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.
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.
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 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.
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.