Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
With its crow-sized body, zebra striped head, and flamboyant Mohawk hair do; the spectacular pileated woodpecker would be hard to mistake for any other bird. With a voice matching its size, the pileated is the loudest bird of the forest. So much so, that the species’ maniacal call provided inspiration for the popular Woody the Woodpecker cartoon character, and the bird’s outrageous repertoire has been a source for the jungle night sounds in Hollywood movies.
But although pileated woodpeckers are easily heard, they are less often seen. Shy and reclusive, getting a good look at these deep woods denizens can present a major challenge. Intelligent beyond the level a person would expect from a bird, pileateds may actually spy on us as we slowly creep through the woods looking for them. I’ve seen nearby pileateds exhibit the squirrel-like habit of slyly peering from behind the concealment of a tree trunk – playing a crafty game of hide and seek with only their heads showing — as they watched me pass. Always a high priority species with wildlife watchers, the prospect of a pileated close encounter makes birders drool.
In Iowa, pileated woodpeckers enjoy their greatest abundance along the heavily timbered bluff country of the Upper Mississippi River. During recent years, the species has been staging an aggressive westward expansion – especially into the larger woodlands of North Central Iowa. Data collected during statewide breeding bird surveys indicate that pileated numbers have nearly doubled during the past decade.