Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

The World's Largest Hummingbirds?

Last week while walking through the Arboretum, one of this year's young Pileated Woodpeckers flew past calling loudly. It was apparently chasing after its parents. It became too hard to follow the mostly black bird as it wove its way among the fir trees. However a few minutes later, a rhythmic knocking near the base of a Douglas Fir provided a new location. The young bird was sitting just below her mother, apparently waiting for the mother to find her food.

A close look at the young bird showed the two distinctive marks just behind the eye that identified her as Marie, the same female bird we saw in the nest back in June. 

(To see the photos from the nest click on the following links: In the Nest Leaving the Nest)

Marie followed her mother, Priscilla, from the Douglas Fir to a Big-Leaf Maple where they nearly caught up with her father, Elvis. Notice that Priscilla is wider and heavier than Marie, her top knot is a brighter red and her eyes are red as well.

Elvis, with his yellow eyes and red malar stripe, leads the way to large pink blossoms in a nearby Magnolia. The blossoms were huge, maybe as much as 10 inches across. Acting more like a hummingbird than a Pileated Woodpecker Elvis fluttered, crawled and leaped among the leaves to get to the blossoms. It was impossible to determine whether he was eating nectar from the flower or some small insect that was attracted by the nectar. 

In either case his example was all Priscilla needed.

She dove in among the magnolia blossoms and...

…somehow found room to almost hover during her approach.

Marie did her best to get to the blossoms…

…but it seemed to require a bit more coordination than she could muster. (While I must admit that these are not the world's largest hummingbirds it was the most surprising behavior I have ever seen by Pileated Woodpeckers.)

After awhile, the exertion apparently tired them out and Elvis led the way back into the fir trees.

A few days later a single young Pileated Woodpecker was spotted prospecting for food near the base of another Douglas Fir. Later, by comparing the bird (in the photo) to distinctive marks on the tree, the length of this bird was estimated to be about 12 1/2 inches. This seemed odd since in the earlier photos Marie was nearly as long as her mother and full grown Pileated Woodpeckers are usually between 16 to 19 inches. 

Due to the loss of feathers just behind the eye it was impossible to tell if this was Marie or her sister Lisa. However given the apparent size difference, the much more ragged & tattered look of this bird and the fact that it was feeding alone, it all makes one wonder if it is not one of Elvis and Priscilla's offspring. (By the way did you notice the ant stuck in the white feathers below and behind the eye?)

Photographically, it is interesting to look at the same bird in the same location, but from a slightly different angle so that the background changes.

I suspect I saw this same bird a few weeks ago. It was high in a snag around dawn and I had no way to determine its size, until a crow came and set down nearby. I was shocked to see that the two birds were virtually the same size. In any case, with the missing feathers behind the right eye this bird should be easy to identify with binoculars or a scope. I am thinking we should call her Pee-Wee. Please let me know if you spot her. Both of my sightings were between the mouth of Arboretum Creek and the Stone Bridge near the Tot Lot.

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



  1. Just stupendous photographs!

  2. Thank you! I felt very lucky to see the family feeding in the Magnolia.

  3. I truly enjoy this and all your photos in and around this area. So glad you provide this wonderful nature for all us Montlakers and others.

    1. Thank you! I am happy that you enjoy my work. We are very lucky to live in a city where parks and nature are appreciated. It is a start in the right direction.

      I did my first trip to the east coast this spring. What I saw after four hundred years of "development" made me very sad. We need a new inspired vision of our future that is integrated with nature. The old paradigm of "conquering nature" has obviously failed. Our newly discovered capabilities should be used to nurture nature and provide a future for all our children.