Our state’s largest woodpecker, the crow-sized pileated woodpecker, has been heard of late. Listen for drumming on hollow branches and trunks of trees. The bird is announcing its territory.
The birds also have started calling. Their call sounds like a cackle. It resembles a flicker’s call, but is louder and richer. The woodpecker is a relatively silent bird for much of the year, but that changes when nesting season arrives.
Pileated means crested. The large red-crested woodpecker is a permanent resident throughout the forested part of Minnesota and in heavily timbered valleys and lakeshores of prairie and farmland areas. It lives almost wholly within the canopy of the trees and easily eludes observation. The pileated woodpecker feeds on insects that infest standing and fallen trees and supplements this diet with wild berries and acorns. Ants are a favorite food.
It’s in the pursuit of ants that the woodpecker cuts large furrows, about 4 to 8 inches wide, deep into the trunks of living or dead standing trees. The cuts may be more than a foot long and aligned in vertical rows.
Pileateds can be hard to spot, but it was always easy for my young students to see where one had been working in a forest. When examining the excavations in tree trunks, it is apparent that the birds penetrate the passageways of the carpenter ants. I have found that pileated woodpeckers will come to feeding stations, even in residential areas, that offer shelled peanuts and or suet in large feeders.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. Gilbert worked and taught as a naturalist for 50 years.