Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The hole truth #phenology

If you were walking through a wood lot or forest and saw a tree with holes like the one pictured below, would you know who made the holes or why? The odds are that, if the hole is rectangular, it was made by the North Country's largest woodpecker, the Pileated. These holes are usually easier to see in Winter, when the foliage makes more of tree trunks visible.

rotted tree wood with Pileated Woodpecker hole
rotted tree wood with Pileated Woodpecker hole
Photo by J. Harrington

We've had one, part of a pair?, coming to the Winter suet feeder for several years now. (To minimize visits from the neighborhood bears, we don't feed with suet while the temperatures are above freezing.) It's rare that we can get a close enough look at the bird's cheek to tell whether we're seeing a male (red cheek streak) or female (no red cheek streak). Carpenter ants are reported to be the preferred food for Pileated Woodpeckers, although the Minnesota Extension Service doesn't mention that. Carpenter ants are not good for the wood in your house. One of the reasons we decided on cementitious siding when we re-sided is we had some smaller woodpecker holes in the old siding and hope the cement content will be a major discouragement for Downies, Hairies, Red-bellied, etc., up to and including Pileateds.

Pileated Woodpecker female
Pileated Woodpecker female
Photo by J. Harrington

Our "wood lot" is essentially unmanaged. It has a number of downed tree trunks feeding mosses, fungi, insects, bacteria and heavens knows what else. There's likely to be some carpenter ant nests in there somewhere. That means we're looking to see portly, well-fed, pileateds. The nest holes they make, not the ones made while searching for ants, can also serve as roost sites for bats, birds and other critters. Bats help keep down the local mosquito population. The carpenter ant holes sometimes serve as attractions for amature photographers. With luck, it all works out for the better, if not the best.

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning


By Jane Hirshfield


The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.


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