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Incoming BYTES
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Early Birds: Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpecker
I couldn't believe my eyes. Flashes of black, white and red.  Out of the blue, two birds--big ones- flew by the window, back and  forth, before literally disappearing into a hole close to the top of a huge, old poplar tree
For the record, it was a winter day,  January 30, 2012 .

Well, okay.   Other than that it was pretty ordinary. Here at Incoming Bytes every time we turned around and blinked,  it was still white and winter. Even with wishful thinking, winter seems to be dragging,  it hasn't warmed up much.  Not that I'm complaining.  My pretty  boss reminds me  'we live in Canada",  winks  and hands me hot coffee.  
    I guess sometimes good things happen on winter days  too.  The sun eventually shines.  Snow slides off  the slippery steel roof with a roar.  Faces of snowmen melt and other interesting, amazing things take place. Sit in a snow bank and  watch snow fleas or deer, your choice.  The two pups run around like there's no tomorrow, sniffing at everything cool. That's because everything is cool.

But the woodpeckers  showing up, that was a genuine happening even if   it was a typically brutal -24C  winter morning. It turned around and snowed for a bit --nothing serious, maybe a couple of centimeters --oh, let's just say a cool inch  for Imperial old-timers. Around here it typically tends to mild up a bit when it starts snowing. For the forgetful unaware reader let's remind ourselves it still happened to be the 30th, a cold, damp and  bleary day with the thermometer hovering and shivering down at -13C,  warm by January standards in NW Ontario.
No matter. Oops, back to business.  Guess what. The birds spotted were Pileated Woodpeckers! They seem to be way too early this year. Early birds. A nesting pair yet.
If you know anything about  Pileated Woodpeckers, they are  majestic birds, about 17" tall,   the biggest woodpecker species that inhabits northern climes. Dryocopus pileatus. almost big enough to eat us)  Imagine having a name like that.
They nest in holes that would make carpenters equipped with 40' ladders, a lot of  nerve  and sharp chisels jealous.  The holes are hacked into  the heartwood of trees  with the entrances 40' or more above the ground.  The  unusual rising and falling cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk  song and their bright red crests and black and white markings give them away pretty quickly. 
They don't tend to  fly through the air straight either, they have their own Pileated up-down wavy flight method. It works. Most of the time.
Reviving an immature  Pileated Woodpecker
 Maybe it's the curious flight pattern, or maybe they're just a bit clumsy or daffy  from beating their beaks on hard wood as they excavate the tree trunks. With the young ones, maybe it's just not enough practice because they get in trouble sometimes. See the one in the photo I rescued a couple of years ago?

A young Pileated woodpecker  hit the solid brick wall of  the house a couple of years ago and was knocked unconscious. I happened to hear the 'thunk' and  got to the big bird before the pups found it.
After a bit of treatment he revived quickly with a shake of his head. Survival mode kicked in with the gag complex when a few drops of water was placed on his barely-open beak
That trick seems to work  for an unconscious bird.  As you can see he shook his head, spraying water everywhere.   He looked around like he was stunned, after we chatted for a bit and underwent  a thorough pre-flight wing check,  perhaps a couple of minutes,  he flew off without any apparent damage.  Every bird should be so lucky. 
Perhaps we should all be so lucky in life.  Even too early in January.   Cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk...

Is that incoming I hear?


  1. OMG Raymond you are so lucky.
    Not only did a woodpecker visit your garden, but you actually held one! He's big too, I didn't realize. I thought woodpeckers were the size of hummingbirds.

    1. Conny, ---holding that beautiful bird was so exciting -and being able to revive it from being unconscious was no less than a unique blessing. Wendy recorded this a once-in-a-lifetime event--and caught us in the photo just as he awakened.

      This Pileated is actually a young, smaller one, but he was a heavy, solid bird, probably weighing in at a couple of pounds! The two birds that showed up here are quite a lot bigger--and nesting about 30 yards from our home. We are so fortunate to live in this forest environment.
      There are many species and sizes of woodpeckers, some the size of large hummingbirds, the size of Robins and other birds. The biggest woodpecker is the great Ivory-billed Woodpecker that is an endangered species but still surviving in Florida. Thanks for visiting! ":)

  2. guiltily enjoying some record high temps down here in the US Midwest..yes we do have up-down-up-down woddpeckers in flight here, none quite this big..they showed up 2 weeks ago, some never left..downy wood peckers..no cuk-cuk, but some squawking sounds and sights..fighting the jays for dibs on existing holes un-inhabited by stubborn squirrels.

    sun all week and snow week-end, a few inches at best, but thankful for moisture..doves very busy cooing along on most days..sparrows going crazy by the compost. still no possums spotted-well, they don't fly...sending warming wishes.

