Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dryocopus pileatus, Part One

I'd like to preface this entry by thanking my friends. Over the past few years, I've gotten a lot of support from them, whether it's been in the form of reading this blog, complimenting me on my photography, teaching me new things, or giving me tips on how to improve. There's also a handful of friends who go above and beyond all of that and have created what I like to jokingly call the Dead Animal Alert System. These amazing people happen upon deceased critters in their day-to-day activities, and go the extra mile to let me know. Some of these folks even hold onto the animals for me, until I can retrieve them! This project would be much smaller if I didn't have such awesome people in my life: a good portion of the critters I photograph are found by others. So, thank you!

Last week, a friend presented to me something pretty incredible. It was an animal I've usually only seen in fleeting moments, a shy creature that is synonymous with the North Woods: a Pileated Woodpecker. A female, she had been found as roadkill along US 2 near Brevort. So recent had she been struck, her body was not yet stiff when retrieved from the side of the road.

With the exception of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (which is considered by most to be extinct), the pileated woodpecker is the largest of its kind in North America. It's about the size of a crow, but it's at that and their shared black backs where the resemblance ends. Pileated woodpeckers have a long, pointed beak and reptilian, almost dinosaur-like eyes. Their toes end in large, curved talons, perfect for grasping bark, and their black wings are adorned with a broad, white bar. Most recognizable is the bright, red crest.

Dryocopus pileatus

Female pileated woodpeckers are distinguished from the males by their smaller crests, as well as the lack of a second red mark, which runs from the corner of the beak to the neck.

The white markings on the wings are visible only when the bird takes flight.

Dryocopus pileatus

To hold a pileated woodpecker is a humbling experience, and an emotional one. They are majestic birds, and although they aren't threatened, they certainly aren't the most common creature in the woods, either. I relish the times when I see them in our yard, for they are few and brief. In life, pileated woodpeckers are fast and loud. Their drumming and laughing call resonate through the forest; more often they are heard, rather than seen. To hold one, very still and very silent, is surreal.

This pileated woodpecker will soon be a part of the bird collection at the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology.

There is still much portraiture to be taken of this extraordinary bird! I will soon follow this entry up with another set of photographs.

1 comment:

  1. What a hauntingly beautiful eye...almost looks human. Thank you for this emotional post, as usual your photography is incredible. :)