Birding on Bloedel: Not always seen, but heard plenty

“A Year of Birding in Bloedel” is a column that runs every Friday in the Bainbridge Islander. The project is planned to continue in 52 parts through 2014 to help readers find and identify birds in the island’s garden sanctuary. Beginning with this entry on the bald eagle, each column will also be published  here on the Bainbridge Conversation blog each Friday. 

The author, Ted Anderson, is a retired professor of biology, having taught at McKendree University (Ill.) for 32 years and for the University of Michigan’s summer biological station for 20 years, where he frequently taught the biology of birds.

Anderson is also the author of “Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow, from Genes to Populations” (2006), and “The Life of David Lack, Father of Evolutionary Ecology” (2013). Ted and his wife Carol have been members of Bloedel Reserve for seven years. They live in Kingston. 

Last Friday, as my wife and I walked across the meadow toward the sheep barns, we were met by the haunting territorial call of the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) coming from the forest to the left of the path.

This call, a loud “cuk, cuk, cukcukcukcukcuk, cuk, cuk,” is often used in movie soundtracks to evoke an atmosphere of wilderness or primeval forest. Its territorial call and its unique drumming pattern serve similar advertising functions to those of songbird songs — mate acquisition and territorial defense.

Pileated Woodpeckers defend their territories throughout the year.

When we reached the bird marsh, the reason for the persistent calling of the male Pileated became apparent — another male was calling from the forest in the direction of the visitor’s center.
The crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in the Pacific Northwest, and is a year-round resident in forested regions in much of the United Sates and southern Canada. Their plumage is dull black with a prominent white stripe on the cheek and down the side of the long neck, while the head is crowned with a striking red crest (the inspiration for the cartoon Woody Woodpecker).

Pileated Woodpeckers feed primarily on ants and beetles that they obtain by excavating in decaying standing wood, often the trunks of dead trees, with their powerful beaks. Several such foraging sites can be observed as you walk the trails at Bloedel. Look for trunks that are heavily excavated with piles of large wood chips around the base — a Pileated has been feasting there.

For a large bird, Pileated Woodpeckers can be devilishly difficult to spot. They tend to move ahead of you as you walk through a wood, or perch out of sight on the far side of a tree. They will, however, readily come to backyard suet feeders, so if you want to get a good look at this magnificent woodpecker, you might add a suet feeder to your yard.


About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.