Sunday, October 2, 2011

Big Bird

We welcomed the first cool weekend of the fall with a lot of yard work and a surprise visitor. As we sat on the bench in the backyard planning what we wanted to accomplish, a flash of red in the nearby pine trees caught our eye. A loud hammering sound quickly clued us in to the woodpecker nearby, but we were surprised to find it was a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), which we've never had the pleasure of seeing around the yard before.

Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in Florida, and get their name from their red cap of feathers. In Latin, pileatus meant "wearing a felt skullcap" (seems sort of an oddly specific word, when you think about it). Incidentally, in case you've ever had trouble pronouncing the word, the preferred pronunciation is "pie-lee-ate-ed", although "pill-ee-ate-ed" is also fine. In both pronunciations, the accent is on the first syllable.

Male and female Pileated woodpeckers can be differentiated by the head. Males have an extra splash of red below the eye (click here to see). Our visitor was lacking that patch, so she was a female. Both forage for food in the same way, by excavating rectangular holes in the bark of trees to find ants and small insects. They make holes so large that other birds come to feed there as well.

Though we've seen Pileated woodpeckers in other places, having one visit My Florida Backyard was very exciting. Somehow, we feel a little more acquainted with a species once it visits us at home. It was a wonderful way to ring in the first weekend of fall weather, and made the hours of weed-pulling ahead seem that much more pleasant.


  1. Thanks for the lesson. I always learn something here. Enjoy your new visitor!

  2. I love seeing these woodpeckers in my yard. It's a real treat!

  3. Beautiful! I see many red bellied and downy woodpeckers in our backyard during the winter months back here up north. I have hoped and watched for a pileated, without luck so far. I keep watching!