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Pileated Woodpecker [video]

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

Yesterday I came across this enormous black and white woodpecker with a conspicuous bright red crest, while it was working on excavating a huge hole. Actually, I found this bird not far from my mother’s house and was amazed that it allowed me to pull my vehicle right next to it . . . . and it wasn’t spooked!! This Pileated Woodpecker has very little red on its forehead and was lacking the red on the malar region making it a female. Looking at the first photo up close . . . you will notice her brown coloring contrasting with its black wing feathers, which can sometimes be difficult to reliably age the bird (believing that the faded brown feathers were her Juvenal feathers). But, seeing the gray/tan eye coloring (Adults have bright red eyes) will confirm that this woodpecker is a second year bird (meaning she was born during the summer of 2007).

Pileated Woodpecker

I was lost for words while watching her work continuously on this one specific hole. It would work on the right side for a while . . . then over to the left side making the hole bigger and bigger!! Vehicles would pass wondering what the heck I was doing . . . . while this crow sized woodpecker just continued working on its project! Then I remember that I had my video camera with me and captured this video for everyone (1:04 long).

You might wonder why this woodpecker would put this much effort into excavating a huge hole like this? The answer is that Pileated Woodpeckers specialize on Carpenter Ants, Wood-boring Beetle Larvae, Termites and Caterpillars. I captured these photos below of some grubs that I found while splitting some firewood today.

Larvae of some wood-boring beetle in my Firewood Carpenter Ant
Wood-boring Beetle Larvae and a Frozen Carpenter Ant

One of the logs had a huge colony of Carpenter Ants (around 100 in one spot) and would provide a great deal of food for them once they reach the colony. I think finding a large larva like this would be the best prize for any woodpeckers. But getting to these grub and ants would requires her to drill these extensive holes (and is exactly why they do it)! They find them by hearing the grub chewing inside the tree and is almost like finding hidden quarters in a sawdust pile. You know that the quarters are there and can be very rewarding once you find them.

Pileated Woodpecker

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43 responses

  1. Tom- Wow, what a great encounter with this bird. Fascinating information about its age. Thanks for the video as well. Cool stuff. How much snow are you getting?


    7 March 2008 at 7:48 pm

  2. Another fascinating video! I’m glad I don’t have to find my food this way. I’d be dizzy and have a headache day after day =)

    7 March 2008 at 9:38 pm

  3. I’ve watched them at close range, too–and was amazed at how close they’d tolerate an observer–those ants must be yummy!

    Of course, ours never comes close enough for even a decent picture–let alone one showing EYE color!
    Nice job!

    7 March 2008 at 9:38 pm

  4. Great video. I usually sit there, spellbound, then say “I could have photographed that”. Can’t wait to get back to Southeast Texas to see and hear the Pileated’s this spring. Some of the things observed in Nature are astounding. BTW, like your blog (in my blogroll). Troy (in cold snowy Ft. Worth).

    7 March 2008 at 9:50 pm

  5. Oh wow–so that’s why woodpeckers peck? I always thought they were making a place to live. Food, huh? Their own drive in restaurant.

    7 March 2008 at 10:55 pm

  6. So, so, so wonderful! Thank you for that. We have Pileateds here but I haven’t made the time to go see them. I’ve only seen one flying overhead which just doesn’t feel the same as REALLY seeing one. Amazing.

    7 March 2008 at 11:21 pm

  7. Dango, that is one huge bird. Nice post, I really enjoyed learning about these woodpeckers.

    7 March 2008 at 11:45 pm

  8. What a great video! You can see the woodpecker chipping off each piece of wood with that huge hammer head. I just love those Pileated Woodpeckers. That’s a lot of work for a grub.

    8 March 2008 at 12:00 am

  9. I love pileated woodpeckers. We see them here on occassion. I’m surprised you didn’t startle it away, as they tend to be very shy, at best!

