Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter Visitor

Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus

This woodpecker was pecking away in our yard when we got home the other day! We can see he has been working on a couple of the coniferous trees in our yard by the fresh wood chips on the snow.
It really is neat to see a pileated woodpecker. They are large birds (up to 47cm tall!) and are quite striking with their red tufts atop their heads and white and black markings around their eyes and neck.

I've posted before about the importance of cavity trees in our woodlots. Pileated woodpeckers require snags (standing dead trees) for habitat, like the white spruce below. All the needles and much of the bark have fallen off. There are two in a row that are similar and the woodpecker seems to like them both!
There are also often wood-boring insects who are feasting on the dead tree, which in turn make a tasty feast for the pileated woodpecker. By eating large numbers of these insects, pileated woodpeckers also help to control insect populations that can damage valuable trees- commercially important or otherwise.
Pileated woodpeckers excavate cavities in snags that can be used for nesting and roosting. They are usually long oval or rectangle shaped holes in the tree. I went out the next day to see the work of this particular bird:

Pileated woodpeckers often abandon the cavities they create. These abandoned cavities make high quality nesting and refuge habitat for other species like wood ducks and squirrels.

Keep your ears open for the tapping of a pileated woodpecker this winter. If you can find where it is, you have a good chance of catching it at work- and helping to keep the forest healthy.

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