Standing at the top of the zigzag trail, I could hear hammering resounding through the forest. I walked down the path to find a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers on a dead tree. They were excavating small holes in the wood using their chisel-like bills as they searched for food.

They will make holes in trees to get to the tunnels of carpenter ants or wood-boring beetles and termites. The holes are often in a rectangle shape and can be quite deep—a good sign that a Pileated Woodpecker is in the area. You will see these characteristic holes on the older Douglas-fir trees near the juncture of the Zigzag and Hillside Trails.

When a Pileated Woodpecker discovers an insect path inside the tree, it has an incredible tool to procure its food. Its tongue is part of a fascinating system of small bones and muscles that wrap around the back and top of the skull to its forehead. In What It’s Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley writes, “The long tongue has a barbed and sticky tip, and tiny muscles that allow the bird to bend the tip of the tongue in any direction, so it can follow twisting tunnels, trap prey against walls, and pry insects and larvae out of their hiding places deep inside a tree.” That is truly amazing!

In addition to the sound of pounding on trees, you can also hear the vocalizations of the Pileated Woodpecker reverberating across the landscape. Click here to listen to their calls on Cornell’s website All About Birds.

Once its sound has clued you into its whereabouts, you will be in for a real marvel. Assuming that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct, the Pileated is the largest woodpecker in North America. Both the male and female have flaming, red crests. The red on the male includes the forecrown, and he has a red mustache mark. Good luck in finding this spectacular bird!

Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.

See more of Bryan’s work here.