Boasting with a Beak

We still have a foot of snow here in Minnesota, but the birds know spring is coming: cardinals and chickadees are already singing their territorial songs. Today in the woods I heard a curious thrumming, followed by nasal chatter high in the canopy. Pileated Woodpecker!


Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Woodpeckers don't just call to mark their spring territory, they drum on trees with their beaks. The Pileated has a fearsome beak and a barbed tongue, which can also excavate brilliantly. I've watched one dig out a softball-sized hole in a dying tree within minutes.

Pileateds are awesome in themselves, but they also remind me of another awesome bird: the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (which is bigger, but with similar markings). Considered extinct in the 50s and immortalized in Phillip Hoose's excellent book The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, this bird was "rediscovered" in 2005 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (I shook the hand of the man who filmed it!). But some questioned the authenticity of the video, and there have been no sightings since. Was it really there? Was it the last one? No one knows.

In the meantime, magnificent Pileateds drum and thrum, proclaiming the approach of spring.

  Copyright © Joyce Sidman 2006-2021.  All rights reserved.