Pileated Woodpecker – Part II

This is the second part in a four-part series. I wish to read from​ Part I

  ​This story tracks the life of a young Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus family living in a Beech-Maple forest of Southern Ontario.
  It was June 3, 2016 when I first witnessed the two nestlings, blind and featherless, with their heads poking out of the hole, begging for food. While eagerly awaiting their parents’ return, they had built up strength to scale the cavity wall and gather at the entrance. Both mother and father now worked tirelessly – foraging, flying, and feeding – to keep their rapidly growing nestlings nourished. By June 11th the little ones were covered in black down. They had vibrant red crests and their eyes were open, bright & lively. They even had mustaches with traces of colour to reveal their genders.

  This painting genuinely portrays the joyful expressions of the two nestlings I had the pleasure and privilege of observing.

‘nestlings eagerly awaiting parents return’

Natural science digital painting Dryocopus pileatus Nestling
"Dryocopus pileatus Nestling", digital painting © 2017, Suzanne M Matheson

​ I would put these nestlings at just under 2 weeks old, based on my dates of observation and the nesting period information given in “Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds”, by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison (2nd edition, 2005).

And here's the present-day account:

  Apr 22, 2017 the day began with wood chips in my hair — a new nest for a new family. Continuing the account of this year’s family (see “Pileated Woodpecker – Part I”) . . .
  What struck me about the sighting on May 31, 2017, was how swift and quiet the exchange had been. If I hadn’t been watching closely, I would have missed it altogether. My recollection of the previous year was that while the arrivals and departures were always swift, they were heralded with vigorous announcements of “cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk”. Then I wondered, perhaps when the nestlings are most vulnerable, the parents do everything they can to prevent predator awareness. Certainly, they always check the trees and the sky before entering and leaving the cavity.
  I’ve been noticing that when both male and female parents are visiting the nest in turn, they arrive and depart in opposite directions. Is this a strategy to avoid competition for resources? Perhaps it is also a strategy to minimize predator awareness – not taking the same route to and from the nest? These questions provoked others: Does each bird maintain it’s own territory year-round? Do they part ways after child-rearing? Are they monogomous? Such questions find answers in “The Birder’s Handbook A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds”, by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, & Darryl Wheye (1988). According to this book, Yes! “Year-round territory and pair bond.” So, this suggests that the parents I am observing now are the individuals we got to know a year ago. “Hello! It’s so nice to see you again!” : D
  In the evening of June 8, 2017 Steve, Deli & myself went out to check on the family. We weren’t there very long when mama woodpecker landed on a nearby tree and watchfully made her way to the nest. Before arriving at the entrance three little heads popped up, chattering fiercely. The next morning I went back to get a better look. The female parent made meal trips several times during the course of an hour, with each feeding lasting not more than a minute. Nestling development seems to be one week behind what it was last year. Perhaps this is weather-related, with last spring being so much warmer and dryer than this one has been?

I wish to read “Pileated Woodpecker – Part III

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If you would like to learn more about
Pileated Woodpecker nesting behaviour
​in Eastern North America,
check out nature photographer,
​Pamela Dimeler’s You Tube channel.

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