December 2, 2018
It’s been raining on and off for at least two days now and I’ve been having a hard time finding windows of opportunity to go for picture walks. Today’s forecast, for example, called for rain all day, then it said it wouldn’t rain until 2:00, then maybe 3:00. So I took the early morning window that was available and headed out to the Kalamazoo Nature Center –thinking I’d have the better part of the day to walk the trails. WRONG! The rains came at noon!
For those of you who don’t live in this area (Kalamazoo, Michigan), we had 5 inches of snow last week! It was a beautiful winter wonderland! Today, not so much! It was overcast, wet and muddy. But hey… it wasn’t raining when I I started out, and I had all the fields and all the woods to myself for at least a little while. No one was out and about and It was so, so incredibly quiet that I could easily hear the birds and critters that were either flitting or skulking about. Unfortunately, both critters and birds were in short supply. That said, I still ended up seeing bluebirds, downy woodpeckers, sparrows, northern flickers, a few deer and, best of all, a pileated woodpecker! I love pileated woodpeckers, and I hardly ever get to see them!
If you’ve never seen a pileated—or heard its call, you’re in for a treat when you do. They are our biggest woodpeckers and they have a bit of a ‘jungle-like’ call (that’s how they sound to me anyway!). When I heard that familiar call this morning, I quietly crept down the path hoping to find my big black bird with a large, red tuft of feathers on the top of its head. Once I spotted him, my first attempt to get his picture was a bust! He flew off! Rats!! So, I continued down the trail in his direction until I spotted him again—click, click, click Then he changed his mind again and went to another tree… and then another and another –until I could no longer see him.
Finding this particular woodpecker put me into research mode. The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America, but it’s still smaller than a crow In addition to a very distinctive call, the pileated has a very distinctive sound when it’s drumming on a tree looking for insects to eat. It also uses its ‘drumming bill’ to call for a mate. (I did not know that!) The drumming noise is very loud and can be heard from quite a distance.
Another thing that I found interesting about pileated woodpeckers is that Woody Woodpecker, the childhood cartoon character that I grew up with, was fashioned after a pileated woodpecker!
“Allegedly, a noisy California acorn woodpecker kept Walter Lantz (the creator of Woody Woodpecker) and his new bride up at night during their honeymoon. Walter wanted to shoot the thing, but his wife Gracie suggested he make a cartoon about the crazy bird. Woody was born and took on some characteristics of our native pileated woodpecker. These include the pileus (the red top notch) and the characteristic laugh which somewhat resembles the call of the pileated woodpecker.
And now you know the rest of the story!
To hear the pileated woodpecker’s call and drumming sound, click on this link:
To hear the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker, click on this link: