Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MISTER BIG!

Male pileated on the suet feeder this morning.

When it comes to the feeding hierarchy among my dooryard birds, the humongous pileated woodpecker is like the 500-pound gorilla looking to select a seat in the living room. Where does he sit? Anywhere he wants! So it goes with this yellow-eyed, chisel-beaked, feathered pterodactyl. When does he get a turn at the suet block? Anytime he wishes!

Flickers, starlings, red-bellied woodpeckers—everyone gives way when Mister Big comes to dine. Frankly, I don't blame 'em. A woodpecker the size of a crow is scary, especially when you see what can only be described as a malevolent, and slightly deranged glint in those lizzardy-looking eyes. Don't let the feathers fool ya…this is one potentially mean customer! One whack from that broadsword beak and you'd have a wound requiring stitching. Don't think so? Just watch the chips fly when a pileated goes to work on a tree. He might as well be wielding an axe. 

Birds may have bird brains, but they not so dumb as to challenge Mister Big. Even the feisty Carolina wren, a regular David-vs-Goliath at the feeders, knows when to exercise discretion over valor. However, the little wren has also learned that when a pileated feeds, ample crumbs follow. That was the case this morning. The pileated flapped in, momentarily landed on the nearby tree before transferring to the suet feeder, and once in place, settled in for a messy breakfast. Crumbs showered onto the snow below—where the little wren waited, happy to eat away and let Mister Big do the serving.
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38 comments:

Hilary said...

They sure are amazing. I've still never seen one. We have plenty of Downies around, and I've heard the Pileated's call on a few occasions, but I've never been able to locate him with either eye or lens. Beautiful shot.

Scott said...

What a great account of the pileated at your feeder. Despite the fact that a pileated regularly patrols the woods around my house, I have yet to see it come to my seed or suet feeders.

KGMom said...

Gorgeous photo. I have only seen pileateds once--actually several times but on one trip. I was at a conference in southern Indiana--out in the woods. And there was a pair of pileateds. Amazing birds.

ellen abbott said...

Although I have not seen them at the country house, there was one that had a nest near the city house and for a couple of years it would visit the half dead camphor tree in my front yard. I was used to the tap tap tap and ratatat-tat of the smaller woodpeckers but one day I heard this one single loud THUNK. and then another one. curious, I went to see what was making that noise and there was the pileated woodpecker. such a beauty.

Gail said...

GRIZZ_

great picture ANd I always learn so much from you about the natural habits of all your nature-land, river bank co-inhabitants. Fascinating. And I have known and know a few people that command in the same way as Mister Big" :-) I guess we all do, huh?

Love to you
Gail
peace.....

George said...

As I've said before, Grizz, seeing a pileated woodpecker always stops me in my tracks, leaving me with the thought that I may never come upon the likes of something like this again. Through grace, however, I do make such discoveries again, but each encounter is always life love a first sight. Your photo of this majestic creature is sensational!

Beyond My Garden said...

Properly named "pecking" order.
nellie

Linda said...

Beautiful photo and vivid description of two rivals at the same feeder.

Arija said...

OOps, I misread that to 'a woodpecker the size of a cow' ,with you writing it, I'd believe (almost) anything.
Though rather vicious looking, he is very beautiful with his red crown.

Rowan said...

What a very handsome bird - He must be worth seeing too if he's the same size as a crow. Strikes me that the Carolina wren has a good deal of common sense even if he/she isn't going to give Einstein any competition:)

Murr Brewster said...

I have woodpecker envy. Closest I get is a flicker, and it's hammering on my house.

Deus Ex Machina said...

They are beautiful. We discovered only last year that we have a family of them living in the trees around our house and our neighbor's house.

Jayne said...

Just GORGEOUS!! I keep waiting for the day here on Chickadee. :c)

Grizz………… said...

Hilary…

I'm lucky, living so close to a metropolitan area, to have pileateds around. I hope you do get to see one someday—and up close. Reading and looking at photos simply does not prepare you for their sheer size and look. They are astonishing birds, even when you get to see them regularly.

Grizz………… said...

Scott…

As a kid, I used to see a few pileateds in the big woods around here and in the hill country to the southeast. Bug watching one that's gloamed onto your suet feeder ten feet from the window is something else entirely. I hope you get the chance soon.

Grizz………… said...

KGMom…

Yup, southern Indiana would be a good place for pileateds, though you certainly have them in your part of the country, too. But in spite of mine (due, really, to the river's corridor woods) pileateds are a big woods, mostly rural bird. They are, indeed, amazing.

Grizz………… said...

Ellen…

Uh-huh, there's no doubt when a pileated begins whacking away…they're loud enough to make you think someone is taking an axe to your tree. Often, as one of my feeder pileateds readies to fly away after eating, it hops over to the nearby box elder and gives a couple of cursory whacks to the trunk before taking off—and each time, a chunk of bark almost the size of my hand flakes off and I want to dash out and scream at the bird to quit destroying my tree!

