Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DANGEROUS WOODPECKER?

The word pileated when referring to a bird means “having a crest on the top (pileus) of the head.” You can certainly see that—in all its bright red glory—in the portrait of a female pileated woodpecker, made as she worked a suet feeder near my front door this morning. The scarlet crest is easily the bird’s most eye-catching feature. Honestly, though, everything about this huge bird is simply spectacular Its size is about that of a crow. Yet its conformation is so primitive—seemingly as much pterodactyl as woodpecker—that the pileated somehow appears even bigger. Trust me, a photo won’t really prepare you for that first time when you look out and see this giant bird hanging from your feeder. The second shot shows—though not particularly well, and you will need to double-click and expand to see this detail—the tip of the long, sticky tongue the woodpecker uses to probe in a tree’s cracks and crevices and snake out an ant or similar crawly morsel. When fully extended, this worm-like tongue is considerably longer. Okay, I admit—perhaps I am becoming a bit obsessed with my oversized woodpeckers. The pileateds and I are still playing our photo game of sneak-and-spot…and I’m still losing most of the rounds. But I’m getting trickier and more adapt (or possibly just luckier) at stalking and waylaying them on their daily routines. Even so, the task is far from easy. The pileateds are ever alert, always watching, and will spook at a shadow. Plus, maybe it's me, but there’s something definitely disquieting about the look in their eye—a fierceness you don’t usually expect in a woodpecker. That, plus watching the way they use their long, stout, and obviously sharp chisel-like bills to lop off slabs of wood or bark from a tree with a casual whack—likely explains why I sometimes catch myself thinking…this crazy woodpecker could be dangerous! I kinda like that—a notion of menace in these red-headed wood whackers. Even if it isn't true. So keep your fingers crossed…maybe next time I’ll manage to bushwhack the male—or maybe the pileateds will bushwhack me. Either way, there's sure to be a good photo in the encounter.

28 comments:

giggles said...

"WOW!"

Literally the first wod out of my mouth (out loud, to boot) at seeing your photo....

Wow!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

The light was soft and good, the woodpecker was hungry, and I got lucky.

It wowed me, too, when I downloaded or uploaded or whateverloaded. They are such neat, spectacular birds!

Wanda said...

We had a family of them last year...adult and two young ones... then the two all summer would visit a decaying log near the shed..haven't had any on our feeders...YET!

Jain said...

Gasp!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

What wonderful luck and such a neat thing—all those pileateds. I have a pair on the island across from the cottage, and every once in a while both birds will be on this side of the river at the same time.

In case you didn't see the posting, I'm also hoping for a "family portrait" later this summer. (See: PILEATED PASSION a few posts back.)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Gasp?

Nahhh…Pileated. We'll save "Gasp!" for an Ivory-bill.

(Okay, I've reconsidered, we can do "Gasp!" on the Pileated, and "GASP!!!" on the Ivory-bill. Does that work for you?)

Jain said...

Yeah, works for me!

But--just for the record--the gasp wasn't just for the bird but for the exquisite photos!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Hey, gimmie soft light and a bird that will sit still and I can get the shot. (I'm great on rocks and trees and big ol' immovable objects, too.)

Rowan said...

Brilliant photos especially the one showing the pileated's tongue. Something like that is split secon stuff. I'm surprised that they are so large - assuming that your crows are as big as UK crows. All three of our woodpeckers are much smaller than that. The largest is the green woodpecker which is 32cm long, they are in our local wood but I've never seen one.

gleaner said...

Funnily, I was pondering the word "pileated" because you have mentioned it numerous times...I didn't quite get to the dictionary and your post today has answered it.

Beaut photo and beaut bird!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Catching that tongue partially extended was nothing but pure luck. It is a split-second event. One other frame I made also showed the tongue—though the woodpecker was turned more toward the camera and the tongue as moving (in or out?) and thus blurred. Not as good a shot for showing the tongue.

