Pileated woodpecker

CHARLOTTESVILLE — One of my favorite birds to see while running nature trails is the pileated woodpecker. Its distinct color pattern of black and white stripes on its face with a bright red crest means there’s no mistaking it for any other bird. It’s a large bird about the size of the American crow with a more slender body. I’m reminded of Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, circa 1995, in the “Ruby Soho” years.

Pileated woodpecker photo by Patrice Bouchard
Photo by Patrice Bouchard on Unsplash

Sounds

It’s common to hear a pileated woodpecker before you spot one. The two sounds you’ll often hear are:

  1. That of an urban construction crew with a jackhammer in the forest, which is the drumming of the pileated woodpecker’s beak into a tree, or
  2. A crazed lunatic high on a tree branch laughing at you

Better the crazy laugh in the forest than in my backyard where they can (and have) done a number on my wooden fence, which, at this point, looks like Swiss cheese in some parts.

Diet

Granted, they are trying to get to the carpenter ants tunneling in my fence. Carpenter ants make up 60% of the pileated woodpecker’s diet. Another common meal is the larvae of the wood boring beetle.

One of the funniest nature recordings I have is of a determined woodpecker going to town on something metal on my neighbor’s roof. The research on why they do this points to trying to impress the ladies. The louder the drilling, the more likely they will be doing some… attract a mate. Give it a listen:

Pileated woodpecker trying to impress a potential mate

Woody Woodpecker vs Demond

The classic children’s cartoon character Woody Woodpecker was modeled after the pileated woodpecker with some deviations in attire (notably the blue suit and white gloves). Speaking of which, I had a friend named Demond Baker in elementary school that could do a spot-on impression of Woody Woodpecker. You know the one:

Woody Woodpecker was a pileated woodpecker

If you’re a bird nerd like me and want to brush up on your knowledge of North America’s largest woodpecker, check out the links below:

Read more in the Personal Musings category.

By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TheBody.com, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.