According to Catherine Greenleaf, director of St. Francis Wild Bird Center in Lyme, New Hampshire, it would be hard to miss the pileated woodpecker because of its red, black and white coat, but also due to its large size, as it is second only to the ivory billed woodpecker.
Greenleaf, who rehabilitates injured and orphaned birds, said the pileated's ivory billed cousin is likely extinct, as no one has seen one in some time. Although some claim to have heard the call of the ivory billed woodpecker deep in the Louisiana swamps, she likens the claim to the hunt for Bigfoot.
Here in Pine Island, however, there is a large colony of the pileated woodpecker. Greenleaf, a part-time island resident, notes that Pineland holds a dense population of these birds, since they seem to like wooded areas. She also said their love for pine trees is born from a sweet tooth they can satisfy with sap.
Two pileated woodpeckers on a tree.
A pileated woodpecker feeding its baby, which is poking its head out of the side of a tree.
"Pine trees emit a sap, made of mostly water," said Greenleaf. "But it's got sugar and minerals in it that gives the pileated the energy it needs to get through the day."
She went on to explain the bird's sap hunting process, which is not too far removed from that of the hummingbird. The pileated woodpecker drills into the pine tree, causing sap to run, which not only benefits them, but many other birds as well, who are able to make a meal of the sap. Greenleaf further explained the pileated's love for pine resin, which may be tied to the fact that it is a natural anti-bacterial. Insects are vitally important for survival, just as they are for most birds that depend on the protein found in the insects. Greenleaf contends that contrary to the popular opinion, that birds love to eat seeds, given the choice. She said they much prefer protein-enriched insects, and in fact, will choose seeds only over starvation.
"Pileated woodpeckers," said Greenleaf, "are very beneficial to have around, because they love termites. Termites and carpenter ants are two of their favorite foods, so you won't end up with termites in your house if they are around."
The woodpecker's love for insects doesn't stop there however. According to Greenleaf, they will even drill into a tree to get to the larvae before they hatch. Ranking highly on their list of diet choices are beetles, cockroaches and grasshoppers. Insects, she explains, are roughly 90% of the pileated woodpecker's diet, with the other 10% consisting of mostly fruits and nuts.
"Dead trees are very beneficial to the pileated," said Greenleaf. "Because they have more insects in them then live trees. A lot of people don't realize that dead trees are loaded with insects. There is a vicious cycle going on. When people buy lots if they could just leave trees standing, rather than having them cleared out, the birds would have a wildlife environment."
She wants people to know about a movement called, "One Third For the Birds," which is an organizational effort to get people to leave one third of their property to surrounding wildlife. She maintains that doing this will allow the birds to go about their business in the wild, while the homeowner gets to enjoy the scenery. She believes that if trees have fallen in a place that's safely out of the way, the trees can be left for the birds to drill through, which will keep them from drilling into someone's home. She points out that the developing lands are driving the pileated woodpecker into more suburban areas around the island, which is why they have become more and more visible.
"They're a very shy bird," said Greenleaf. "They really don't prefer to fly across busy roads. The solution is to work with the wildlife that's here, and try to have as little impact as possible. It's possible to live in harmony with all of the birds, including the pileated woodpecker."
Greenleaf, who has been in bird rehabilitation for 20 years, spends the entire month of March on Pine Island every year, because of the large bird population. She has been asked to give a presentation on the pileated woodpecker at the Greater Pine Island Civic Association Board meeting Tuesday, March 3, at the Elks Club at Pine Island Center. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.
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