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?
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.
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.