Today, November 14, 2022, after almost 18 years of nature walks here, I saw a Pileated Woodpecker in Eliza Howell Park for the first time.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America — unless the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exists somewhere in a southern swamp. It is 16 – 19 inches in length with a wingspan of about 30 inches. With its size and bright red crest, it is a striking bird.
This photo is from another Michigan location.
Pileated Woodpeckers are found to the south of us, to the north, to the east, to the west, but Detroit is in one of the areas where they are normally absent. Note the white spots on range map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
When I got a glimpse of a bird that showed red and black and white disappearing behind the trunk of a large tree, I immediately thought woodpecker, but wasn’t sure which species. Soon it flew, chased by robins, and there was no doubt.
Since bird watchers are often asked to document sightings of unusual birds, I grabbed my phone when it stopped on a limb some distance away. The bird is so distinctive that even this poor photo can serve as verification that a Pileated visited EHP.
Pileated Woodpeckers eat berries on occasion and the robins that were chasing this one away appeared to be protecting their Honeysuckle berry food source.
Much more frequently they search for insects, often making large holes in trees, especially dead wood. Carpenter Ants are a favorite food.
Pileated Woodpeckers stay with the same mate for life and remain in the same large territory year-round. The young stay with the parents until the Fall, when the juveniles go out on their own, to find their territory and a mate.
So I am not surprised that my first sighting of a Pileated here is in the Fall. This is one bird species whose numbers appear to be increasing and places like Eliza Howell, with a substantive wooded area with large inviting trees and no resident pair, may very well attract a juvenile looking for a place of its own.
I do not know definitely that today’s bird was a juvenile, but it seems reasonable to think so. In which case, it may continue to search further. Or it may decide to stay in this area, with Eliza Howell being part of its new territory.
I will be watching!
A footnote: When I recorded today’s find, I checked a couple numbers. Pileated Woodpecker is the 157th bird species that I have identified in Eliza Howell Park. And I spotted it on the 2095th walk during which I have listed the birds seen.