This story tracks the life of a young Pileated Woodpecker family living in a Beech-Maple forest of Southwestern Ontario.
After first discovering this feathered family in late May 2016, I made several trips at various times of day to observe their development. I noticed that over time their feeding pattern changed. Initially, the parents entered the nest to feed their young, but once the nestlings were strong enough to peer out of the entrance the parents no longer entered. They would still land in a nearby tree to first survey the area before arriving at the hole, but instead of entering, they would clinging to the outside of the tree using their tail as support. When I observed them on June 12th, a much abbreviated feeding was followed by the mother moving around to the side so that her infants had to strain to find her. By June 16th, the parents were no longer landing at the cavity entrance. They would call, to get the attention of their young, then land on the opposite side of the tree trunk, offering food only after a juvenile craned to receive it.
In this painting mother encourages her now very vocal youth out of the nest with tasty morsels.
The present-day account, "Botheration in Pileated Paradise":
It was June 9, 2017 when I last saw my pileated friends. Deli and I stopped in to check on them mid-week. When we arrived a blackbird, perhaps a Common Grackle, was hovering around at the entrance. I heard the young ones chattering within, but saw no adults come to their aid. The blackbird came and went a couple of times, then left the little ones alone.
Today, June 17th, I arrived to a commotion! I saw flight away from the nest, accompanied by a call that continued for an exceptional length of time. The call moved about. Then, a very large, stalky bird flew toward the nest, with one of the pileated parents in hot pursuit. Was it an owl? A hawk? A Northern Goshawk perhaps? Once successfully chased away the other pileated parent remained watchful in the branches overhead until the coast was clear, then flew away.
Shortly after the predatory threat a parent came with food, to the benefit of only one offspring. This very brief feeding was the only one during my hour of observation. Following the parent's departure, as the nestlings took turns watching they would utter quiet, worried-sounding coos with the occasional, adult-like call.
There are definitely two birds up there, a female and a male. They have grown so much in such a short time, now developed beyond their baby faces of the 2016 brood represented in the "Nestlings" painting. They are constantly looking around and about. Is this simple pining, or are they developing their powers of observation and navigation? At times these restless nestlings lean out quite far and it strikes me that they may be ready to 'fly the coop' by the end of the day! Once they leave their safe abode they will have to figure out how to navigate the new, wide wild world. How do their parents demonstrate such complexity to their young? Are there overt displays like there are during courtship?
For the most part the two young ones took turns being lookouts, but an hour is a long time to wait for parental comfort, so by the time I was preparing to leave, the soon-to-fledge pair both took to their post, and behind them, ... did I just see the movement of a third?