King of Woodpeckers

I know very little about the largest insect-eater in Altona Forest. The pileated is the largest known woodpecker in North America. (While there was one southern, larger species, it is believed to be extinct.)  The pileated woodpecker is a rare sight but they do occur throughout the deciduous forests of Ontario and across the continent, and there is at least 1 nesting pair in Altona Forest.

You will recognize this bird easily by its large size, dramatically black and white striped head area, and the bright red crest feathers on its head. The pileated is as large as a crow with large tail feathers it uses as stability and leverage when pecking a tree. Many people are surprised by the ‘prehistoric’ look of this bird.


Perhaps a juvenile since she was slightly smaller, this pileated was spotted yesterday in Altona Forest

The most common way to notice that a pileated is near-by is the large long-oval holes they dig into a tree in their search for insects. You can see wood shavings below the holes and based on how fresh these holes are, you can gauge if the woodpeckers are still in the area. The depth of the holes is quite impressive and is both for feeding and nesting. When you see the size of their beaks you can gain an appreciation of their power when drilling into trees. If you see a relatively fresh hole in a tree, listen for the tat-tat-tat of their beaks in nearby trees which can lead to a sighting.


A fresh, very typical hole

These year-round inhabitants of our forest eat mainly ants as well as caterpillars and insect larvae. They rely on dead or dying trees which are havens for insects – the more that remain standing for their use the better.  They are rare to backyard feeders, though I do have a confirmed report that one visited a suet feeder in a home backing onto the Rouge National Park nearby. You can imagine your reaction to seeing one of these birds in your garden!


King of Woodpeckers ~ © 2014 Natasha G



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