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Thank you. And I know what you mean—I've known such overpowering/near-frightening folks myself. I'm no small guy, at 6'1" and a whole bunch of pounds, and think of myself as reasonably tough. But a few years ago I happened to be staying at a hotel when the Pittsburg Steelers football team came in…and I felt like a mouse in a room full of cats! I was not only the smallest physically, but no question I was the wussiest, too. They were like creatures from another planet. Some of those linebackers looked as though they'd just been let out of their cages and would any minute start using their knuckles when walking!

Grizz………… said...

George…

I feel the same way—and I see one or two almost every day. They still stop me in my tracks and cause me to gape. And every time, I think what a loss it is to not have the—by all accounts—even more spectacular ivory bill around. (Though hope still glimmers that a few still manage to hold out in the Georgia/Florida swamps, or somewhere in Cuba.)

The photo was taken through the breakfast-table window. The suet feeder is about ten feet away.

Grizz………… said...

Beyond My Garden …

Yup, "pecking order" is the absolutely appropriate term, and the pileated pecks from the topmost position.

Grizz………… said...

Linda…

Well, there's really no rivalry involved—the pileated flies in and everyone else hastily gives way. Unless one of my river-fishing herons one day decides to sample the suet, the pileated will doubtless always remain unchallenged.

Grizz………… said...

Arija…

Your momentary misreading puts me in mind of that old schoolyard ditty: Birdie, birdie in the sky, dropped your whitewash in my eye…gee but I'm glad that cows don't fly!

A valid thought, if ever I heard one!

giggles said...

OM Goodness!!!! OMG, OMG, OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wowza yowza!!!!!!!! I'm speechless!!!!!!!!!!!!! FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Grizz………… said...

Rowan…

Carolina wrens are feisty, and cute as a button. I've seen them squabble with red-bellied woodpeckers, starlings, blue jays, and just about every other feeder bird that tries to push them around. But pileateds are a whole different league.

Grizz………… said...

Murr Brewster…

Indeed, a pileated vs. a flicker is guaranteed to invoke immediate envy in even the least competitive birdwatcher.

And speaking of flickers…at this moment there's a female flicker on the very same suet feeder in the post photo. The size difference between the two birds is remarkable.

By the way , I don't know if you're a regular reader of Riverdaze, or simply found your way here for the first time, but either way, know you're always welcome.

Grizz………… said...

Deus Ex Machina…

Finding you have pileateds nearby is a worthy discovery—and sure to invoke a case of woodpecker envy among those lacking such a blessing.

BTW, there's an account in one of the long out-of-print books by Edmond Ware Smith, an old Maine author who wrote a number of fine outdoor titles, of hosting some Washington dignitary on a week-long canoe junket to help him locate and see a pileated woodpecker. As I recall, they heard a few birds, but never managed to spot one.

Glad you found your way to the riverbank. Please drop by again. You're always welcome.

Grizz………… said...

Jayne…

You'd be thrilled no end, I guarantee it! And I hope you get a pileated or two one of these days. Practically speaking, it's probably going to depend on how close you are to a sizable woods.

Grizz………… said...

Giggles…

Ahhhhhhh! There you are! I wondered if you'd deserted me for another blog. I figured if anything would stimulate you to communicate, a pileated fix would be just the ticket.

One friendly note of warning…I believe you've now used up your daily allotment of exclamation points. Please keep this in mind should you get to busily typing, need this occasionally useful punctuation mark, and suddenly find yourself unarmed. (Unless you've somehow stored away a few in reserve.)

I'll try and post a pileated shot more often.

Joy K. said...

I am speechless. I may have to go lie down for a while.

Grizz………… said...

Joy K.…

Speechless? Well, I can understand that—it is a big, spectacular pileated. Quite the awesome fellow. I'm still rendered pretty speechless whenever I see one up close myself. But really, no use prostrating yourself…after all, it's just a woodpecker.

giggles said...

Lurking...! (last one!)

Grizz………… said...

Giggles…

Well, great!!!!!!! I'm relieved!!!!!

(Gosh…that was fun!!!!!!!!!!!!)

giggles said...

exactly. ;-)

Grizz………… said...

Giggles…

My blog…I get the last word, uh, wink.

;-) !!!!!!!!

Veronica said...

Great photo! I have one that lurks in my yard and my daughter calls him Luci...short for Lucifer...hehehe

Grizz………… said...

Veronica…

Hey, I can understand your daughter's naming…pileateds are about as fearsome looking a woodpecker as you're ever likely to see. And they know they're the baddest bird on the block, too!

Welcome to the riverbank. I took a quick look at both your blogs, and really like your photography. I'll have to come back and really go through some of your posts. Love the red pickup, the barns, even the old canning jars in the header grouping. You do good work. BTW, know where Erwin or Johnson City are?

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

I have only seen a few of these, but they always make me think...'Forest Roadrunner'...the are Mr Bigs!

Grizz………… said...

Teri…

Ha! Great name…Forest Roadrunners! They do look something of the part, too. Love it!