If you spend much time walking the countryside, nature will give you little surprises just to spice things up. If that happens to be your work environment, the odds of running into the occasional oddity are amplified and you’re also more likely to hear about others’ observations.
Rodger Norcross, an avid outdoorsman, is a friend who also worked a lifetime with Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources. One of those little surprises delivered itself to his Morrow County home’s bird feeder.
Or, maybe, it was actually a big surprise.
With seven species of woodpeckers roaming Ohio, it’s far from unusual to have a few visit a feeding station on a daily basis. The most common is, undoubtedly, the diminutive downy woodpecker. This sparrow-sized bird is the smallest, tamest and most abundant of Ohio’s woodpeckers.
Then there’s the hairy woodpecker, another common visitor to stop by and snack on sunflower seeds and suet cakes. Think of this one as a slightly jumbo-sized downy. Both species sport black and white patterns on their backs with a primarily white breast. Other commonly spotted Ohio woodpeckers include the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers, along with the northern flicker.
There’s also the yellow-bellied sapsucker, but it’s more transient, passing through Ohio from late March and April. They’re rare and very locally distributed residents, most likely to be found in wet, deciduous forests or the margins of bogs where yellow birch, beech and aspen are prevalent. They’re considered a species of concern in the state.
Even though Rodger recognized the woodpecker that landed on his suet log, he understood that the visit was very unusual, quickly documenting his guest. The bird was a pileated woodpecker. A feeder visit such as this is exceedingly rare, most likely to occur during a harsh winter, not a sunny spring day.
The pileated is the second largest woodpecker in North America, with the ivory-billed woodpecker capturing the crown as the biggest. Unfortunately, the pileated likely reigns as king — it’s probable the ivory-billed is extinct, losing its battle to habitat loss.
Standing 19 inches tall and sporting a 30-inch wingspan, the pileated offers a spectacular presence. They sport a prominent red crest, contrasting sharply with their predominantly black back. They also have bold black and white neck markings and a dark, stout bill. The male can be distinguished by his red mustache.
Their loud, cackling laugh of a song blasting in crescendos sounds a lot like a flicker on a band’s amplifier, rising ever louder as it echoes through the forest. It’s an uncommon permanent resident in larger woodlands and forested areas, particularly in unglaciated southeastern Ohio.
It can also be found in larger forests in other parts of Ohio, particularly near wooded riparian waterways. They have been seen sporadically in northwestern Ohio, including Wyandot, Seneca and Hardin counties. I have also seen them in Hancock County, near Mount Blanchard. I consider these sightings relatively rare and a pleasure.
Pileated woodpeckers nest in tree cavities without nesting material and lay three to five white eggs. Incubation lasts 12 to 14 days, the young fledging 26 to 28 days after hatching. Both parents care for the young.
They feed on insects, especially carpenter ants and woodboring beetle larvae. They are quite adept at hammering out large chunks from dead trees during their search for food. They’ll also eat fruits, nuts and berries. They especially enjoy snacking on poison ivy berries.
A pileated pair doesn’t migrate, staying together within their territory all year round. Their loud drumming on hollow trees is used as a warning to interlopers that they’re trespassing. If that doesn’t work, they’ll defend their area by chasing, calling, striking with their wings and taking a few jabs with that stiff bill.
The evidence of this secretive and adaptive bird’s presence is often best found in the area it’s feeding. Their holes or diggings are oval or oblong, rather than round like all the other woodpeckers’ poundings. Its ability to survive in many wooded habitat types has allowed the pileated woodpecker to survive human habitation of North America better than the more specialized (and ill-fated) ivory-billed.
“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” — Aldo Leopold
Along the way:
Classroom teachers and other members of school communities who are interested in becoming certified National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) instructors are invited to attend a free training workshop Wednesday, May 23, in Williams County.
The Basic Archery Instructor training will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Stryker Local Schools, 400 S. Defiance St., Stryker. Preregistration is required by May 22, as space is limited. Those interested should visit naspbai.org to sign up for the course. Participants are encouraged to bring a packed lunch.
NASP instructors teach target archery to elementary-, middle- and high-school students within the school gym. The curriculum covers archery, safety, equipment, technique, concentration skills and self-improvement. When students are introduced to the sport of archery, the in-school educational component is only the beginning, with many NASP-participating schools starting after-school programs and archery teams.
The NASP program is rapidly growing and popular among both students and educators. It was introduced in 12 Ohio schools in 2004. More than 900 Ohio schools now have teachers certified to instruct target archery. Over 30,000 Ohio students participated in NASP as part of their physical education curriculum during the 2015-2016 school year.
• State Wildlife Officer Austin Dickinson has transferred from Seneca County to Williams County. Dickinson attended Genoa High School in Ottawa County. In 2011, he received a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree from Bowling Green State University. He had been assigned to Seneca County since his graduation from the Ohio Wildlife Officer Academy in 2014.
• Today: Youth fun day, 9 a.m. until everyone is tired out, Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186, open to kids 18 years of age and younger. There will be shotgun and .22-caliber rifle shoots that stress proper gun handling and safety combined with a healthy amount of outdoor fun. Targets, ammunition, door prizes and lunch will be provided. Donations will be accepted. For information, call Bob Yoder at 419-273-5057.
• Tomorrow: Birding tour, Pearson’s Metropark, 4600 Starr Ave., Oregon. Meet in front of the Packer-Hammersmith Center. The tour is designed to develop existing birding skills or to get you started in this great hobby. You’ll learn about bird field markers, flight patterns and behaviors.
• Tomorrow: 3-D mixed animal archery match, registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.
• Tomorrow: Ladies’ concealed carry class, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186. Contact Jackie Schnapp at 419-957-0459 or Sherri Ziessler at 419-788-4849.
• Tomorrow: 50-bird trap shoot, practice at 11 a.m., program at 12:30 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• May 27: Ladies day, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day, Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186. Get a safe introduction to firearms or hone the skills you have. Shotguns, rifles and handguns will be covered. For information, call Jackie Schnapp at 419-957-0459 or Sherri Ziessler at 419-788-4849.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com.