This is evidence of a Pileated Woodpecker at work. Submitted photo
This is evidence of a Pileated Woodpecker at work. Submitted photo

Submitted by Debby Walters/Cathy Olyphant, St. Croix Valley Bird Club

WOODVILLE, WI – A pile of wood chips beneath a tree, or the presence of a large and deep oval excavation in a decaying trunk usually indicates a Pileated Woodpecker has been busy. 

These woodpeckers are almost as big as crows and are the largest woodpecker in North America. They are mainly black with white stripes on the face, large white wing patches and they sport a bright red crest. Look closely and you might see the red stripe leading back from the beak on the male’s cheek. This facial stripe is absent on the female. Pileateds are strong fliers and easily recognized by their undulating flight.

These impressive woodpeckers are found most often in mature woods. They need standing dead trees and downed wood to thrive.  Whenever possible, leave dead trees on your property – many birds and animals will hide, nest or roost in cavities left behind by woodpeckers. As large tracts of woods disappear, Pileateds have thankfully adapted and are showing up in older wooded suburban areas.

The sound of a Pileated Woodpecker’s springtime drumming carries a long distance. Both males and females will drum to attract mates and also to declare their territory to other birds.

It is estimated that Pileated Woodpeckers hammer into wood with 1000 times the force of gravity, yet amazingly the bird survives.  Special adaptations allow for this. Their beak chisels rather than stopping in the wood, their extra strong neck muscles absorb the impact, their reduced level of cerebral fluid keeps the brain from sloshing around inside the skull, and, lastly, their brains are elongated rather than round which absorbs the impact better.

Carpenter ants and grubs are a favorite wild food, while at your feeders Pileateds devour readymade suet cakes or raw suet from the butcher.

The mission of the St. Croix Valley Bird Club is to encourage interest in birds among people of the St. Croix Valley, thereby promoting habitat conservation and restoration efforts. Find them on FaceBook or at scvbirdclub.com.