The Pileated Woodpecker: Observations of a New Family

Updated on July 24, 2019
bravewarrior profile image

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 | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Daddy swoops in to feed babies (still shot blurred by action)Male Pileated Woodpecker feeding babies (still shot blurred by action)
Daddy swoops in to feed babies (still shot blurred by action)
Daddy swoops in to feed babies (still shot blurred by action) | Source
Male Pileated Woodpecker feeding babies (still shot blurred by action)
Male Pileated Woodpecker feeding babies (still shot blurred by action) | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bracket fungusBracket fungus undersideBracket fungus under which the nest was built
Bracket fungus
Bracket fungus | Source
Bracket fungus underside
Bracket fungus underside | Source
Bracket fungus under which the nest was built
Bracket fungus under which the nest was built | Source

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?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bracket fungus over nestMale baby woodpecker pecking on umbrellaMale baby woodpecker practicing going after his own food
Bracket fungus over nest
Bracket fungus over nest | Source
Male baby woodpecker pecking on umbrella
Male baby woodpecker pecking on umbrella | Source
Male baby woodpecker practicing going after his own food
Male baby woodpecker practicing going after his own food | Source

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 | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Male baby PW belting his grown-up callMale baby woodpecker checking out his surroundingsMale baby perched on bottom of opening (see his feet?)Female baby peering outside the nest
Male baby PW belting his grown-up call
Male baby PW belting his grown-up call | Source
Male baby woodpecker checking out his surroundings
Male baby woodpecker checking out his surroundings | Source
Male baby perched on bottom of opening (see his feet?)
Male baby perched on bottom of opening (see his feet?) | Source
Female baby peering outside the nest
Female baby peering outside the nest | Source

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 | Source

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Shauna L Bowling

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      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 weeks ago from Central Florida

        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 profile image

        Nell Rose 

        2 weeks ago from England

        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! :)

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        6 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

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

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        6 weeks ago from Central Florida

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

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        6 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        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

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        6 weeks ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        6 weeks ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        6 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        6 weeks ago from Central Florida

        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

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 

        6 weeks ago from Jeffersonville PA

        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

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        2 months ago from New Delhi, India

        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.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 months ago from The Caribbean

        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!

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        2 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

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

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

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

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

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

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        2 months ago from Southern Illinois

        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.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        2 months ago from Southern Illinois

        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..

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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 profile image

        Genna East 

        2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

        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! :-)

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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?

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        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 profile image

        manatita44 

        2 months ago from london

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

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        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

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        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

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        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.

      • cam8510 profile image

        Chris Mills 

        2 months ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 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.

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