A Visitor comes knocking

Photo: A pileated woodpecker visits Oakland Avenue

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By Ben Campbell-Rosser


On the afternoon of Friday, February 16, passersby on Oakland Avenue were astonished to see, at near street level, a fearless crow‑sized woodpecker chiselling into the gnarled trunk of a towering maple. The bird seemed almost tame. This was a pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) are frequently seen in Ottawa, though it is more common to spot the much smaller Hairy (Leuconotopicus villosus) and Downy (Dryobates pubescens) woodpeckers.

The term “pileated” refers to the flashy red cap on the bird’s head. Pileated woodpeckers are year-round residents in forests across Canada, the eastern U.S. and parts of the U.S. Pacific coast. They are the most frequently seen large woodpecker in North America, with adults 40 to 49 cm in length and weighing between 250 and 400 grams. The birds are not shy, often allowing one to approach within a few metres.

Pileated woodpeckers consume mainly insects, including carpenter ants, termites and wood‑boring beetle grubs. They also eat berries, fruits and nuts. These woodpeckers typically chip out large, roughly rectangular-shaped holes in trees while searching for insect prey. This assists with wood decomposition and nutrient recycling and in regulating some beetle populations. Normally woodpeckers do not harm healthy trees. The tree on Oakland Avenue chosen by the woodpecker had extensive dead portions pruned away last summer.


Ben Campbell-Rosser is a Glebe resident, a Glebe Report carrier and a keen observer of the natural world around us.

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