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Published: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Pileated woodpecker's presence a treasure

  • A pileated woodpecker.

    Fred Hutchins

    A pileated woodpecker.

"My" three goldfinch babies were jostling for branch space while their mother picked at pine cones and returned in waitress mode.
The nuthatch landed on the edge of the open stain can, perhaps deciding whether to take a sip.
I could hear the machine-gun chatter of a kingfisher roaring by; a great blue heron flew semi-gracefully just over the ripples.
And in Lynnwood, Fred Hutchins' pileated woodpecker had a death grip on the swaying suet feeder in his back yard, definitely a visual treat.
Hutchins' yard has the typical complement of feathered visitors: goldfinches and other relatives, grosbeaks, red-winged blackbirds, crows, chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, downy and hairy woodpeckers, Steller's jays, and northern flickers (formerly the red-shafted flicker).
They come for the birdseed, suet, pears and apples in season, cones in the cedar and fir trees, even a few peanuts.
"I just enjoy the colors and seeing them so close to the house, and noticing how some are very shy and others definitely are not, like chickadees. They hardly pay attention to you," Hutchins said.
But the pileated woodpecker, nearly the size of a crow, was the eye candy of the summer.
"It was a real treat seeing it! I was just glad that I got the camera in time before it left. I had to shoot it through the sliding glass door," Hutchins said.
We have a pair in the adjacent coniferous woods. They stay together year-round in a territory that covers about 200 acres of older forest, but much, much larger if it's a younger forest (the older the forest, the more dead and dying trees, the more food, the less territory needed).
The most typical sign is in the very large snag next to our driveway. Huge vertical rectangular holes have been drilled through the bark and are several inches deep. That reflects the jackhammer of a long, thick bill used to dig for their main food: carpenter ants and beetle larvae.
The pileated is the largest woodpecker in North America, unless you count the possible existence of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker. It has a distinctive loud and ringing call that speeds up and rises, unlike the low-pitched drumming, which is much slower.
While their feeding holes can be huge, their nest cavity has an entrance of about 3 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter, and the depth can be up to 2 feet, although usually less. Digging out that size of nest can take weeks. Imagine how crowded it is during nesting time.
The adults have been teaching the young birds to eat, but this month the younger ones will have to find their own territories.
Count your blessings when you see, or even hear, the pileated woodpecker.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
Story tags » Bird-watching

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