A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

Yesterday I discovered a fallen tree that had been subject to serious recent excavation. There was a pile of uniform wood chips, as if they had been cut with a chisel. There were two holes in the wood, one in a deeply cut circular pattern, another a larger rectangle. There was similar work in the stump.

I emailed photographs to several friends, forest experts among them, asking what creature did this. A bear would not be so precise. A beaver would not venture this far from the creek and woodchucks are rare. The answer was swift: a pileated woodpecker. This was confirmed by instructors at PEEC, and made clear once I saw photos of “pileated woodpecker destruction” on line.

We have seen pileateds every year, if not frequently. They are the size of large crows. “Pileated” is Latin for “capped,” as their red crested head looks like a cap. They feed on carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larva, often at ground level of fallen trees. With all our recently fallen trees, we ought to see more of them soon.

They carve huge nests with multiple entrances, abandoning them to other animals after one season. They don’t migrate and are attracted to suet feeders. They may turn their attention to wooden houses, if the wood contains insects. Their rate of pecking is 11-30 per second and can be quite loud.

Film cartoonist Walter Lantz and his wife Grace Stafford were kept awake on their honeymoon in 1940 by a woodpecker attacking the roof of their cottage. This was the inspiration for Lantz’ greatest creation: Woody Woodpecker, who began each cartoon by pecking through the screen, exclaiming “Guess Who?” followed by his signature maniacal laugh. In later years Lantz’ wife did the laugh. 

I always wondered, if your spouse could do Woody Woodpecker’s laugh, would this be a good thing or a bad thing? I suspect this would depend on the circumstance, much as the holes carved by pileateds. Are the holes in a dead tree, creating homes for themselves and others, or the roof of your honeymoon cottage?


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