Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, September 27, 2021

Camera Fun with Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpecker 

A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers live in my neighborhood. They’re not banded or uniquely marked as far as my eyes can see, so I have no way of knowing for sure whether one or both are the same birds I had last year or the year before, nor even of knowing whether these two are the same ones I was seeing this spring before the nesting season. When it comes right down to it, when a male or a female shows up, I can’t even be sure they’re the same individuals who showed up a day or two before. 

Whoever they are, they show up at the same feeders time after time, which suggests they’re familiar with my yard, but as more and more Pileated Woodpeckers spend all or part of their lives in neighborhoods like mine, they may simply be familiar with feeders in general, recognizing good places to stop. They seem wonderfully tolerant of me with my camera, but again, birds living in neighborhoods like mine may figure out that people don’t pose much of a hazard to them.

My dream of course is for a pair of Pileateds to nest in my neighborhood. I can’t even imagine the joy I’d feel if they nested right in my yard! This year they were quite regular through winter, but disappeared right when nesting would have been starting.  

The only nest I’ve ever seen in my life so far was near Hog Island in Maine when I was an instructor for an Audubon camp. The nest was very far away, so my photos are poor but do show the babies sticking their heads out when a parent was at the cavity. They’re the only Pileated Woodpecker nest photos I’ve ever taken, so I have them up on Flickr with my finest work.  

Pileated Woodpecker chicks

Pileated Woodpecker chicks

My first wonderful Pileated Woodpecker photos were taken way back in November 2004, when a Rufous Hummingbird showed up at my feeder during a mild spell. Then we had a blizzard, so I kept a window open in my office with one feeder on the inside, just in case the little hummer needed a break from icy cold and wind. She flew in once or twice, but my big reward for keeping the window open was a Pileated Woodpecker flying into the box elder tree right next to the window, giving me my best shots ever. 

Pileated Woodpecker

Jeepers the neighborhood Pileated Woodpecker

Oddly enough, when I’m checking my flickr account stats, “Jeepers the Pileated Woodpecker” still gets a surprising number of hits. I also got pictures of “Jeepers”at a small suet feeder stuck to the window by two small suction cups. 

Pileated Woodpecker

The joy of photography comes as much from the possibilities of future photos as from the best ones I’ve already taken. I’m still shooting at pigeons and Blue Jays, so of course I always grab my camera when a Pileated shows up. When Russ and I got a new dining room window a few years ago, I grabbed my camera to see how clear the glass was, and the first bird to show up was a Pileated Woodpecker at my peanut butter feeder. So I focused and held the shutter down in burst mode. My photos were so clear that you can’t tell they were shot through the window, and in one of them, the Pileated’s tongue was sticking out all the way. That was thrilling—it’s the only photo I have of any woodpecker with its tongue fully extended. 

Pileated Woodpecker tongue!

Since I moved into my new home office, I find myself leaning out the window photographing birds a lot, and Russ set up a wonderful window feeder for me to get even closer shots. I’ve taken a few really good ones of birds at the feeder with the window open—when Evening Grosbeaks filled my feeders in the spring, I got some wonderful video and photos without any glass in the way. 

Wet Evening Grosbeak at my window feeder

But most of my photos of birds in that feeder are through the closed window, and birds can be messy eaters. Last weekend, after I put in a seed and nut mixture laced with capsaicin pepper, first a female and later a male Pileated came to that feeder. The window was closed, and my good camera was on the file cabinet right next to my desk, so grabbing it would have scared them off, but I did get a few photos and video through the glass with my cell phone.

Crappy pictures of a Pileated at my window feeder

Pileated Woodpecker at bird feeder

Last week I saw one at my feeding station. I was downstairs and didn’t have my camera handy, but when it flew off, I headed outside to see what other birds might be about. I didn’t get far—that same male Pileated was still in my yard, in a different box elder. He was very tolerant, letting me take pictures from only 12 or 15 feet away. My new mirrorless camera allows me to simply press a button right next to the shutter button to shoot video, and I got both cool close-up photos and video of him feeding—the best I have of that.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Then this Sunday, I leaned out my office window to photograph the male in the close box elder right at eye level. I got several in-focus shots of him digging in.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

When I switched to video, my camera decided to focus on a tiny branch in front of the bird right when he pulled a big, fat, juicy grub—probably a wood-boring beetle—out of the tree. 

Pileated Woodpecker

I wish the video had stayed in focus because it was fun seeing how hard he had to work to swallow the huge thing. Of course, this was the only time I’ve ever gotten photos or video of a Pileated pulling out a grub, so even though the photos I screenshot from the video are not in focus, they’re the best I’ve ever taken of that. I am always happy when I get a perfect photo of any bird, but I don’t take pictures in hopes of impressing serious photographers. Even out of focus, that gigantic grub makes me think WOW! And WOW! is plenty good enough for me. 

Pileated Woodpecker

2 comments :

  1. Great video of pile ate dinner feeding,

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    1. Thanks! And I KNOW you spelled pileated correctly--spellcheck is so silly!

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