Pileated Woodpecker

The “Reckless Wrens” Great Wisconsin Birdathon team included Jim and Kathy Shurts, Heather Inzalaco, and Mark & Sue Martin. The big day count was held on May 12th. We visited Madison Audubon’s Otsego Marsh where we found a good variety of warblers and saw a couple scarlet tanagers. However, we missed a family of barred owls that was found on May 13th.

  Photo by Phil Brown, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Phil Brown, Flickr Creative Commons

One of big day highlights that we will never forget was locating a pileated woodpecker nest at Otsego Marsh. We were hiking though the oak/hickory hardwoods looking high in the trees for warblers when a pileated flew past us and landed on a dead tree about 30 yards away. Moments later the other adult flew out of the nest hole and the first bird took its place. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

  Photo by Richard Armstrong

Photo by Richard Armstrong

Sam Robbins wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife that G.C Becker (1942) penned the definitive “Notes on the Pileated Woodpecker in Wisconsin.”  Becker wrote that in the middle of the 1800’s that pileateds could be found anywhere in the state where there was mature timber.  Stoddard wrote in 1947 that “As early as 1900 pileated woodpeckers had apparently been shot out of both the Baraboo bluffs and the Wisconsin River bottoms” and believed that shooting of woodpeckers was more of a problem than habitat destruction.  Pileateds were shot for both food and sport.  In the 1940’s Becker did not have any pileated woodpecker records in 14 southeast counties. His range map for Columbia County had the birds in the western part of the county along the Lower Wisconsin River.  

  Photo by Richard Armstrong

Photo by Richard Armstrong

At the end of the 20th century, pileateds were still absent from five southeast counties. However, Atlas I volunteers found birds in the Kettle Moraine State Forests.  Nests are very difficult to find.  Only 63 nests were found in the first breeding bird atlas! This is only the second pileated woodpecker nest we have found.  The good news is that the federal Breeding Bird Survey in Wisconsin found a long-term increase of 5% per year between 1966 and 2002.  

Wildlife photographer Richard Armstrong wrote to us “ I went out early (to Otsego Marsh) this morning and set up my blind on a different tree hole, not knowing for sure if it was the correct tree hole. I was in the blind at 6:30 am and by 8:30 I was getting a bit discouraged. Then, serendipity happened. A red-bellied wood pecker landed on the tree next to the hole and started pecking away. Low and behold, the pileated peaked out to see what was making such a racket. That gave me the incentive to stay longer. So at 8:40 I said I was going to stay until 10:00 a.m. At 10:00 I decided to stay until 10:30. I kept thinking that the changing of the egg sitter would happen sometime. 10:30 came around and I decided 10 more minutes and I'm leaving for sure!!!!! Five minutes later, the second pileated flew in to swap places with the one in the nest cavity. Whew! My four hour plus wait was successful.”

It is our understanding that pileated woodpeckers pairs are territorial and require several hundred acres of mature forest with large trees for nesting.  They usually construct a new nest cavity every year.

This spring Linda and Chuck Pils reported a pair in Madison in the Crestwood neighborhood along the edge of Owen Park (at right). It would be nice for someone to find and report a nest in Madison.

Hopefully, you can visit Otsego Marsh in June and sight a pileated. Last time we were there one flew over the parking lot headed west to a forested area.

 

Feature by Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Resident Managers, Goose Pond Sanctuary

 

  Photo by Linda Pils

Photo by Linda Pils