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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pileated Woodpecker Scaling

Pileated Woodpecker's are numerous on Sanibel Island.

We followed this female Pileated Woodpecker this morning.

We saw her scaling bark off Mangrove Trees.

Scaled areas near wher she was feeding

She landed and began to pound away at the bark,

striking blows beneath it,

and a large piece of bark fell away.

At one point, we saw her long tongue extended out.

She would poke her bill in at the edges of the scaled bark.

You can see her tongue going beneath the edge of the bark, here

and here,

and in this close-up.

There has been much recent discussion about Pileated Woodpecker bark scaling and how to tell it from Ivory-billed Woodpecker scaling, if Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exist. We had an opportunity this morning at the Sanibel Lighthouse park to follow a Pileated Woodpecker. We watched the female in the above photos work over some Mangrove Trees, partially dead from damage done by Hurricane Charley in 2004. She whacked off chunks of bark and at one point we saw a fairly large chunk fall after she struck repeated blows. Later we went to some of the areas she had scaled and felt the bark and found it was tightly adhered to the tree. It was hard for us to pull any off. One of the observations made by Geoff Hill in his Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Choctawhatchee River research site, is that the bark he has seen scaled there is fairly tightly adhered to the trees. We had visited the Choctawhatchee River Basin recently and seen multiple evidence of scaling, some of quite massively chisled. In many cases there were large holes of cerambycid beetles under the scaling. We did not see those type of holes in this case.

One of the great things about digital photography is that you see amazing things when you blow up your photos. Our photos showed the long tongue of this female Pileated that tapers at the tip. How cool is that. Reminds us of seeing the tongues of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds when we watched through our binos as they perched near our feeders in NH. In the Birds of North America Pileated Woodpecker account written by Evelyn L. Bull and Jerome A. Jackson, it says the Pileated, "uses long, extensible, pointed tongue with barbs and sticky saliva to catch and extract ants from tunnels." This female was using her long tongue to poke into the sides of the scaled areas. Intriguing. At one point, we saw some tiny ants going under the bark and wondered if that was what she was getting. What an unusual opportunity we had to witness up-close-and-personal the feeding techniques of this female Pileated Woodpecker. Thank you digital camera and woodpecker.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007


Anonymous said...

Those are the most fantastic Pileated Woodpecker pictures I've ever seen! Thanks for your photography talent/patience & sharing it with us (plus the explanations of woodpecker behavior).
Rochester, MN

Anonymous said...

Wow, nice! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful photos! So interesting to see photos of bird behaviour that you don't ordinarily see in field guides - they only describe it. Thank-you! I love the crown/hair! Reminds me of those 1980s troll/kewpie dolls.

John L. Trapp said...

Those are some incredible photographs! I like the ones showing how the tips of the tail feathers are used as a prop.

Julie Zickefoose said...

You know, I hope, that your descending Pileated is the finest PIWO flight image probably ever taken? Having looked through many images, I'd put it head and shoulders over anything else that's out there.

Lillian Stokes said...


Thanks, that's high praise, I'm blushing.


Birdwoman said...

Beautiful images! As one who is struggling to master nature photography, I am in awe of your talent, not to mention green with envy.

Lillian Stokes said...


Pileated Woodpeckers are common on Sanibel and very cooperative so that was a big help. Keep working at your photography.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed with all these woodpecker photos. fantastic!!!

Anonymous said...

The photos are stunning. Well done!
Karen in Nova Scotia

Jace Stansbury said...

Your pileated photos are incredible! Have you ever heard of pileateds invading the nests of other woodpeckers? I may have observed this. I watched as a pileated went into the nest of a flicker and left with an egg in its beak.

dig said...

great pictures! i have some of those birds in the woods behind my house that watch through binoculars. they are the coolest birds!

Bill Benish said...

Thank you for posting such a high-quality series of pileated photos along with your interesting and informative observations of the bird's foraging behavior.

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

These are wonderful, thank you for posting! I JUST saw one in my mulberry tree right in town this week...amazing birds.