Monday, April 19, 2010

Finding a Pileated Woodpecker Nest

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let's take a short break from our Guyana adventure and enjoy a bird species that's closer to home—at least for those of us in North America.

Two weeks ago I was walking in the old orchard on our farm and I heard the tell-tale sounds of a woodpecker excavating a nest cavity. I followed the sound until I was reasonably sure I knew which large, dead tree was going to be the nest site. However, the tree (a dead yellow poplar trunk) had at least a dozen large holes in it, several of which looked relatively new.

Two days later Julie and I heard the wood-chopping sound while checking the bluebird boxes in the orchard. She immediately thought "pileated" but I wasn't so sure since we have four other woodpecker species that nest on our place. We walked to the trunk and suddenly the head of a male pileated woodpecker poked out of one of the larger holes on the southwest side of the trunk. Not wanting to spook the bird from his work, we slowly backed away and left him in peace.

The following day I went out to scope the site from a distance, but before I could even set up, the male and his mate began drumming and calling to one another. The male swooped into the nest tree, glared at me for a minute, then swooped off into the woods. Now I was really paranoid that I was going to frighten the pileateds into abandoning the nest, which I assumed was still being excavated.

Later that afternoon I went out and listened for the tapping. I heard none and could see no activity in or around the nest hole. This was my chance. I ran back to the garage and grabbed my portable photo blind. Back out to the orchard I ran. I had the thing set up in three minutes. Unzipping the peephole facing the nest I saw that my activity had not gone undetected. The male was there in the nest glaring at me. Very calmly I stepped back out of the blind, zipped it closed and strolled away nonchalantly. The male resumed his excavation a few minutes later, the impacts of his bill sounding like someone using a hatched to split kindling.

I knew I wanted to digiscope the scene but not at the expense of disturbing the birds. Clearly there was no way to get in and out of the blind unnoticed. I decided to try anyway. I went back at 3:00 pm, knowing I had a bit more than an our before I'd have to go pick the kids up at the school bus stop. I carried my Leica digiscoping rig out to the blind and slipped inside. The sound of my footfalls, or perhaps the zippers on the blind, were enough to alert the nest occupant to my presence. When I opened the blind's peephole, there was the female looking out the hole directly at me.

I set up the scope, got good focus, dropped the Leica D-Lux 4 camera and adapter over the eyepiece and shot a dozen frames. The female resumed her work, bringing bill-fulls of chips and sawdust to the opening and dumping them out.
The female pileated (note her black moustache) glaring at me.

Then I flipped it over to video and got this:

I am completely over the moon about this nest and the opportunity to observe it over the next month or so, assuming all goes well with the excavation work, the egg laying, the incubation—you get the picture. And I hope I do, too!


On April 19, 2010 at 6:31 PM Geoff said...

Thats Great! Do they make/excavate a new nest every year or will they reuse it?

On April 19, 2010 at 8:53 PM OpposableChums said...

Is that cool or what (he asked rhetorically)?


On April 19, 2010 at 9:47 PM Luisa said...

The only one I've ever seen was in Yosemite National Park off Tioga Road. I was with a group of birders led by the most excellent Gene Cardiff, and it was early in the morning, all shadowy. We heard the Pileated first, and then located him at the top of a dead pine. Just as we got our lenses focused on him, the sun came up over the ridge behind us and a ray of light set that red crest on fire like magic. It was an unforgettable moment. Have a great time nest-watching!

On April 20, 2010 at 1:50 AM Sheltiedoc said...

That is so cool! I have at least one breeding pair of pileateds that come to my suet feeder on my deck, just about six feet from my living room window (I made them a special one on a big plank to support their tails). I keep watching the woods hoping to see where their nest luck so far. They did wake me up one morning (I LEAPT out of bed) when they tried to excavate the vent hole on the side of my gas grill- it sounded like someone was jackhammering in my living room!

On April 20, 2010 at 8:54 PM cyberthrush said...

Soooper!! not surprisingly, PIWOs are among my very favorite birds to watch nesting, and once by sheer chance witnessed a pair mate... probably lasted all of 4 seconds, but it was a grand, memorable 4 seconds!
(Re: Geoff's question -- in my experience they won't re-use the same hole for breeding, but may use the same tree to drill a new nesthole; and they may use an old hole for roosting, just not for nesting again.)

On April 21, 2010 at 8:17 AM mkircus said...

You are so lucky. I think the sight of the little guys with their bad hair all crowing the hole is one of the cutest sights around. Now I live outside of Pileated territority but I have a ladderback working on a nest hole in an old telephone pole that is part of the back fence of my garden.

On April 21, 2010 at 8:34 AM Bill S. said...

Wonderful find and camera catches. I have never seen one, but hope to soon on some of my travels.

On April 21, 2010 at 9:19 AM Heather said...

Soooo awesome! Love that video. How cool that you might have little baby Pileateds in a month or so!

On April 21, 2010 at 3:08 PM Kim B. said...

This is so neat. How far off the ground are they nesting?
I saw a pair of pileated's in my woods last week so hoping they nest nearby and we see them with young ones later.

On April 22, 2010 at 6:36 PM Dave Lewis said...

Way Cool!
Now I have to sell my a spotted scope and a will I tell the Doodles...

On April 23, 2010 at 8:01 PM Rondeau Ric said...

I trust you know how spoiled you are by your feathered friends.
I want chick shots!