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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Elvis Jr. Has Left The Nest

On Sunday, Elvis Jr. was clearly curious about the world outside the nest.

He even twisted all the vertebrates in his neck to look straight up, while his body faced the ground. Around the same time his father, Elvis, called loudly and chased a cooper's hawk away from the nest site. Constant awareness will be critical to Junior's survival. 

As part of his growing awareness, Junior used his tongue to explore the air. Pileated woodpeckers would be lost without their tongues or at least very hungry. They pull their primary food, carpenter ants and their larvae, out of the trees with their long barbed tongues.  (Click on the previous highlight to see Craig Johnson's excellent documentation concerning woodpecker tongues.) Watching the young explore with their tongues makes me wonder if pileated woodpeckers have a uniquely sophisticated sense of taste.

An obvious difference between Elvis and Junior. is the color of their irises. Elvis has yellow irises, while Junior's are grey-blue. A slightly more subtle difference can be seen in the brilliance of their red feathers, the young have a hint of orange in their red.

This year Elvis and Priscilla hatched out three young birds. Can you distinguish Junior from his sisters?

These are the girls.

This is Junior.

Maybe this is an easier comparison, with just Junior and one sister. Notice the red on Junior's forehead and along his chin, where the females have black feathers. Although due to shadows, Junior's red malar stripe can be hard to catch.

When they are very young, their colors are muted. This May 20th photo, shows Elvis preparing to feed one of the young birds. I suspect this nestling is less than a week old. It did not look or behave like its eyes were open. Because of the pink on top of the head and only gray on the forehead, I suspect this is one of the females. The amount of growth and change in just 17 days is phenominal.

By Tuesday morning, Junior appeared to be the last bird left nesting. His parents evidently decided that is was time for him to fly. In spite of his incessant begging, they did not deliver on his demands.

When Junior stopped his begging I looked up, startled by the silence. I got to see the last half of his first flight. He landed on this tree, which was leaning a few degrees off vertical. Junior immediately scrambled up the tree and then launched himself towards his mother, Priscilla.

This second tree was closer to vertical and covered with moss, but Junior had no problem getting a grip.

 After landing, Junior turned to look expectantly at Priscilla.

Priscilla appeared to debate whether Junior's first flight deserved to be rewarded.

  Finally, she moved closer…

 …and offered him food.

Priscilla has the same feather patterns as the young females, but her irises are a red-orange in color which helps make her easy to distinguish from the rest of the family.

Elvis, who had been standing guard on the opposite side of the nest, landed below them and watched the feeding.

 Elvis climbed the tree to check on Junior.

Junior seemed focused on Priscilla as she departed. Maybe Junior ignored Elvis because he did not offer any additional food.

The parents must find a delicate balance. On one hand they must make sure the young are hungry enough to be motivated to find their own food. On the other hand they also must feed them, to ensure the young enough energy to learn to find their food.

Last year in August, I found one of the 2014 female fledglings was still following Elvis and Priscilla, and apparently learning about new food sources. To see the post,

In 2014, Elvis and Priscilla raised two females. While in 2013 they raised two males. Click on the links below to see their photos in the nests:


The Birds of North America reports that the most common number of eggs in a pileated woodpecker nest is four. Hopefully, having three young this year means Elvis and Priscilla are growing stronger and will get closer to the norm in the future. In the meantime, all is quiet at the nest, which is why I suspect that Junior was the last to leave. If we keep our eyes open, we just might see Elvis, Priscilla and the kids somewhere on the south side of Union Bay. Feel free to leave a comment below if you spot them. Thank you!

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


Osprey Update:
On Thursday, the osprey nesting platform was erected at the Union Bay Natural Area. The pole is in the southwest corner of the Natural Area. Now the excitement begins. When will the osprey take to the nest? Is there time for them to nest this year? Who will get to be the first person to see the osprey on the platform?

Special thanks to Jim Kaiser from Osprey Solutions LLC, to Dean Pearson and the UW Athletic Department, to Fred Hoyt and David Zuckerman at the UBNA and to the gentlemen from Prime Electric who helped attach the nesting platform and plant the pole in the ground!

More to follow!


  1. Thanks for the documentation, Pileated are really dedicated parents and pretty patient at enticing the young from the nest, I spent a day this week watching a pair calling, drumming, and holding food just out of their daughters reach trying to get her to join them but she was pretty stubborn and stayed in the nest until the following morning.
    We really are fortunate to live in an area where we can witness things like this first hand.

    Greg Hensen

    1. Yes! It is amazing the things we get to see. Hopefully, one-step-at-a-time we can continue to find ways to save these creatures in the city and close to where our children and grandchildren will one day live.