By Joann M. Ringelstetter
On March 1 of this year, as I worked on my laptop at the breakfast counter, something caught my eye outside my dining room window. When I turned my head to see what it was, I was startled to see a large Pileated Woodpecker hanging on the peanut feeder just outside the window. I slowly turned around to watch it and I noted that it stayed on the feeder for NINE minutes.
It’s only about 14 feet from my dining room window to the start of the woods. I first moved here in 2003 and, sometime during the first year, a Pileated Woodpecker landed on the ground at the edge of the woods. I was very excited about this because I had never seen one that close.
This Pileated Woodpecker also tried to get some suet from a small suet feeder that was hanging on a bird feeder pole. So I went out and bought another suet feeder made for larger birds. It had a long wooden “tail rest” at the bottom, which would be perfect for such a large woodpecker. I hung it on the tree above the bird bath. However, as the years went by, no Pileated Woodpeckers came to that suet feeder. I had often heard their distinct call coming from somewhere in the woods, but had only seen them in the distance.
To my surprise and delight, 2015 has been quite a different story. Throughout the months of March, April, and May, a Pileated Woodpecker continued to visit the peanut feeder several times a day, staying for as long as 13 minutes.
Because Pileated Woodpeckers are shy and cautious, and I have only seen them occasionally over the years, I wasn’t sure how to tell if it was a male or a female. And for some reason, I never took the time to look in any of my birding guides until today. I had my camera at the ready only one of the times that the bird visited, so I only have pictures of the female. But several times, I did briefly see another pileated woodpecker land on the tree by the deck while the other one of the pair was on the peanut feeder.
When spring arrived, I put out my hummingbird feeders and immediately had Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming close to my kitchen window for a drink. What was truly amazing was that there were hummingbirds (members of the smallest bird species in existence) at my kitchen window, while a few feet away at my dining room window, there was often a Pileated Woodpecker (the largest woodpecker known to exist in North America) eating from the peanut feeder.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighs a mere .1 to .2 ounces, has a wingspan of 3.1 to 4.3 inches, and beats its wings about 53 times a second. The Ruby-throated is the only breeding hummingbird in eastern North America. Pairs are together only long enough for courtship and mating and they migrate to Central America for the winter.
The Pileated Woodpecker, according to Cornell, is “one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent.” It weighs 8.8 to 12.3 ounces, has a wingspan of 26 to 29.5 inches, and its wingbeats are “strong, but slow.” Pairs are together for life and they remain in their territory year-round.
Finally, for those of you who believe in animal totems, the woodpecker is a sign of great changes. When a woodpecker comes knocking, remember to seize the moment!