Two Pileated Woodpeckers in Algonquin Park

Two Pileated Woodpeckers in Algonquin Park

Two female Pileated Woodpeckers one above the other 2, Algonquin Park - January 2013

One winter, Bob and I went cross-country skiing on the Fen Lake Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario.  As luck had it, we spotted two female Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) working industriously on the same tree in the depths of the forest.  Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers you will find in the wilds of Ontario.

Algonquin Park - Ontario - Canada - January 27, 2013

The section of Algonquin Park where Bob and I skied is home to a wide variety of wildlife, and on this trip to the area, we saw a number of different types of birds and animals.  Among them were a bull and cow moose, a pine marten, a Great Grey Owl, and tracks made in the snow by wolves, foxes, and other animals.

Bob x-country skiing in Algonquin Park - Ontario

We got an early start to the day even though the temperature was -28 Celsius.  When we set out, it was like stepping into a winter wonderland because every twig, branch and bough supported a thick layer of snow.  Sunshine streamed through the canopy of trees helping to offset the brittle chill of the air, and our skis virtually flew across the frozen landscape.  And yet, at different points along the way, Bob and I stopped to listen to the complete silence of the still forest.

Jean x-country skiing in Algonquin Park - Ontario

On one such stop along the ski trail, I heard, off to my left, the sound of two woodpeckers drumming away at a tree.  I knew there were two birds because the tenor of each drumming sound differed from the other.  I also was pretty certain that the source was  pileated woodpeckers judging by the intensity of the pecking.  With the thickness of the snow-covered forest, I could not pinpoint the location of the birds.

Pileated Woodpecker wood chips on snow - Algonquin Park - Ontario - January 2013

A little further back along the ski trail, we had seen evidence of Pileated Woodpeckers in that section of the forest.  This  tree had been freshly excavated for insects, even since a fresh fall of snow the afternoon before, evidenced by the large deposit of wood chips on the surface of the snow.

Pileated Woodpecker holes in Algonquin Park tree - Ontario - January 2013

Pileated Woodpeckers make substantially larger holes in a tree than the smaller species of woodpeckers, and judging by the number of holes in this tree, it is obviously a favored source of food.

Pileated Woodpecker - holes in tree - Algonquin Park - Ontario - January 2013

One of these holes may become the future nesting site for one of the Pileated Woodpeckers.  It takes 6 weeks to hew a large enough hole for a nest, but with a nest required by April, the woodpeckers could actively be starting the process.

Two Pileated Woodpeckers - female - on side of tree, Algonquin Park - January 2013

Can you locate the woodpeckers in this picture?  They are about halfway up on the centre tree in this photograph.  This was the view that Bob had when he first sighted them.

Two female Pileated Woodpeckers one above the other 3, Algonquin Park - January 2013

Moving from the ski trail and into the forest, Bob waded very slowly through the snow, making sure to hide behind other trees so as not to startle the two woodpeckers.  He managed to get a number of photographs and a short video of the birds as they drilled into the tree trunk.

In this video, you get a chance to see and hear the two Pileated Woodpeckers working away together.  One purpose of their drumming is to stake out their territory against other Pileated Woodpeckers, but, of course, they are also searching for food or quite possibly hollowing out a potential nesting site.

Two female Pileated Woodpeckers one above the other 4, Algonquin Park - January 2013

Pileated Woodpeckers stay together throughout the winter and do not migrate, and these two seemed right at home with each other.

Pileated Woodpecker - female prepared to strike tree - Algonquin Park - Ontario - January 2013

Pileated Woodpecker - female - pecking hole in tree, Algonquin Park - January 2013

You can tell that these are female Pileated Woodpeckers because, other than the red crest on the top of their heads, there is no other red on their faces.  Running back from their beaks are solid black stripes that continue down their necks.

pileated woodpecker, Rouge National Park2

The male Pileated Woodpecker, in addition to a red crest, has a red forehead and a slash of red on either side of its beak, like a red mustache.  We took this picture earlier this fall in Rouge National Park near Toronto, Ontario.

Two female Pileated Woodpeckers one above the other 4, Algonquin Park - January 2013

Bob and I observed the woodpeckers for about a half hour before continuing along the ski trail to finish our outing.  Sighting the Pileated Woodpeckers had been a real highlight of the day.

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8 comments

  • Terrific account and lovely footage and photos.

    • thanks for your compliment, Sam. Perhaps you would be interested to look at our latest blog, Pileated Woodpeckers Sighted Near Oxtongue Lake, that we published yesterday. This past weekend, Bob and I were skiing near the community of Oxtongue lake when we came upon another two pileated woodpeckers at the edge of a beaver pond. We were able to get much closer to these ones so have a few closeups.

  • Thank you for the link back to your photo essay. I only see Pileated woodpeckers (generally males) when visiting Fenelon Falls, never in London. The Northern Flickers I observed in the fall in Fenelon Falls were the first I’d seen in a long time, so it’s a good town to visit. Now I’m reminded to check my Photo Files and will hopefully post the photos soon. Thanks again.

    GH, London

    • You might be interested to take a look at our most recent blog posting, Two Pileated Woodpeckers Sighted Near Oxtongue Lake. This past weekend, Bob and I went skiing near that community and were thrilled to get a closer look at two more of these impressive birds.

  • Wow! And again I say Wow! Absolutely wonderful pics of these beautiful birds. I have seen some from a distance, here in NS, but your shots are great. Amazing how much wood bits they can peck out of a tree. Thanks so much for the picture. The snow on the trees is beautiful! I am so glad I found your page.

    • thanks for your scintillating comments. This past Sunday, Bob and I actually sighted two more of these over-sized woodpeckers when skiing near Oxtongue Lake. I can never get enough of observing their behavior. I think it is the sheer size of them that always takes my breath away. Hopefully you will have the chance one day to see some of these birds up close.

  • Excellent shots! There is a male doing a number on a hydro pole just north of Picton, obviously mistaking the natural hum of the pole with the sound of carpenter ants inside.

    • thanks for the feedback. We have never seen a pileated woodpecker here in our own neighborhood, but we have had a Northern Flicker visit several times. One fall, we had a flicker frequenting our suet and peanut feeders well into November, which was unusual, but nonetheless beautiful to witness.