Big bird redux

Big bird redux

Rogalski woodpecker

Rogalski woodpecker

Baldwin woodpeckers
Full-shot birdfeeder

My story about attracting pileated woodpeckers to backyard birdfeeders (Attracting Big Bird) in the January 2022 issue of Ohio Cooperative Living magazine brought a flurry of responses from co-op members. Some people had questions, while others just wanted to share their own experiences with the giant woodpeckers and send me their photos. Unfortunately, there is not enough room here for all the responses, but below are three of the more interesting and informative ones.    

Larry Rogalski, Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative

Q.  Concerning your story about pileated woodpeckers, I guess I got lucky. This pileated (pictured) flew right up to my house and started pecking at a decaying tree stump.

A. Hi, Larry: Yes, you did get lucky … congrats! The bird is a male, as it has a fully red head and red “mustache” marks at the base of the bill. A female pileated only has red on the top (crown) of her head and no red mustache marks. But both male and female can certainly make the chips fly when pecking a dead tree. Thanks for sending your photo!

Keith and Jennifer Baldwin, Pioneer Electric Cooperative

Q. Loved your pileated woodpecker story, Chip. Pictured on the feeder is “Lucy,” our momma pileated woodpecker, with her two babies on the ground. Our birdfeeders are located in front of the large picture window in our living room, and sometimes we turn the TV off and watch the “Nature Channel.” Several times the adult female would feed one of the young and chase the other off. Is that unusual behavior? 

A.   Keith and Jennifer: I referred your question to Laura Kearns, PhD., an avian wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and here’s what she had to say. “I did a quick skim through some scientific wildlife literature and did not come across this behavior specific to pileated woodpeckers. But, in general, when food resources are scarce, this can happen across multiple animal species. I can also think of some situations — colonial waterbirds more specifically — where the weaker individual is ultimately kicked out of the nest, or in some species young may be directly maimed/killed (infanticide, e.g., coots, moorhens). Years ago, when I was doing research on Florida scrub jays, I observed an adult cannibalizing one of its nestlings! As it turns out, this happens across other bird species, including poultry.”

Cristina King, Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative

Q. Hi, Chip: May I see a full picture of your mega-suet feeder for attracting pileated woodpeckers, so my husband can make one?  Thanks.

A. Sure, Christina. The photo of the suet feeder that ran with the story in the January 2022 issue of OCL was cropped a bit to show more of a close-up of the bird. Here in the original photo, you can see the feeder in its entirety, except for the two-foot length of metal chain that I use to hand it. About a foot of the chain wraps around a tree limb and is secured in place by a carabiner. The other foot of chain allows the feeder to hang down a bit below the limb to discourage raccoons and other critters from helping themselves to the suet.

As for the dimensions, my feeder is about two feet long and made of one-inch wire mesh shaped into a square, five inches per side. It also has a wire-mesh bottom, but the top is left open to make adding additional suet easier once the feeder is hung. Mount the feeder so that the bottom is about six feet off the ground. And don’t forget to place the feeder so that you can easily see it from a window or two of your house.     

You can fill the feeder with either commercial suet cakes or beef fat purchased from a butcher shop. But if a butcher has suet available, buy that. Beef fat and suet are similar, but actually two different things. Suet is the hard, white fat that comes specifically from the kidney and loin areas of cattle, and for some reason, wild birds prefer it over regular beef fat. They will eat both, but buy suet if it’s available. 

Good luck in attracting your first pileated woodpecker, and please let me know when it happens!