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Pileated woodpecker sleeps in nearby roost


Much to my surprise and absolute delight, a pileated woodpecker has adopted a roost hole just behind our house.

She arrives at dusk. (I think it’s a female but her comings and goings are so quick, I have yet to get a confirming look.) She lands high in the canopy, calls briefly and then quickly pops into a good-sized hole 30- to 40-feet up a dying tree. This is where she sleeps until dawn.

She doesn’t seem to use the same roost hole every night, which tells me she has at least one more somewhere else inside her territory: the 300-acre woods behind our home. She probably just uses the one she is closest to at sunset.


We have six species of woodpeckers that can be found in the Tennessee Valley routinely: downy, hairy, red-bellied, northern flicker, and, in the winter, yellow-bellied sapsucker.

To this you can add the pileated woodpecker, the largest. (Up on the Cumberland Plateau to the west, there’s a seventh species: the red-headed woodpecker.)

Pileateds are up to 19-inches long and normally they avoid our houses. They need several acres of woods to call home.

One estimate I checked stated they needed 1,000- to 4,000- acres, so our forest may not be large enough to sustain her or a pair.

These large woodpeckers stay with the same mate for life. The union is only dissolved when one member of the pair is killed or dies.

Our roosting pileated appears to be unmated, because we have yet to see or hear another nearby.

Nearly as large as a crow, the pileated was once called the “rain crow,” because it was the belief by some that their loud hysterical laugh-like call foretold of an oncoming storm.

It was the days before Doppler radar, they had to use all the signs at their disposal. Although, there may be truth behind this bit of folk wisdom. I believe that when a heavy storm is coming, the pileateds will often return to their roost holes, calling just before they enter and go to bed for the day. Wouldn’t you?

The pileateds’ famous hysterical laugh is said to be the model for the 1940s screwball cartoon character Woody Woodpecker created by artist Ben “Bugs” Hardaway and produced by the Walter Lantz animation studio. (Hardaway also created Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.)

The pileated that roosts behind our house has become a routine part of our day. We settle in, eat supper and wait for her bedtime to begin.

I’ll keep you posted on what we learn.



Lyn can be reached at 865-577-4717, ext. 19 or e-mail him at stephenlynbales@gmail.com. His book “Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley” is available at local bookstores.

 

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