A Pileated Woodpecker Up Close

A declining maple tree with a dead central leader was the stage. Our largest woodpecker, hammering away in decayed wood in search of ants and other insects, provided the entertainment. I see or hear these large, crow-size woodpeckers almost daily, but this was a rare opportunity for me to see one up close, one that was more interested in carpenter ants than the human audience.

The cavity and foraging bird were clearly visible from the edge of my friends driveway. Unsure of the bird’s reaction to my presence, I started shooting immediately.



Feeding was nearly continuous and moments like this were few and far between. The red stripe on the cheek told us this was a male.




Excavations by pileated woodpeckers leave cavities in dead and dying trees that are critical habitat for many species of wildlife. Given the location, this exquisite cavity might be claimed by squirrels or owls. Arboriculture (landscape/residential tree care) practices generally call for the removal of dead and dying trees or tree parts in order to reduce hazards and maintain tree health and longevity. However, in cases where wildlife habitat is a priority and the hazard assessment is low, benign neglect might be a viable option.

PileatedExcavation#1 Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.


8 thoughts on “A Pileated Woodpecker Up Close

  1. Marvellous ‘in the moment’ shots Nick. Love the head down and in the hole foraging aspect. Hope it contained a motherload of ants and other scrumptious insects. Such a cocky looking fella with his red Mohican. Glad to read that arboriculture can be overridden by habitat needs 🙂

    • Thanks Liz. The odds of being immersed in the moment, in the right place and right time, have not been in my favor with respect to the pileated. We have a lot of dead and dying timber in our forests and they range widely and unpredictably from one feeding site to another. I know of their presence more by sound than sight.

  2. So wonderful to see these images of this guy! I used to hear them at the old house, but it was a good long stretch before I even got a peek at one! Fantastic shooting there Nick!

  3. An great series of shots, Nick. How fortunate to get so close. We have them here in our woods (mostly spruce and poplar, but it’s the spruce that house the carpenter ants). A friend on Vancouver Island feeds birds — including pileated. I was sitting only feet away from these gorgeous birds, totally mesmerized as they gobbled up peanuts in the shell. (Of course, no camera with me. Sigh.)

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