Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pileated Behind A Rock

It was a cool morning when I left the house headed for the Big Woods, but after walking for about a mile with a bright sun beating down through the still leafless trees it was time to shed the vest beneath my light camouflage jacket. Camo clothing really makes a difference in the amount of wildlife seen and how close I can get before they flee. It even makes a difference when walking at a normal rate. Birds and mammals obviously see the movement, but apparently have a great deal of difficulty in determining what they’re seeing.

On this day I stopped, shed my pack and put it down, got a water bottle from the pack, took a long drink and put the bottle back in the pack – then a slight movement off to the side caught my eye. The movement was the head of a female pileated woodpecker repeatedly popping up from behind a rock about 30 feet away (females have a black stripe from the base of the bill, males’ stripe is red) –

As I watched the head repeatedly popped up and disappeared. The bird raised its head to look around after each blow it delivered, and frequently chips flew. At about 20 seconds into the video it can be seen swallowing something that can’t be identified, but is probably the larva of a stag beetle (they normally inhabit rotten wood).

I watched for quite a while and the bird never deviated from its methodical hammering and looking around. Eventually I slowly moved to the side to get a better view around the rock. With that, she moved on the small fallen tree where she had been working and continued feeding –

Subsequently she flew to a nearby small tree –

Eventually the bird flew about 15 feet directly over my head and off through the forest. 

Pileated woodpeckers are typically very wary birds and don’t allow a close approach. While walking it’s not unusual to hear the alarm calls of four or five birds for each one I see. Was this bird unusually unwary or preoccupied as it fed? Or was it the camouflage that kept it from perceiving me as a threat?

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