Pileated WoodpeckerCarol's Corner

Pileated Surprise

The press release issued last month caught my eye and cut to the heart: “U.S. says Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, 22 other Species Extinct.” I sat, cradling concern, and explored why this news devastated me so. And I could write a book on that.

But I’ll spare you the grief and let you in on a little secret instead. Woodpeckers hold a special place in my heart. It all began at the tender age of six while sitting on the rickety, screened-porch at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon, California.

As a cartoon addicted kid (yeah, I was that kid…), the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) captivated me with its Woody the Woodpecker-ish “Heh-heh-heh-HEHHHH-heh” laugh. A bit of trivia here—the inspiration for “Woody” was indeed an actual Acorn Woodpecker that drummed on its creator’s (Walter Lantz’s) honeymoon cabin! But I digress…

My six-year-old self-sat mesmerized for what seemed like hours on that sanctuary porch watching the antics of the clan as they stuffed and hammered acorns into an old oak tree. I credit that group of comical, clownish Acorn Woodpeckers with igniting my lifelong passion for birds.

So, imagine my pure joy when I discovered a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) this summer. The sighting caught me by surprise. Driving up to a camp north of Sisters on Jack Lake Road, a large crow-sized bird glided above my car. Screeching to a halt, (okay, I was on a gravel road, so technically my tires didn’t screech—that was me) I jumped out of the car and grabbed my binoculars.

I stood tall and stared in disbelief as the Pileated Woodpecker, North America’s reigning woodpecker-king, flew with outstretched wings, flashing white like a beacon against a gray sky. Alighting atop a burned-out snag, he raised his scarlet “locks”—as if gelled to perfection, and surveyed his territory. His characteristic call shattered the silence and along came his mate.

While I’d often seen their signature rectangular holes carved into trees--evidence of their feeding frenzy on tasty carpenter ants or larval, wood-boring beetle babes—I’d never witness the artist. And now, here I was in the presence of a pair of these elusive, elegant birds. Truly a remarkable day.

So, while I mourn the loss of species and those on the brink of extinction, I also celebrate and conserve those species who remain. The irony that Pileated Woodpeckers need death to live is not lost on me. Dead and decaying trees supply sustenance in addition to providing a roost and a nest cavity location. Habitat preservation is key to their survival.

In the words of the great literary master, Dr. Seuss:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

Words to live by. Let’s keep hope (and wild things) alive.

Have a Bluebird Day,


Carol handfeeding