Friday, June 11, 2010

Pileated Nest Part Two

Friday, June 11, 2010
Check out the swirling feathers of the female pileated woodepcker's crest!.

On the afternoon of May 15 I went back out to check on the progress of the pileated woodpecker nest I'd discovered in our orchard. Both birds of the mated pair had been sharing excavation duties and I wanted to see if they were still at work, or if egg laying had begun.

Soon after I entered the blind, the female flew in to the tree with the nest cavity. Without a sidewards glance, she entered the hole and started bringing out chips and dust from the bottom of the cavity. I noticed that I heard no loud hammering when she was in the cavity. A day earlier, I'd watched the male at the site and when he was inside, the hammering was loud and he emerged with chips rather than dust.

When the female reached to the bottom of the cavity to scoop up chips and dust, just the tip of her tail was visible.

On this day the female was coming up with mostly dust and dumping it out of the cavity. As she reached headfirst into the bottom of the cavity, I could see just the tip of her tail. This allowed me to estimate the inside depth of the cavity at easily 12 inches. Adult pileateds are between 16 and 19 inches in length from bill tip to tail end. They had excavated this cavity in less than two weeks.

I heard a loud drum from the deep woods to the southwest of the blind, followed by a pileated's contact call. Moments later the female exited the nest and flew off in the direction of the call.

The male came back next and continued his excavation. He chiseled for a while then brought several bill-fulls of chip up to the hole and let the breeze blow them from his open bill.

At one point he stopped to rest and seemed to notice my spotting scope sticking out of the blind's peephole. He stopped and stared. Turning his head left and right, he look the scene over very carefully.
The male was quite wary while in the nest.

He seemed to relax after a few minutes (and so did I) but he did not resume working. Instead, perhaps due to the heat of the afternoon, he began to pant with his bill open.

When the breeze would rise in force, the male would raise his bill—was he letting cool air flow across his throat and chest? I'll never know, but this seemed plausible.
He might have just been looking around, or he might have been trying to cool off in the breeze.

He closed his eyes and took a few short naps, so I knew he was unconcerned with my presence. This made me happy because I was looking forward to watching the entire nesting cycle—if these birds were lucky enough to nurture a brood from hatching to fledging. The huge, yellow poplar they'd chosen as a nest site was broken off on top and it was missing some of its bark, but there was no real impediment to prevent a hungry raccoon from climbing up to the cavity and making a meal of the eggs.

Male pileated woodpecker catching a few winks.

I'll revisit the pileated nest in some future posts. But right now I've got to go scouting for a Big Day field trip I'm leading tomorrow.


On June 11, 2010 at 8:07 PM CNemes said...

Great photos! The last one is poster child material. "Cavity experts agree: sugar-free Diet Coke is better!"

On June 11, 2010 at 9:14 PM forestal said...

fantastic - great to be able to watch this


On June 11, 2010 at 10:15 PM A New England Life said...

We had a pair of Pileated's nesting in a tree adjacent to our house last year. I too was able to photograph them during the excavation. Quite a thrill!

I never did see any babies so I'm not sure if I missed the nesting process or what. They came back again this year to the same tree but people live in the house now where the tree is located so I can't watch them. Looking forward to more photos!

On June 15, 2010 at 12:46 PM Luke said...

This is really amazing! Nice work!

On June 15, 2010 at 6:39 PM Heron said...

Love the photos ! This is a wonderful thread. Thanks !

On June 19, 2010 at 6:09 PM Kay said...

This was a wonderful adventure in birding that didn't necessitate going out into 90+ degree heat! Thank you for the chance to do some arm-chair birding.

On June 20, 2010 at 1:10 PM Jeff Bouton said...

awesome images Bill. Thanks for sharing this fun aspect of rarely seen natural history with us.How far away are you when you're digiscoping these birds?...