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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Leaving Home

Last week, these young Pileated Woodpeckers were still in the nest and often clamoring to be fed. Although squeaking to be fed may be a better description.

This 2018 recording provides a very similar set of pileated sounds so you can judge for yourself which term is most descriptive.

Regardless, there is no question about their excitement. Whenever they see a parent approaching with food, the sounds erupt from the nest. This year, Chip and Goldie had just two young. The one on the left is male and the one on the right is a female.

Actually, the story starts much earlier when Chip, the adult male, was seen working on a new nest site in early April. Given how much work had already been completed, he probably began his efforts in late March.

This is the tenth year in a row that our local Pileated Woodpeckers have excavated their nest site in a dead or dying Red Alder. In the early stages of construction the hole was not large enough to hold an adult. 

All we can see in this photo are the tail, which is held flat against the trunk, and the wing tips which point out perpendicular from the tree. From a camouflage perspective this makes a lot of sense. The bird is in effect hiding its bright red top-knot and the white facial and body markings inside and leaving only the least-easily-noticed black portions of the body exposed.

It is also interesting how often woodpecker nests are built on the protected side of the trunk. They seem to know which way the tree is leaning and how to best protect the entry from our Pacific Northwest rainfall.

Once the hole is large enough, the woodpeckers move inside to work. After which the only opportunity to see them, while one is working, is when they throw out the trash e.g. the left over wood chips. 

In year's past, I have heard one of them knocking chips off a tree and wandering in circles following the sound and trying to see the bird. Only to find that they were at this intermediate stage and totally inside the nest. There was actually no way for me to see the bird at all.

By mid-April the nest was getting close to completion. Goldie, Chip's mate, stopped by to take a turn and give him a break. It is interesting to see how her tail feathers are slender, maybe worn down a bit. As far as I know all of our local woodpeckers use their tails like a third leg. It provides critical stabilization and support while they work and when they climb trees. 

Pileated Woodpeckers will often glide down to a lower level, and then slowly work their way up a tree, stopping along the way to root out the larva of carpenter ants. Often, they will quickly excavate large holes and then thrust their long sticky tongues into smaller crevices to pull out the hidden food. When they reach the top of a tree they will frequently sit for a moment, sometimes call to their mate (or young), look around for the next best opportunity and then fly down and repeat the process.

Goldie takes a break from nest building. While working her way up a nearby snag she spots, grabs, and eats a bug. A close look shows two little legs sticking out of her bill.

I particularly like the balance of curves and bumps in this photo. It also shows how she uses her tail for support.

When the young become curious about the outside world, it will not be long before they leave the nest.

Once out of the nest, the young will be smaller than the adults for about a month or two. Their top knots will also be orange instead of red for awhile. Plus, the feathers on top of their heads are structurally simple without the barbs and hooks that give an adult's crest that smooth sophisticated look. 

On the other hand, can you see any similarities between this young female and her mother?

Here, Goldie is feeding the young male. It provides a great opportunity to compare their crests. It's interesting that their crests look so obviously different when side-by-side. However, later, if you see the individual birds separately, and often briefly, it can be challenging to notice if you saw a young bird or an adult.

Goldie takes turns feeding the young. In the first photo above she was feeding the female.

When Goldie leaves, Chip takes a turn providing larva for the young. Chip had been waiting on a nearby tree. I wondered if he was trying to entice the young to leave the nest and fly to him for food. However once Goldie fed them, he must have realized that he might as well just go ahead and give them the food he had collected.

A few days later when I got the chance to return to the site, the nest was totally quiet.

After some searching this week, I found both of the young woodpeckers sitting in nearby trees waiting for their parents to bring them food.

The young male sat on this branch for the longest time. Of course the young are still a bit inept.

At one point, it appears he lost his grip and nearly fell of the branch.

But his reflexes are apparently quite quick. He grabbed ahold and pulled himself back up.

He also explored the area around him with his tongue. Their tongues are critical pieces of their food gathering equipment so it makes sense the they are inclined to use them extensively. If he were to accidentally catch a few bugs with his tongue, it would no doubt help motivate him to learn to feed himself. Even though from what I have seen the past, they will follow the parents for a few more weeks, watching and learning where and how to find food.

From what I observed, it looked like Chip has been feeding the young female and Goldie the young male. It seems to me that more often than not young pileated woodpeckers follow the parent of the opposite gender.

Now that the young are out of the nest they still call when they see an adult approaching with food, but it is much more brief and on the whole they are far more quiet. This is a good thing, as there are creatures about that will eat young woodpeckers.

Finally, after more than a hour, the young bird's patience was rewarded when his mother came by with a food delivery.

The colors on the young birds' heads are somewhat less brilliant as compared to the adults. However, the patterns for each gender are the same. The males have red on the cheek, e.g. malar stripes, and on the foreheads. The females have black malar stripes and non-red foreheads. Goldie's forehead, in the right light, can look golden-brown which is why I call her Goldie. 

Their eye colors are interesting. Chip's irises are yellow, Goldie's are reddish-yellow and the young ones are a dark-grey (maybe almost bluish) but very hard to see unless they are in direct sunlight. From most angles the irises of the young look almost as dark as their pupils. 

Curiously, working with readers and their photos in the past showed that locally reddish-eyed Pileated Woodpeckers appeared to be found from Union Bay north towards Lynnwood. Most were female but there was one male with reddish eyes. Goldie's eyes have been reddish for around 4 years, so it does not seem to be age related, but maybe her eyes will turn more yellow with time. In looking through the Macaulay Library of photos I found one very clearly red-eyed bird, photographed this year, by a Josh Cooper in Montgomery, Pennsylvania. So it is not just a West Coast phenomenon. There is definately something more to learn about eye colors in Pileated Woodpeckers.

Have a good day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

(By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Apparently, Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.

What species of tree is this? 

Based on its needles, partially visible in the lower right corner of the photo, and the pattern of the bark I believe this tree is native to our area. By the way, the needles feel flat and do not easily roll between your finger and thumb.

Scroll down for the answer.


Sitka Spruce: The only native Spruce tree to naturally grow near sea level in the Pacific Northwest. Our other PNW native spruce is the Engelmann Spruce which grows at higher elevations and has four-sided needles that do roll easily between your finger and thumb.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements - regarding my posts. Google never responded to my requests for help with this issue. Now, in 2021,
 the service is being discontinued.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net


A couple more pileated photos:



  1. Interesting read, educational and great photos as usual! Thanks Larry

    1. You are certainly welcome! I am glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. my favorite bird the Pileated... a couple of years ago I had a male parent with a young male and the female fed the female young at my suet feeders and they showed up several times ...male with male young and female with female young... then the neighborhood started whacking down trees and now I see fewer and fewer pileated. thank you for your nature education... hopefully I am still on your email list.

  3. Thank you! Please let me know if you stop getting notices and I will add you to my personal email list.