Pileated Woodpecker

This gallery contains 3 photos. North America’s largest woodpecker has been another hit and miss for me. Two years ago, I found my first Pileated Woodpecker, a gorgeous female, posed on a fallen log at Ladner Harbour Park–only to not have calibrated my camera settings properly. The result was a badly underexposed image, and a precious opportunity for my record shot lost. But whilst vacationing on picturesque Galiano Island during the long weekend of Canada’s 150th birthday last week, I encountered a magnificent adult male (my first sighting of one!), industriously working away in the trees below the cabin of our friends in the early evening of July 3. I tracked him from my aerie some 50 feet above for several minutes, remarking to one of my equally captivated hosts about my quarry. Dared I hope to photograph this crow-sized insectivore (carpenter ants are its favorite source of protein) at closer range?

© WHSIM Male Pileated Woodpecker 3 (800px).jpg
He could be a superhero: red headgear, black cape, and an aura of mystery about him.

f/7.1, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 2000

The descent to the forest floor was greatly helped with the placement of concrete steps and wooden rails by the previous owners (and, rather amusingly, I even picked up another new bird species for my life list on the way down, a bold and vocalizing Pacific Slope Flycatcher who was returning my stare with its own), but once I was among the trees, the many fallen arbutus leaves littering the grounds crunched with every footstep I made. Subtlety of approach was not in the cards for me, but still, this did not seem to dissuade Woody from his task of finding dinner (if you’ve ever seen a Pileated Woodpecker at work, you know that their ability to level dead but standing trees in just a few minutes is legendary! It may appear to be wantonly destructive behavior to us, but the holes Pileated Woodpeckers leave behind serve another important purpose; that is, as nest cavities for other wildlife!) My subject only stopped to poke his head out to see who the noisy party approaching him was, and then resumed his woodworking. First victim of his activities was the tree stump below.

An Industrious Male Pileated WoodpeckerSeeing the male PIWO’s crest and bill from an unusual headon angle.
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 3200

He then progressed to the upright tree seen here. Woody was also surprisingly quiet. He did not vocalize as he labored (very quickly and efficiently), and the forest rang only with the calls of other birds and PIWO’s woodwork. I find it rather apropos that I found this woodpecker over the sesquicentennial Canada Day, as he sported the colors of the Canadian flag on his head and face (females also have that bright red crest, but no matching bright red malar / mustache)!


The setting sun illuminates my hungry subject as he ventures ever higher on a dead tree.

f/7.1, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 2000

Encountering this beautiful woodpecker was the highlight of my Canada Day weekend on this small (60 square kilometres) but extremely verdant and largely undeveloped island. You won’t find any Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, or MacDonald’s here, but you will appreciate many natural wonders, and look forward to being serenaded by birds during gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. To learn more about Galiano Island, please visit galianoisland.com. To learn more about the Pileated Woodpecker, please visit its Cornell Lab of Ornithology allaboutbirds.org profile.

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17 thoughts on “Pileated Woodpecker

    • thank you, Susan. I wish I could go to Galiano more often. it is a beautiful and relaxing place to visit, and wildlife truly has a chance to not just survive, but flourish.

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  1. So wish my photos from the real world still existed. I would love to share with you several photos of the pileated woodpeckers not so far from here. In recognition that I cannot share those any more, I would like say that if you ever come to Indiana, the last time I was there, there was a family of Pileated Woodpeckers living in Turkey Run State Park off to left hand side once you are past the bridge and living in the hard woods area. They are or were quite use to humans and you can get some very good photos. I realize that’s a long way off from you probably. But, thought I would hare that in a just in case kind of way. You have absolutely brilliant photos. Thank you so much for sharing them with us all!!

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    • thank you for sharing your stories! Indiana is indeed a long journey for one who lives on the West Coast! 🙂

      yesterday, someone on Facebook also shared with me a video he managed to recently take of a father Pileated Woodpecker feeding his fledgling daughter. so cool to watch! great to know that these large woodpeckers are so approachable — by contrast, our (almost as large) Northern Flickers are skittish and generally not really willing to pose for the photographer! (with the sole exception of the male I encountered below!)

      https://whsimphotos.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/northern-flicker-2/

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  2. Great shots! The first time I saw a pileated woodpecker I was impressed by the striking markings and its size. They are big! I visited Galiano many years ago on a fishing trip. A trip I will always treasure…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Siobhan,

      Thank you for your kind words! Glad to hear that you have experienced the magic of Galiano Island! Having that opportunity to see that Pileated Woodpecker so close will be a treasured memory! I’m always amazed and humbled when nature considers us one of its own and lets us observe its creations! 🙂

      Cheers,
      Hui

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