Shoot This Now: Woodpeckers II


Building upon my last post about finding woodpeckers to photograph in the Spring, I decided to take my somewhat long post and shorten things down into something a little more bite sized.  So below you are going to find a bullet list of key things to keep in mind when looking for woodpecker nests to photograph. This stuff is straight out of my personal notes on finding and photographing woodpeckers . . .

  • Woodpeckers prefer dead trees.
    • The exception is the red cockaded in the southeast and the use of Aspen trees in the west.
    • Many, but not all, woodpeckers prefer to clean the bark off of the tree around their nesting cavity. Always keep an eye out for dead trees that are girdled of bark up in the air as this is often times the work of woodpeckers.
    • Bark naturally peals off of dead trees anyways, so always take special care to inspect trees without bark as these are often times preferred over dead trees with bark.
  • Woodpeckers prefer mature forests
    • Pileated woodpeckers prefer trees around 18 inches wide
  • Look for signs of drilling into trees in the surrounding areas. Locations with lots of woodpecker activity really bears the marks, especially when pileated woodpeckers are involved.
    • Look for holes
    • Look for wood chips around dead trees
    • Look for old stumps, logs, and trees riddled with holes ranging from a dime to a a couple feet
      • Pileated woodpeckers prefer carpenter ants and will nearly fell an old tree in the pursuit of these ants.
      • Ants are the favorite food for both pileated and northern flickers
  • You can routinely find if a cavity is being used by using a playback of a woodpecker. Often times individuals will rush out of a cavity or back to a cavity to inspect the possible intruder.
    • This should only be done once and not to lure in the species to photograph as you do not want to disturb the nesting site.
    • Often times gentle tapping on a nearby tree will elicit a head out of a cavity as woodpeckers tend to signal to each other that they are approaching with light tapping nearby.
  • Listen carefully for slow but rhythmic tapping. This could be a woodpecker working on the inside of the cavity.
    • Woodpeckers do not bring nesting material into the cavity but instead prefer fresh woodchips. They will work on creating new chips for their nesting even after chicks have hatched.
    • I find 50% of my active nesting cavities by hearing the woodpeckers work before actually spotting the cavity
  • Once you find potential cavities listen closely for sounds of chicks
    • Pileated chocks sound like a him of wasps
    • Since other species use old woodpecker can cities you can. Also quite often find their nests from the begging calls of their young
  • Look for fresh colored wood at the entrance to the cavityIf you locate a potential nesting site, distance yourself a little bit and wait. Depending upon how far along the nest / incubation / development of the chicks, parents will fly back and forth as often as every minute to every hour ( which is often the case with pileated woodpeckers).
    • This implies regular use and regular perching in that spot.
      • Last years cavity will be bleached out
      • Other users of these cavities cannot perch vertically on a tree and therefore do not create this same fresh wood look at the entrance
  • Both Acorn and Redheaded woodpeckers live in colonies. 
    • Both of these species feed primarily upon acorns
    • To find Acorn woodpeckers search for their “granary” which is basically a cache site full of acorns. These are often times lodged into thousands of little holes drilled out on dead trees or old fence posts
    • Once you find an Acorn or Redheaded woodpecker cavity, search for others nearby as there will be more in the immediate area


This entry was posted in photography in the Springtime, Uncategorized, Wildlife Photography.