    1. Nadine, the temps are unusual, higher here today too! Some of the other woodpeckers do have that peculiar up-down-up-down flight pattern, like the Downy, the Hairy woodpecker and the Red-headed variety. Actually there are some 20 known species of woodpeckers in North America, and if you see one about 12" long on the ground, it's a Common Flicker--the only species of woodpecker that feeds on the ground.
      It's nice to see it warming up, your squirrels and sparrows will appreciate it! Nadine, thanks for visiting! ~R

  3. What an excellent photo of you and the Woodpecker.. We have them in a wood not far from us, but to see one is rare.. So this was a double treat.. And lucky for the Woodpecker you were around..
    Nature gives us so many Gifts...
    Wishing you a Good Day

  4. Yes, Sue, thank you, it was amazing this one survived, it was a genuine gift to be able to participate in saving this beautiful bird! Nature allows us many treasures -if we are aware enough to experience understand them. We have several nesting pairs in our immediate location every year, so are blessed; we see them daily. Thank you for visiting! ~R

    1. Hi Raymond, I came searching and as soon as i saw the photo I remembered I had seen your post, and low and behold I commented.. Thank YOU again for all your comments upon my own posts Raymond... Time yes is flying, each week I think goes faster than the last... Im just hanging in my zone so to speak... as I watch the world go more than a little Dizzy! Wishing you well...

  5. Raymond, you have the ability to make me laugh and also learn at the same time. Another fine post from the Incoming! Yes I AM listening!

    PS Send me an email with that copyright info on the poem when you have time :)

    1. Thanks for commenting, Christyb! I know you are listening ":)

  6. Conny - some woodpeckers are small (sparrow-sized) but Pileated is a big bird and noisy - not only the call, but whacking soft wood apart like a woodman with a grudge. In Europe we have the Black Woodpecker which is a bit similar but not quite as big or noisy.

    1. SibatheHat, the Black Woodpecker is one we don't have here. Most of the woodpeckers around here are the 6" to 10" size depending on species. The Pileated runs to 17" long-is quite big and as you noted, quite noisy. They're interesting birds! Thanks for visiting! ":)

  7. i have seen the flicker in the west and found a pair and its young feasting on a busy corner in town, then flew fast and away then came back after we passed. they stayed till their young were indistinguishable from adults.
    snow birds arrived today to presage saturday's expected snow..2 inches more for the farmers and my new plantings. thanks.

    1. Nadine, they're all so beautiful aren't they? Those little snow birds are quite sociable too! They show up here two days before it snows...almost guaranteed. You're getting some more snow? Good thing, there sure hasn't been enough yet for farmers OR any plantings. We need several feet of snow --and a very slow melt in the spring. Thanks again!

  8. Oh, Raymond, how wonderful that you managed to save that lovely bird! We had one--huge one too!--smash into our big picture window, but he was not just stunned. The poor thing died. :-( But no worries, we have plenty more. We always hear them all spring and summer, rat-a-tat-rat-a-tat,rat-a-tat-tat-tat. You can hear them several miles away and I see evidence of them all over my ancient apple trees and those dying birches along the side of our property--precisely drilled holes equi-distant from each other, utterly amazing! Plus we see and hear the smaller Woody Woodpecker kind on occasion stealing a black oil sunflower seed. They are darling!

  9. Hi Glory! Sometimes that happens, that's always sad to see isnt' it?
    The birds see nothing but reflected sky in glass windows--especially the triple-glazed type that reflect everything-- and fly full speed into it. Sometimes they do suffer broken necks or fatal concussions.

    If you find a bird that is just stunned or unconscious though, if you place a couple of drops of water in their beak, open it just a bit and tip them up so the water runs to their throat, the gag complex of the patient will bring them around if there's any chance at all.

    I've saved dozens of birds like that now. If the beak is a bit open, you can also dip it very quickly into water, and tip the bird back immediately, let the water do the rest. ONCE is usually enough, sometimes it takes a second try, but if the beak is open at all, enough water will get into the throat and the bird will usually react.
    It's something like teaching Julie's new baby chicks to drink, it is an instinctive reaction.

    To try to minimize bird/window accidents we now hang old CD's in the inside of all of the windows like bright sun-catchers--on big windwos, a couple of them.
    The brilliantly coloured reflection from the silver or gold-coloured Cd discs through the glass seems to warn off most of the birds, if not all of them.
    Woodpeckers are amazing birds, aren't they? They can drill holes faster than we can! You must have several species of woodpeckers there too! Thanks for visiting, Glory! ~R

  10. Neat story about saving the woodpecker, Raymond. Have you ever tried the window clings that are shaped like a bird? Basically these are window stickers shaped like a bird in flight. They give other birds the impression that there is a bird flying past your window and they avoid that area. They're great for large picture windows.

    1. Thanks, Jayna, the bird-profile-type window approach didn't seem to work well with our triple-glazed windows, which reflect so much light especially when the sun is out and the sky is bright. Perhaps a different colour would be more efficient?
      We've had far better results using the old Cds --which reflect a brilliant multi-coloured light through the window. Our system is not perfect either, but has reduced our bird/window crashes a LOT.
      Thanks for visiting, Jayna! ~R


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