Pileated woodpecker at a suet feeder

Five species of woodpeckers inhabit the woods around our place. The largest, most colourful one is the Pileated woodpecker, who clearly resembles that crazy cartoon character we knew and loved as children. On rare occasions like the one in the photo above, Woody stops by our house for a treat of suet

More often though, I only hear his maniacal cry or catch a brief glimpse of his pointy red head as he swoops wildly through the forest. But lately, I can hear him at work during daylight hours, producing a steady tapping sound in the forest. And any day  of the week, year-round, I can see the results of his work: deep, rectangular holes in the trees.

A closer view of Woody's work

Despite the fact that we have many trees on offer, Woody seems focused on one particular Western red cedar (Thuga plicata), as you can see in the photo below. To date we’ve counted 19 woodpecker holes in this tree, which grows in a tight linear clump, flanked by two Douglas firs and a smaller red cedar. The other three trees almost never get pecked.

Tall conifers with line of deep woodpecker holes in one of them

I’m guessing that Woody’s favorite tree must be full of tasty carpenter ants, which form the main portion of a Pileated woodpecker’s diet. Since we live in a wooden house in the midst of a forest, I’m grateful for his steady work, as it may help prevent a future catastrophe for us.

In the meantime, I’ll need to keep my eye on this tree, as it could soon be a happening place for other animals as well. Woodpecker holes are used as nesting sites by a huge variety of birds and mammals including many songbirds, owls, bats and squirrels. A study by a UBC researcher found that in Canada, some woodpecker tree holes were used as many as 17 times in 13 years, by up to five different species.

Sounds like efficient use of real estate to me – well done, Woody!

About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer and writer focusing on nature and the environment

10 responses »

  1. Lisa Gordon says:

    Oh my goodness, I have never seen so many holes in one tree!
    They sure are busy little creatures. 🙂

  2. Sherry Galey says:

    What a stunning shot of the red head! And so interesting to learn about how their holes help out other creatures. Super post Laurie.

  3. Dirk and Mary Ann says:

    Great shot Laurie, Dirk >

  4. Bob Simmons says:

    We’d always been led to believe that the pileated was very shy and hard to spot. But a pair moved into our backyard woods north of Seattle and challenged every critter, including us, who trespassed. We miss them and hope their descendants are still pretending belligerence.
    Bob & Dee Simmons
    Bellingham

  5. Great post Laurie. Love the photo!

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