sure the PW family would be proud to know I've shared their story and brought awareness to this incredible species. Perhaps that's why they allowed me to get so close to them!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 21, 2019:

Shauna, thank you so much for this up-close-and-personal view and update on the PW family. This is such an enjoyable read. I feel as though I am there, watching, observing, learning! :-)

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Manatita, I couldn't ask for a higher compliment! Deb's a phenomenal writer and photographer. I greatly respect her work.

Thank you, my friend!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Bill, I'm afraid there won't be another installment. The young 'uns left the nest either in the dark of night or while I was away from the house. I missed their flights to the next chapter of Pileated Woodpecker life.

I agree with you regarding the intelligence with which Mr. P chose to build the nest. It certainly was ingenious to build directly beneath built-in shelter.

Have you decided what to do with the open space in your backyard?

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

I love you, too, Paula. I'm grateful that there is still enough of an unspoiled environment in my neighborhood to provide homes for the local wildlife. I'm their biggest advocate!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Linda, thank you so much, my friend. It's easy to become inspired when you have such interesting subject matter.

What was really cool, was the woodpeckers came to expect my visits. They weren't afraid or leary of me at all. With many other species, parents will dart at humans, or at least yell, to keep them away from their young. What a treat this journey was!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2019:

Chris, it really was a lot of fun watching this family come to be. It was a privilege, indeed!

I'm glad you enjoyed the journey and thank you for your amazing comment!

manatita44 from london on July 21, 2019:

Pretty cute. We need that kind of innocence and charm sometimes. Excellent writing! You remind me of Deb Hirt.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 21, 2019:

Pretty ingenious, the choosing of the location for the nest.....Nature is so much smarter than Man, you know? I think it's so cool you get to witness it all. I'm looking forward to the next installment, my friend. Thanks for keeping us updated on this great, commonplace drama of life.

love,

bill

Suzie from Carson City on July 21, 2019:

Sha....Amazing!! Your own private Nature Show. How wonderful to have a first row seat to such a marvelous display in the lives of these beautiful birds. Thank you so much for sharing. You're quite the writer and producer of such an educational production! Girlfriend! Love you, Paula

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 20, 2019:

What a rare treat! Thank you for taking the time to share this with us--the photos, the text, and even finding recordings of the PW calls. As usual, you've done an excellent job on this. Your articles never disappoint.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on July 20, 2019:

Shauna, that is so special that the PW family is still there, and you are a part of it all. I enjoyed hearing the calls, seeing the photos and reading your descriptions of their behavior. You have gained a lot of first-hand knowledge and that makes you somewhat of an expert when it comes to these birds. Not many people get to watch as closely as you have. Good job on the article.