    8 March 2008 at 12:58 am

  10. That’s one of the coolest bird videos I’v ever seen! You were so lucky to get such an amazing view!!

    8 March 2008 at 1:38 am

  11. Love that video!!! To see her working away on that tree… amazing! Thanks for sharing it. :c)

    8 March 2008 at 7:27 am

  12. winterwoman

    Nice! Next post: Ivory-bill? He he…

    8 March 2008 at 7:40 am

  13. me andmy camera

    How very beautiful and how fortunate you are to have such footage and photos! I saw a Pileated fly over our house this morning and am eager to see if I can find it again in our area.

    8 March 2008 at 9:14 am

  14. @ Ohio Tom – thanks and we got our first wave and the next wave is about to hit! They are expecting over a foot of snow!
    @ Rondi – thanks and glad we all don’t have to! They don’t have headaches because they have red on there head (long story on that story)!
    @ Nina – It was amazing for sure and I probably get one close encounter a year! I think I just had mine!
    @ Troy – thanks for your kind words and welcome to this site! They are great birds to see for sure!
    @ KGMom – sort of why . . . they do for some of the reasons you also mentioned! But its more like help yourself drive in! LOL
    @ Liza – This was probably one of my best up close long watches that I have ever had with this bird! It was interesting watching how they made these holes!
    @ Trixie – thanks and they are such great birds!
    @ Linda – thanks and I love the chips flying out of the hole! Thanks and sure is!
    @ Lana – thanks and so wasn’t I! That is how I always see them!
    @ Lynne – thanks and its an honor for you saying that! I felt very lucky for sure! Ask everyone I know . . . I was showing them all after capturing it!
    @ Jayne – thanks and it was great to find for sure!
    @ Jen – I am so ready for the Ivory Billed once anyone has anything good to say about them! But I am waiting for the right moment for that!
    @ Me-and-my-camera – thanks and I sure hope you find it! They are stunning to watch!

    8 March 2008 at 9:40 am

  15. The Pileateds up here on the peninsula also tolerate rather close watching. They are quite stunning and hard to look away from, once you’ve found one in a tree. Often we hear them. They have a wonderful call too. Great video. Really captures their focus, intensity, and beauty.

    8 March 2008 at 10:15 am

  16. Wow, what a very cool video, Tom! She works so hard to reach the mother lode!

    8 March 2008 at 11:05 am

  17. Awesome video!!!!!!!

    8 March 2008 at 11:55 am

  18. This is too cool! I, too, love how it tosses the wood chips away, too.

    The pileated was my spark bird almost 3 years ago so this is really special. I’m going to share this with my brother who actually spotted the bird first. He did not become a birder like I did but I think he’ll still enjoy seeing it.

    8 March 2008 at 12:03 pm

  19. Great Video. We had a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers come to a wood pile near the house last year. After the woodpeckers were finished, I went out and looked and saw they had almost demolished the logs. The wood was probably too rotted to burn anyway and at least the woodpeckers got something out of it!

    8 March 2008 at 12:10 pm

  20. Wow, the video turned out great! The pictures are amazing just everything!

    8 March 2008 at 1:14 pm

  21. Amazing video, Tom. It’s such a treat when you can get that close and really see the details. Thanks for sharing with us.

    8 March 2008 at 4:57 pm

  22. Wow that was amazing! Thanks for explaining why it was making that huge hole, I had no clue! The video was such a treat to watch. Thanks!

    8 March 2008 at 5:34 pm

  23. So…did you stay long enough to find out if she was successful in finding her carpenter ants or other grubs? Lots of energy expenditure there! Great video. Thanks for sharing!

    8 March 2008 at 5:59 pm

  24. I would have thought a hole that big would be the beginnings of a nest hole, but I don’t think that tree is big enough. I never realized they went so in-depth to get grubs.

    Speaking of grubs, when I was chopping that wood last weekend, I found a bunch of red oak worms that I put aside to give to the birds. They loved ’em – they were gone very quickly.

