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