Gigantic woodpecker gets respect at the feeder from blue jays
The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America, except for one possibility. The ivory billed woodpecker, now feared to be extinct is slightly larger. The pileated grows up to 49cm (19 inches) long and has a wingspan of 75cm (30 inches). It is roughly the size of an American crow.
This bird can carve out a rectangular shaped hole in a tree with impressive speed to get at carpenter ants and wood boring beetle larvae that are beneath the surface. Their tongue is long and slender and can be used like a spear to pull its prey from crevices. The pileated woodpecker also eat fruits and berries, including the poison ivy berry. Aptly named for the striking red crest on its head, "pileatus" in Latin means red capped.
These woodpeckers can be found at back yard bird feeders during harsh weather when finding food is a challenge. Normally, the blue jays rule the roost at this bird feeder, even daring to harass the crows. But when the pileated woodpecker comes to feast on peanuts in the shell, the jays keep a respectful distance and flutter nervously around the tree branches to wait for their opportunity.
The woodpecker seems to be nervous himself, casting a wary eye to the sky above. Red tailed hawks and other birds of prey circle the skies in the nearby farmer's field and they will often make a pass over bird feeders in the hope that they can snatch a meal out of the air. As formidable as his large beak is, this male would pecker would have no chance to defend against the talons and razor sharp beak of a hawk.
Nature is made up of complex relationships and the balance is a delicate one. Animals may be squabbling for food one minute and they might find that they are the food the next. There can be no room for error, even for a bird this large. After feeding quickly on peanuts, he hops back to the shelter of the tree and makes his way up to safety.
Bird feeders provide hours of fascination and pleasure for people as they watch the animals around them visit. This woodpecker was a rare treat to see.