    8 March 2008 at 6:31 pm

  25. Wow! Beautifully exposed images of this magnificent bird! I’ve had the opportunity to see and photograph the pileated and I’m wondering about your comment about the eye color. I don’t believe the adult has red eyes. I think the immature pileateds have brown eyes and the adults yellow. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    Again – your photos are just perfect! I’m jealous!
    – Barb

    8 March 2008 at 7:17 pm

  26. Thank you for the wonderful essay and video on the Pileated. Another neat behavoir they have is to what I call “talk to themselves” while working over a fallen log or a tree trunk. It’s a quiet little “call” they make that sounds like they are having a quite conversation with themselves.

    8 March 2008 at 8:08 pm

  27. OMG, I developed a headache watching that video! But I loved it! I’ve never seen a pileated at work. Lucky you!

    8 March 2008 at 9:08 pm

  28. Great video Tom, talk about banging your head against a wall, thanks for sharing this 🙂

    8 March 2008 at 11:17 pm

  29. @ Robin – That is great you are able to watch them so close! I do hear them more than I happen to see them! Thanks
    @ Pam – thanks and is a mother load! LOL
    @ Birdfreak – thanks and enjoyed it for sure!
    @ Beth – Ya, I also loved that part with it tossing the chips away! I didn’t know Pileated’s were you spark bird! Very cool! Hope your brother enjoys this post!
    @ Joan – If the woodpeckers demolished the log . . it is probably better they had it like you said! LOL, thanks
    @ YN-J – thanks and was great seeing her!
    @ Wren – thanks and big thanks for the stumble! I am glad you enjoyed this!
    @ Chicago – thanks and glad that I was able to find some grub to show everyone what they are working for! Glad you enjoyed it!
    @ Sherry/zoo – sure was and it is amazing what mother nature can do!
    @ Marty – this is too clumsy of a hole and they can really bake them 4 or 5 times bigger than this! You know when you are a good naturalist when you are looking in your firewood for grub! LOL
    @ Barb – thanks for visiting and glad you enjoyed this! My banding guide “Identification Guide to North American Birds” states that adults have red eyes! Also, if you look in Sibley’s guide, you will notice that he painted the birds with red eyes! Thanks for such kind words and glad we connected!
    @ Vern – I was soo excited when I captured this video! I think I showed everyone I knew the video! I have heard that call you are talking about but was in May sometime! Thanks
    @ Mary – LOL, you need to put a red hat on and that will make your headache go away! Future post to help explain the red part!
    @ Bernie – thanks and quietly saying “yes, Yes YES!!” when I captured the clip! 🙂

    8 March 2008 at 11:36 pm

  30. Tom thanks for coming by my blog. I have been terrible about getting to blogs of late. My schedule will soon relax I hope.

    Anyways I love seeing this video. I hope to see a Pileated Woodpecker someday.
    We ended up with a good 3 to 4 feet of snow. yuck

    9 March 2008 at 12:14 am

  31. Hi Tom – I have to say that this pileated eye color thing is driving me nuts! I looked at Sibley’s guide – the eyes there are painted a bit on the ‘orange/yellow’ side BUT compare the pileated eye with the adult Cooper red eye and that is RED. Peterson does not have a RED eye. I have been googling all day to find a pileated image with RED eyes and I can not find one. If you know where I can see a real time photograph of an adult pileated with a clearly RED eye — please send me a link! Call me crazy — but I just don’t believe it – every pileated I have ever seen has yellowish rims around the dark pupils! Have you ever seen one with RED eyes.
    Thanks for putting up with me – haha.
    P.S. you don’t have to post this comment…you can just e-mail me if you find a good link.

    9 March 2008 at 12:46 pm

  32. Marg

    How fabulous I finally got to read this ;D

    I love Pileated and so miss our lone female we had last Winter I was really hoping she’d find a mate and STAY!

    There calls are wonderful!

    9 March 2008 at 6:06 pm

  33. @ Toni- I always love seeing your post! Do what you need to do . . we all understand!
    @ Barb – thanks and I have sent you the email already with a few pictures that I found! I do agree that many of the eyes have a orange color to them!! I can’t wait to hear about your email back!
    @ Marg – So am I glad you made it here! Maybe your pileated will find a friend? Lets hope so!

