An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

Pileated Woodpecker Feeding Holes

1-9-13 pileated woodpecker holes IMG_0259There is no mistaking what bird is responsible for the large holes that a pileated woodpecker makes in an attempt to gain access to the carpenter ants living within a tree. No other bird in North America is capable of excavating holes of this size. Pileated woodpeckers tend to work vertically, and you often find one hole drilled above another. A look inside these holes reveals the galleries that the ants create in order to travel to all parts of their nest located within the dead center of the tree. (Carpenter ants, while omnivorous, do not consume or digest wood; they merely tunnel through it.) A tree’s inner core provides structural support, but is not essential for the tree’s survival. This eastern hemlock’s cambium layer, just inside the bark, is very much alive and the tree may continue to live long after its center becomes hollow.

6 responses

  1. Have you ever seen holes excavated by pileateds in fence posts or is that too low for them? I came across some pretty big holes in my neighbor’s fence line – could be downies, I guess.

    January 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    • I haven’t, Jo Ann, seen pileated holes in fence posts. They wouldn’t be too low (pileated work on fallen trees that are on the ground) but I’ve never known them to work on fence posts — though anything is possible!

      January 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm

  2. Julia OHara

    We found a tree lying on the ground with the typical vertical holes, large chips underneath and can’t picture how the large woodpecker would do that, so we set up a webcam, but only found a small woodpecker visitor during the one night we left it out. we have pictures if you’re interested

    January 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    • Thanks, Julia. It’s very possible that a hairy or downy woodpecker might check out old pileated holes just to see if there are any remnant ants!

      January 9, 2013 at 10:20 pm

  3. Barbara Holmes

    We had many of these trees at Eastman and we were used to seeing the pileateds in our yard . Very beautiful birds!

    January 9, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    • Stuart D. Christy

      These birds are vary beautiful to look at because I know from having a few at my bird feeder a few years ago but vary destructive to any trees. My neighbor has a red maple in front of their house that the woodpecker started to peck the bark off so even if we see these bird once in a blue moon in the winter we try to scare them off.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:23 pm

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