Sighted: Red Headed Pileated Woodpecker

Spotted while mountain-biking down JimJam last week – a red-headed pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus.)

Largest of its kind in North America, and one of 6 woodpecker species likely to be seen around Pemberton/Mt Currie, the pileated woodpecker was doing what woodpeckers do best. Pecking wood. Scouting for a nice ant colony to tap.

A great article by the Whistler Naturalists explains the pileated woodpecker’s relationship to yummy carpenter ants.

It loves to eat carpenter ants. It catches the ants with a long, sticky, barbed tongue. This amazing tongue also protects the pileated woodpecker from knocking itself out when hammering on trees by acting as the skull’s shock absorber. If we were to hit our heads on a tree as hard as a pileated woodpecker does, we’d be knocked unconscious. But all the hammering does wear its bill down, thus it continuously grows throughout the bird’s life.

The pileated woodpecker doesn’t migrate from our local area in the winter. Instead, it hunts for concentrated masses of hibernating ants and spends up to a month excavating a single hole to get to the sleeping ant colony where it can take its time eating every last one of them, a much needed protein and fat feast. The holes left behind are important habitat for other birds and mammals that use them for nesting sites.

If you see a fist-sized hole in a tree, you’ve spotted the wake of the pileated woodpecker. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one in action.

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