Birds of the Happy Valley Forest (Part Three)

Pileated woodpecker, the size of a small crow, is the glamour boy of the Happy Valley Forest. His shouting call is heard throughout the year. (Photo by Dr. Henry Barnett)

Pileated woodpecker, the size of a small crow, is the glamour boy of the Happy Valley Forest. His shouting call is heard throughout the year. (Photo by Dr. Henry Barnett)

September 15, 2015 | by Dr Henry Barnett | 0 Comments

Without a doubt the pileated woodpecker is close to the top of dramatic inhabitants of the Happy Valley Forest. Its demanding call is befitting of the crow-like size and overall rugged appearance — wild! One cannot walk in the forest in the spring of the year for more than a few minutes without hearing their demanding notes.

A pileated and hairy woodpecker sharing suet. (Photo by Paul and Vicki Hotte)

A pileated and hairy woodpecker sharing suet. (Photo by Paul and Vicki Hotte)

Close to the house but at a distance, they only watched our suet logs over the early years. In the past few years they have decided it was safe to feed in the logs or on the feeding platforms. We have had two at a time, and occasionally of late a third will cautiously approach to a non-welcoming reception as a rule. Three pileated woodpeckers on a small feeder platform is quite a sight.

One can find their heads protruding from their characteristically rectangular holes, where they nest annually. A single stump from an unidentified tree (possibly the remains of a pine, or more likely an elm) fairly caught my breath. It is dead and has been literally riddled by the workings of pileated woodpeckers. I would like to think that they were seeking the beetle that killed the tree. The remainder of this hardwood and pine forest is healthy and is as described by Simcoe in his notes, made when he was among the first Europeans who explored the area. Brulé and LaSalle preceded him.

The stump of either an American elm or sugar maple riddled with the characteristic workings of a pileated woodpecker searching for the beetles that killed the tree. (Photo by Dr. Henry Barnett)

The stump of either an American elm or sugar maple riddled with the characteristic workings of a pileated woodpecker searching for the beetles that killed the tree. (Photo by Dr. Henry Barnett)

Once, still within the Happy Valley Forest, another dead but very tall stump was encircled at daughter Ann’s driveway entrance. Again it was riddled by a pileated woodpecker. At four feet above the ground, it was ringed totally in its circumference. In view of the danger posed by these workings, the stump was removed by the phone company because the next big windstorm might have blown it over the lines. A unique way of getting rid of dead trees — get a friendly pileated woodpecker.

Other woodpeckers, including the abundant hairy and downy woodpeckers with their smaller beaks, never make anything but round holes. Of late, regular visits from a red-bellied woodpecker or even a red-headed and a sapsucker have occurred. The red-headed woodpecker has become very scarce on the Oak Ridges Moraine. They are often killed in migration by passing vehicles as they cross highways with their undulating flight pattern. They appear not to be able to change direction quickly enough, once in swooping flight.

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts Dr. Barnett will be contributing to Land Lines in the next few months.

About the Author

Dr Henry Barnett Dr. Henry “Barney” Barnett obtained his Medical Degree from the University of Toronto in 1944. After obtaining specialty qualifications in Neurology at the Toronto General Hospital, he moved to Oxford to further his research training. He returned to Canada to enjoy an outstanding career in investigative medicine in Toronto and London. Dr Barnett is the author of hundreds of original publications and co-authored the authoritative textbook, Stroke: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis and Management. Along with Dr. Charles Drake, Dr. Barnett was the founding Chief of the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences at University Hospital (London) and The University of Western Ontario in 1974. Between 1984 and 1992 he served as the founding President and Scientific Director of the John P. Robarts Research Institute in London. Late in his career, Dr. Barnett headed up the North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial, the largest National Institute of Health (NIH) supported trial outside of the U.S. Dr. Barnett is best known for directing many of the most important large multi-centered clinical trials in stroke; including the first randomized trial to show that aspirin prevents stroke. Supported by the NIH of the United States, Dr. Barnett showed that a then widely used surgical treatment for stroke patients involving carotid artery bypass was less effective than good medical treatment.

Read more about Dr Henry Barnett.

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