Bird Observer - The New England Birding Journal

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

August 2018

Vol. 46, No. 4

Field Notes: Pileated Woodpecker Surprise

Sandy Selesky


Pileated Woodpecker at feeder. Photograph by the author.

The Pileated Woodpecker has always been a favorite bird of mine. I have lived in a condominium development in Westford, Massachusetts, for over 32 years. My upper deck overlooks a private backyard with an open grassy area and some gardens that my neighbor planted, but also borders a mixed pine and deciduous forest that attracts a lot of wildlife. Over the years, I have often seen Pileated Woodpeckers land on the trees or fly across the backyard. This winter I infrequently began hearing or seeing a pair in the area. I've always thought how wonderful it would be if one of them would come to the suet feeder I hang on my upper back deck but it has only attracted the usual—Downys, Hairys, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and also titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, an occasional Carolina Wren. I rarely, if ever, heard of anybody attracting Pileated Woodpeckers to their suet feeders so it wasn't really anything I expected. One could only hope of course.

Then it happened. My husband Don was sitting on the sofa watching television in our living room on April 12, 2018. He sat right near our sliding doors that look out over our outside deck where my suet and seed feeders hang. He yelled for me to come slowly but quickly toward him because there was a Pileated Woodpecker at our suet feeder! I didn't have time to run to the basement for my camera bag so I just grabbed my cell phone and looked in awe as a female Pileated clung to the suet feeder. Both Don and I were shocked and delighted to say the least. My hands were shaking but I managed to get a few awful images as proof that it actually happened. Don saw her come again later that day but I missed it. I made sure my good camera was ready if she came the next day but I wasn't around most of that day. However, two days later on April 14, just as I returned from an exercise class, I came into the living room and saw a flash of black and white. I grabbed my camera. The female Pileated had just been chased away by a squirrel but perched nearby. After I chased the squirrel away, sure enough she returned, stayed more than five minutes, ate lots of suet, and I got lots of good pictures this time through the glass doors. I posted a link to a few pictures on Massbird and got quite a few responses from birders, some of whom I knew, who wanted to know how I attracted her to my suet, what type of suet I used, etc. Well, it was just a regular nutty suet cake from Market Basket and it only took 32 years to get a Pileated to finally appear on one. And I did find out that a few people have had Pileated Woodpeckers come to their suet, but it's a rare event.

Unfortunately, neither she nor her mate (who appeared in my backyard in May) ever came to the suet again. I had to replace the suet with my hummingbird feeder as of May 4 anyway. The squirrel was eating it all up and making quite a mess. Maybe I will luck out again next year.

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