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Readying the Nest

Kathy Werner
Posted 4/1/21

My granddaughter Adeline has been visiting (along with her mom and dad) at my house. Two days ago, as we were in the backyard, I noticed a pileated woodpecker working about 30 feet up on a tree on …

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Readying the Nest

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My granddaughter Adeline has been visiting (along with her mom and dad) at my house. Two days ago, as we were in the backyard, I noticed a pileated woodpecker working about 30 feet up on a tree on the edge of the woods.

I showed Adeline where to look, and as we watched, we saw the large bird (they are about 18 inches tall with a 30-inch wingspan) pecking at the tree and then seeming to disappear. We finally figured out that the woodpecker was making a nest in the hollow of the tree. We ran inside to get the binoculars for a closer look.

Sure enough, when we got a closer look, we could see Papa Woodpecker hammering his head off as he made a hole in the side of the tree and then cleaned out the trunk to make a nest for Mama to lay her eggs.

We did some research online and discovered that pileated woodpeckers were once becoming endangered because of large-scale clearing of forests but have made a comeback. We also learned that they mate for life and usually have one family per year.

After the male makes the nest, the female will lay 3-5 eggs, and both birds will take turns incubating the eggs. In about 18 days, the eggs hatch, and the nestlings will stay with their parents for several months before lighting out on their own.

Papa Woodpecker has been working on the nest for days now, and just today there was some drama at the worksite. A curious squirrel jumped across the tops of some trees and made a move toward Papa Woodpecker. Suddenly from a nearby tree Mama Woodpecker swooped down, chasing the squirrel away. It took several swoops, since the squirrel took a little persuading.

We also discovered that male pileated woodpeckers have a red crest and red on their cheeks, while the females have just the red crest. Using our binoculars, we identified Papa as the master builder.

I remember our third-grade teacher Mrs. Talina Milk got us all booklets from the Audubon Society. Each week, we would tear out a stamp bearing the picture of a bird and lick and stick it on the page about that bird. I remember learning about robins, scarlet tanagers, and the crafty Baltimore oriole, who built a hanging nest for its young.

Pasting those stamps in and reading about the birds was a very satisfying activity, right up there with making rows of circles in our Palmer Method handwriting books. Third grade was a wonderful year.

But back to our current study of birds. Adeline has already started writing an illustrated book about our pileated woodpeckers, and I'm looking for a camera with a lens long enough to get a decent picture of our flashy feathered friends. We've an adventure ahead!

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