Hello fellow readers, How much wood can a woodpecker peck when a woodpecker can peck wood? The answer is – lots! It’s true, the jingle is usually about a woodchuck, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I heard from Barbara of Sparta, NJ, who has a mischievous pileated woodpecker working on a tree next to her house.
“He’s leaving behind piles of woodchips in the snow,” Barbara reports adding, “five holes so far, rectangular, about 10 inches long and 5 inches wide!”
Barbara asked, “Should I have the tree taken down, or might they nest in those huge holes? Which would be wonderful if that were the case.”
The pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, is about a crow’s size, black with white stripes and a bright red cap-like crest. Their long neck excitedly drums on their feast sounding like hammering that ‘can be heard a quarter of a mile away’ tells my birder buddy Dennis of Blairstown. He went on to say Barbara’s woodpecker is probably feeding on a colony of carpenter ants. Hence her tree is likely not in its glory and may be rotting in the middle. The pileated woodpecker’s primary food is carpenter ants, supplemented by other ants, wood-boring beetle larvae, termites, and other insects. They also eat wild fruits and nuts.
Pileated woodpeckers are monogamous and bond for life. Their territory can be 150 to 200 acres, and so it is rare to see more than two birds together at a time. They usually nest 25 to 70 feet high up in a tree, so Barbara’s is a feeding tree, not a nesting tree. They prefer a dense, mature forest for nesting. Like the feeding holes, the nest’s entrance is oblong, about 3 ½ inches, and the cavity is between 10 and 24 inches deep.
As you would guess by the nesting and feeding holes’ size, these beautiful birds can kill a tree. Given the house’s proximity, it’s best to take down Barbara’s tree before Woody the Woodpecker does. Mischievous birds. Maybe that’s why their call is a loud, far-carrying laugh.
Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)
Column Updated 1/24/2021