|Female Pileated at nest tree with female (top) and male (bottom) nestlings.|
|Male Pileated Woodpecker at nest tree and two female nestlings.|
|Note the long tounge of the pileated woodpecker used to extract insects.|
Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus – Horse cove; Gurley, Al.
For years I had wanted to photograph a pileated woodpecker at its nest. But, I never could seem to find the right one, they were always too high and I could never get the right angle. In 2008 however, while driving up my driveway I noticed a dead pine with a large hole about thirty-five feet up the tree. I had not noticed the hole before, but it was big enough to be a pileated woodpecker nest or roost cavity.
Hoping that the new excavation was made by a pileated woodpecker, I attached a video camera to a nearby tree, turned it on and let the camera record for about four hours. Right after sunset I retrieved the camera and reviewed the footage.
With great anticipation I fast-forwarded the video, and just before sunset the camera captured a pileated woodpecker flying to, and entering the cavity. I spent a couple of days observing the cavity and soon discovered that the birds were sitting on eggs. The nest was in the perfect location. The nest tree had grown out of a creek bed, and my vantage point was from a thirty feet bluff along side the creek and nest tree. I was almost eye-to-eye with the birds when they clung to the nest cavity entrance. Distance and angle was just perfect for photography.
I photographed the birds from a blind for a couple of week and took the best pileated photos I’ve ever taken. Both the female and the male incubated the eggs, the female, during the day and the male at night. The male did relieve the female during the day, giving her opportunities to feed. As the nestling grew the parents would feed them about every thirty minutes. This meant that each parent was away from the nest for about an hour at a time.
Sitting in the blind, I could always tell when a parent bird was returning to the nest. The nestling would begin to buzz, sounding more like bees than birds. They would make quite a commotion. It was about five days before the nestlings fledged that they began to sound like pileated woodpeckers. Three nestling fledged the first week of May, two females and a male. For a month I saw them moving around the forest as a family group.
After years of looking for the right pileated woodpecker nest to photograph the nest I eventually found was less than three-hundred feet from my front door. I had hopes of the birds nesting in the same tree the next year, or screech owls taking over the cavity the following spring. But that did not happen, five months after the nestlings fledged, strong winds toppled the tree. However all was not lost. The downed nest tree gave me an opportunity to study a pileated cavity up-close.