    9 March 2008 at 8:38 pm

  34. Lisa at Greenbow

    Being such a large bird I think they aren’t as skittish as others. I have had some close encounters with Pileateds too. Such a handsome bird. When they get to frisking around with each other,their heads bobbing, they remind me of the Woody Woodpecker cartoons I watched as a child. Great photos and video. I have carpenter ants in the garden…why don’t I have a pileated Woodpecker? I want one.

    10 March 2008 at 6:57 am

  35. So far I’ve seen two of these guys (two too far away to capture well on film) and one woke me up super early – I wandered outside only to have spooked it off. It amazes me how different the personalities of birds are… some take off while others just take one look at me and think (aww.. she’s hairless I guess she carries no threat.) If you ever get insight as to why I’d love to hear it. (maybe the right color of clothes… or something.) These are gorgeous shots! Thank you for walking us through the ID. That will really come in handy later. Again – I love your eye candy alongside the information. Great work!

    10 March 2008 at 3:00 pm

  36. lvn600

    Wow-what great photos and video capture! _For some reason the pileateds I see always take off.-Maybe I’ll get lucky this year.

    10 March 2008 at 9:39 pm

  37. Awesome video! I hope to make it upstate again sometime soon.

    10 March 2008 at 10:03 pm

  38. Tom – what a FABULOUS and informative post! The still images are great and the video too – how about those chunks she excavated! Applause Applause!

    13 March 2008 at 7:37 pm

  39. Tom – guess what? I just found my first pileated woodpecker picture on the net that I DO BELIEVE has RED eyes!!!
    I’m so glad this came up and now – I KNOW. You are right!

    14 March 2008 at 10:22 pm

  40. @ Lisa – They do remind me of Woody also! I call the Woodpecker Dr to help your trees!
    @ Aullori – thanks and sounds like they would make the most perfect alarm clock! LOL Birds do have personalities and it’s great that you can pick up on some of them!
    @ lvn – thanks and I hear more than see . . but when I do they quickly disappear!
    @ Christina – thanks and I would love that! Anytime my friend, any time!
    @ Zen – thanks and those chunks are amazing! Thanks 🙂
    @ Barb – bravo and great picture also! Did David ever get back to you on these guys? I wonder if some of those others we looked at might have been off from their photoshoping or exposure making it look off orange! I am also but do note that I was only writing what was in my reference material! But, you did have me questioning myself! Hey, you should blog about this little pileated project you did? ?

    14 March 2008 at 11:23 pm

  41. Great images, how lucky you were to see this let alone get great photos. This is Carols nemesis bird, She is going to love your post and I’m sure you will here from her.

    It’s about the Journey

    13 April 2008 at 1:45 pm

  42. Hello. I drove into my folks driveway last night around 7PM and 25 feet in front of me was a huge redheaded woodpecker silently pecking at a totally rotten log next to the wood pile. It let me walk up to about 14 feet. What a beautiful site. Your video of one proves it was a pileated woodpecker. How common are they to southern New England? Thanks.

    19 April 2008 at 8:23 am

  43. Durant family

    We just saw a male pileated on our suet in our suburban rochester backyard. Dan saw one a few weeks ago pecking away on an old rotten tree, so he won’t take the tree down and he has been looking for the it without luck. Today, our dgter said “hey ! look how big that thing is” – called us over. Four of us stood for about five minutes watching him feed on the suet. How thrilling. Now we know why we’ve been going through so much suet – we thought the downies and hairies were feeding their babies. We’ve seen a pileated only a handful of times in the 27 years we’ve been here and last fall Dan saw a couple in the Adirondacks. We found your site while looking for a picture for our grandson to print to take to kindergarten on Monday. Have camped in Allegheny State Park since a child, tho not recently. Thanx for the video and other pictures. Dan/Cheryl

    31 May 2008 at 4:47 pm

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