Posted by: atowhee | September 28, 2009

Pile of Pileated! Swelled heads all around.

Kate and I were walking dogs along Pioneer Trail in Ashland with our newfound friend, Joan Peterson.  A series of sharp calls came out of the woods along Ashland Creek.  “Pileated,” Joan announced.  And, of course, she was right.  She and her husband have lived for decades in the Applegate Valley.  There Pileateds are regular yard birds.  Joan hears the calls frequently.  For we typical birders, rarely seeing or hearing Pileateds, it can be tough to tell them from Flickers which are legion hereabouts.  But Joan, not knowing that Pileateds are supposed to be confused with Flickers by human hearing, knew right away that familiar sound she was hearing.  It helps that Joan is also a talented singer and musician.  Folks with musical gifts are far better with birdsong than the general run of tin-eared humanity, of which I am a typical example.

Sure enough: Pileated it was.pileated upper

Here is Pileated hanging on the side of a Ponderosa in Lithia Park, right where the Pioneer Street bridge crosses Ashland Creek.  That’s right in front of the park offices.  The Pileated is, until the Ivory-billed is resurrected from extinction, our largest North American woodpecker.  Woody’s figurative ancestor, though Woody’s call is derived from the smaller Acorn Woodpecker.

And there’s this big bird hanging onto a tiny limb.  Something enticing was to be found on the tiny limb tips.

pileated on a limb

The first Pileated stopped calling loudly when two more Pileateds showed up and joined the feeding.  The day before my sister-in-law had seen a fgroup of four Pileateds feeding in this spot.  It looked much like a family group to me.




The Pileated Woodpecker is found mostly in older forests with large trees that have the girth to hold the birds’ nests and roosts.  Their large excavations are used by mammals, other birds, insects, even reptiles.                                                                                                                           Pileateds are found in the southeastern U.S. and the northwestern U.S. and across the southern tier of Canadian provinces.  It is totally absent from the U.S. prairie and southwest.  “Pileate” means cap, as on a mushroom.  So “pileated” refers to their obvious crest or cap. Their binomial: Dryocopus pileatus.                                                                     A breeding pair of Pileateds and their offspring can have large home territories.  A study in arid northeastern Oregon found the average pair ranged over more than a thousand acres.  Even here in damper southwestern Oregon the average pauir must have a territory of several hundred acres.  I believe this family may have included the same adult birds I see occasionally much further upstream along Ashland Creek.  Only once before have we noticed them this far down the canyon.  By comparison the Downy Woodpecker, our most common and widespread American woodpecker, has a home territory of five to thirty acres.  That’s less than 5% of the Pileateds usual home territory.  That explains why even people who bird a lot may not see Pileateds very often unless they frequent a spot frequented in turn by a resident pair of Pileateds.  The species is not migratory, and juveniles do not often disperse long distances.pileated looks upIMG_0018pileated silhouetteIMG_0024


  1. Nice photos and write-up!

  2. […] Over a decade ago I first saw a family of pileateds doing their berry gathering, this time on a mountain dogwood in Ashland’s Lithia Park. it was September, berries ripe. Click for that moment from the archives. […]

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