NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers are often a delightful sighting. They are as large as crows and their bright red heads and large wingspan have a shocking effect. Their cackle in the forest reminds me of a sound in Tarzan movie jungles.

I was delighted to discover a nest of these largest woodpeckers right in my yard at our camp site in upstate New York. I wasn’t able to study their goings-on as much as I would have liked. I have tremendous patience when it comes to photographing and observing birds but my family draws me away often. Theses few photos are enhanced for clarity but were not my best efforts had I had the luxury of camping alone.

The birds were happily unaffected by the family bustling beneath the nesting tree and placing my camera out while keeping and ear and eye on the tree, produced a few captures to share.

These birds love to eat carpenter ants. Their numbers had dwindled in the past 10 years due to a disruption of their forest habitat from logging and building houses.

As I am at the computer (at home in Northwestern Massachusetts) , I just heard a Pileated Woodpecker outside of my window. I know I am highly tuned to them from my sightings but can’t help but think they are having a “good” year and adapting well in semi-urban settings.

This very morning, the mother bird was hanging around in trees just beyond her nest. She did not approach it and I did not hear the babies crying out for food. I may have photographed the babies’ last feeding hours before they moved out as this year’s fledglings.

I’ll be keeping an eye and ear out for more…


There is a kind of bird who takes the easy way out. They never raise their own babies.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Photo from ALLABOUTBIRDS)

The Brown-headed Cowbird is the Northeastern United States version of bad parenting. All they do is eat and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.  They are very effective though. Usually, the other birds are smaller. When their babies hatch, they are raised by the unsuspecting little “foster parents“.

Eastern Phoebe Nest with a Cowbird egg.

It would all be “Hunky Dorey” if not for one important fact. Cowbird eggs hatch sooner and the babies are bigger than the “host’s” bird babies. The Cowbird babies eat more of the available food and often just push their “foster brothers” out of the nest to their death.

Two babies in a Phoebe nest. The large one is a Brown-headed Cowbird chick.

Some small birds, like the Eastern Phoebes, are dwindling in numbers because of those lazy cowbirds!

One good thing is that the Phoebes have more than one nesting per season to make-up for the first disaster. I’ve yet to find cowbird eggs in a second nest. Doesn’t mean that Cowbirds won’t lay in the same nest again…I just haven’t witnessed it.

An Eastern Phoebe