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River Road Ramblings 4/10

The big, gawky woodpeckers are all over out there, chopping away and yelling to each other while disregarding fascinated humans who happen to walk by. With the leaves off the trees and shrubs, it is a great time to observe a lot of bird behavior if you are just aware of your surroundings and look at what is making the noise.

Pileateds (you can say "pie" or "pill") are not really shy even in settled areas. But, they defend territories of 150 to 200 acres so that they can find appropriate-sized dead snags in the right degree of rottenness for nests, and enough of them for feeding their families on carpenter ants and beetles, which live in the interior of big dead trees. These large snags are a feature that ecologically-sensitive forestry demands for a forest to be certified as "green", because many birds and other animals require them for survival. Young forests do not fill the bill (intended). Such a huge territory means you have to be lucky to see interesting behavior in one small part of it.

I have yet to find a nest around here, though I did see one in someone's back yard not far from their house. Another was right next to the main Siamese Pond trail. Pileateds are supposed to prefer big dead beech with bark falling off but these are getting scarce, big ones, that is. (In so many areas, we are down to small beech sprouts because of disease.) The hole for a nest is round, not the usual rectangular shape made when they are hunting ants, and just big enough for the adult birds to fit through, as is the case with almost all cavity nests. In this case it is 3.5 inches across.

Males have big red crests with the red continuing down to the bill, and a red moustache. Females have just the red crest. When they fly, the huge white areas on the underside of the wings flash spectacularly. At up to 19 inches long, they are the length of a crow, but much rangier looking, weighing only 10 ounces vs. the crow's 1 pound. What makes them look odd is the long, thin neck. A bird-phobic friend that saw one on the ground thought it was a turkey. And they do often excavate from standing on the ground.

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