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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Priscilla's in the Park | 520 Eagle Update

For the first time in two and half months Priscilla, the mate of Elvis the Pileated Woodpeckerwas seen in the Arboretum. Most likely she has not been seen because she has been spending her time in the nest sitting on eggs. Her young may have just hatched out. Click Here to see her young from last year. You can tell from the way the sawdust is flying that Priscilla seems very hungry and appears happy to be out and about. (By the way Elvis was seen entering the nest the next day and once the young are hatched he tends to do a fair share of the feeding and care.)

She is really focused on the ants or grubs inside this birch tree. She seems to open the tree almost like it was a book.

Priscilla looks different than Elvis because as a female she does not have red on her forehead or on her cheeks, like Elvis. However there is another way they look different. In fact, Priscilla looks different than almost all the Pileated Woodpeckers you see when you do a Google search.

If you are a birder you might want to challenge yourself to find the difference without comparing photos. On the other hand if you are a more casual observer of birds you may want to scroll down to the last full woodpecker photo and take a look at Elvis.

 In either case she is a seriously hungry woodpecker. Making eggs must take a lot out of you.

 When something gets in the way of her hunger…

…Priscilla has a rather pointed response.

  Here are a few more photos just for fun.

Notice how she uses her claw to help pull the bark off the tree. 

 At times she disappeared into the hole in the tree.

Compare this shot of Priscilla in the Birch tree to...

...Elvis one day earlier on the remains of an Alder tree. Do you see the difference? 
(In the birds, although there is a difference in the trees as well. ;-)


For the last couple of months Eva has been almost constantly sitting in her nest in the Broadmoor Golf Course. 
Most of the time only her head was visible sticking out of the nest. Just like with Priscilla, Eva's eggs should be getting ready to hatch, however during the last week Eva has been seen spending a great deal of time away from the nest.

As a matter of fact Eva and Albert have been seen for hours sitting side by side on the 520 light poles. 

They have also been seen returning to the nesting tree but they are spending much of their time 15 to 20 feet above the nest in the shade of the foliage. This behavior seems different than in previous years. One would expect Eva to either be sitting on eggs or staying very close to the young eaglets once they leave their shells. In either case she would not normally be hunting much or hanging out on the 520 light poles and Albert would be working his tail off bringing food back to the nest. It seems that after two months of sitting in the nest Eva has given up on this year's eggs. I hope I am proven wrong on this but I find it hard to come to any other conclusion. 

The next question is of course why didn't her eggs hatch? I do not know. Could Eva be reaching an age where reproduction becomes more difficult? Could some other creature have destroyed the eggs? If you have knowledge in this area and would like to share it please leave your thoughts in the comments section for everyone to read. Thank you!

On the positive side both eagles are staying close together and returning frequently to the nesting tree. This implies to me that they are still devoted to each other, their Union Bay territory and their nest site. Hopefully they will have better luck next year.


In response to last week's puzzle concerning native and non-native May flowers here is what I have learned thanks to the Master Gardeners in the Arboretum.

A) Vinca Major is a non-native periwinkle.

B) Rubis Spectabilis or Salmonberry is a native plant.

C) Rosa Nukana or Nootka Rose is a native plant. (Although my second photo in the "C" section might be a different member of the rose family.)

D) Lonicera Ciliosa or Orange Honeysuckle is a native plant.

E)  Rubis Parviflorus or Thimbleberry is a native plant.

F) Physocarpus Capitatus or Pacific Ninebark is a native plant.

G) Ranunculus Occidentalis or Western Buttercup is a native plant.

H) Geranium Robertianum or Stinky Bob is a non-native plant.

I) Sambucus or Elderberry is a native plant. Given the cone shape of the flowers this is most likely the red elderberry.

J) Iris Pseudacorus or Yellow Flag Iris is a non-native plant.

K) Bellis Perennis or English Daisy is a non-native plant.

L) Trillium Ovatum or just Trillium is a native plant.

M) Hesperis Matronalis or Dame's Rocket is a non-native plant.

N) Oxalis Oregana or Wood Sorrel is a native plant.

O) Equestum or Horsetail is a native plant although I do not think it actually qualifies as a May flower. 

On most of the non-native plants I have provided links to websites that describe in great detail the negative impacts these plants have on our native environments. There is a tremendous amount of native and non-native life in and around Union Bay.The first step towards preserving our rich Northwest biodiversity is to know which plants to save, purchase or plant. These native plants provide food and shelter to the native birds and creatures, and will help us leave a healthier, richer environment for our children.


Finally the other difference between Elvis and Priscilla is the color of their eyes.
Elvis has yellow eyes.

Last year Priscilla's eyes were yellow to slightly orange.

While this year her eyes appear to be orange to red. While it could be possible these are two different females both photos were taken within a couple hundred yards during the time of year when Pileated Woodpeckers are most territorial. Plus the white "eyebrow" markings look very similar.

The only reference I can find to red eyes in Pileated Woodpeckers is in Peter Pyle's "Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part 1, Page 204 were he says, "vs deep red in ASY/ATYs" were the codes mean After Second Year and After Third Year. If their eyes all turn red after the second or third year and they can live over ten years then one would expect  the majority or at least a fair number of internet photos should show red eyes, but they do not.

In addition I believe I first saw Elvis leaving the nest as an adult, e.g. parent, two years ago which would make him at least three years old (most likely even older) and his eyes do not show any sign of turning red. The other curious part of this puzzle is that most of the photos on the internet are of males, so I am beginning to wonder if it is only the shyer females whose eyes turn red.
In any case it will be fun to watch for a red-eyed Elvis in the coming years.

Have great day on Union Bay…where nature lives in the city!



  1. Lovely! Always enjoy your posts, as you know. I just saw either Eva or Albert this morning heading to the Eastside. I don't travel 520 daily but every time I do, it's a delight to always see one of them posted there. Today, the eagle was being dive-bombed by a determined crow.

    I wonder if it's Elvis I saw a couple of weeks ago near the trail bridge at Duck Bay. I posted a photo here, the male was foraging in ground cover on some fallen wood. Does he frequent that particular area? Here's the male I saw: https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/14162086182/

    1. Great Photo! Yes, that is certainly part of his territory and the most likely spot to see him during the middle of the day. Good Luck!

  2. Another great post.
    I have a pair that have been coming into my yard for several years and the female always has had darker eyes, this year they are so distinct from the males that I don't even need to look for the red cheek to tell them apart.
    Greg Hensen

    1. Thank you! I think your sighting elevates my guess to a theory. :-) It will be fun to see if other folks are seeing the same thing. Thanks again!

  3. Hi Larry,
    The Eagles at the nest in Heritage Park near downtown Kirkland have also failed to raise any babies this year. All I know so far is that they had one chick which died sometime this past week. The last time I was there was April 27th and an adult was sitting on, presumably, an egg or two. Last night, May 22nd, I went back and the nest was abandoned and Eastside Audubon had received a report the day before of a dead baby at the base of the tree.

    Sounds like a it's a sad year for our local Eagle parents.

    Mick Thompson

    1. Thank you for the update. I guess all we can do is hope everything goes better next year.

  4. Thanks for the update on the eagles. We've seen them in the upper branches more than in previous years, and wondered about the eggs. What happens to the eggs if they don't hatch?

    1. I would guess (I do not know) that they stay in the nest. Maybe that is why the eagles were seen bringing branches back to the nest a week or two ago. Maybe they were covering over the eggs.