Actually, I believe their tongue can be extended about as far past the tip of the bill as the distance between the base of the bill and its tip—so my shot showed only a small portion.

To give you a better size idea, our pileated woodpecker is between 46–50cm, with up to a 75cm wingspan; the other four species of woodpeckers which I have around the cottage are all considerable smaller.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gleaner…

Yup, from the Latin "pileus" which is a skullcap or something resembling a skullcap. Not that I knew that before I looked it up, either.

And the photos were about as much luck as talent—but the bird is indeed spectacular.

giggles said...

Word, not wod... I was waaaaay excited... Gasp!

Went to listen to an orchestra of peepers Weds night..... (Go visit the "Wildside" (http://blog.wildsidenaturetours.com/) blog to see a coupla good picutres? I was with that group.... The players were LOUD! It was fabulous!!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

I figured that on the word. Also, I went, I looked (didn't see you) and thought it interesting that the peepers are still peeping. I haven't heard a single one here and figured I'd missed them for this year—but maybe not. So I think I'll check out a few nearby ponds over the next few evenings. Nothing like a good frogsing!

giggles said...

I was there, but not photographed.... Huuum, if I was not photographed, does that mean I was not there..........?

(Or was that ME singing in the photo???!)

Gail said...

Hey Grizz-

Amazing photos - wonderful information about woodpeckers -
I have never seen the woodpecker(s) that wakes us up pecking loudly on the house frame - usually around five a.m./ yawn.

and I am VERY excited to share that our first humming bird of this season appeared at our feeder yesterday. I am thrilled. :-)


Love Gail
peace......

p.s "Thank you" for your visit and wonderful, heart-felt comment on my blog. It's my Dad's birthday today,he would have been 89. I wrote about him today.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

If a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it…was the forest there?

(I've looked again—on second thought, maybe that was you singing.)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

No hummers here yet—but I expect them any day.

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if your house-whacking woodpecker doesn't turn out to be a downy. Providing you can get up in time to catch him in the act and I.D. the perp. I've had more early wake-ups due to downies than all other woodpeckers combined.

(Re. my visit…thank you. The pleasure was honestly mine—I really enjoyed the piece about your dad.)

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Brilliant!

(Was it the pileated that had you slithering around on the floor to sneak up with your camera, in a previous post, or was that another bird?)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

The femme fatale herself!

I crawled, I slithered, I sidled, and I lurked. I used every sneaky, stealthy, sly, surreptitious, clandestine, covert, and furtive move I knew. I skinned my knees, embarrassed the dog, and got carpet burns on the tip of my nose.

In the end, I think that woodpecker took pity on me and allowed me to have my photo fun.

Deb said...

Congratulations on some nice pileated photos! They look so awkward and oversized on bird feeders, don't they?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Deb…

I see these birds every day—but whenever I see them really close, in the tree where this feeder is hanging or actually on the feeder, I'm just astonished. They look so much bigger than they do flying or working up a tree at a distance. My mind is just not prepared for a woodpecker THAT big.

Sydney said...

gorgeous bird and fabulous photos. I am jealous that I didn't see it with my own eyes and they he or they are visiting you in your yard! Thanks for bringing it to us. Stop by to see a little squirrel I fed right on the tree... called him from high up in the branches. Those little buggers will do anything for a nice pecan or three.

Jayne said...

OH, what I wouldn't give to SEE a sight such as this, let alone photograph it! Spectacular!!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Sidney…

She is a gorgeous bird. (A female, BTW; the male pileated has a red "mustache" just to the rear of the bill.) A pair live of the island directly across from the cottage and take turns visiting.

I will stop by and see your squirrel. I have gray squirrels by the half-dozen, a couple of red squirrels (pineys) and on the island, fox squirrels. None would come close to eating a peanut from my hand, though. (Fat chance I'd feed them pecans!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

The seeing part is easy enough here…it's the photographing business that gets complicated.

But they really are something!

Leigh Russell said...

wonderful

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Leigh…

Thank you.