12.09.18: Hanging down

A male Pileated Woodpecker hangs from a limb in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.


Technical information

Feb. 9, 2017,
8:08 a.m.

26°34'31.265" N 81°49'19.391" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/640th second


I don’t often see Pileated Woodpeckers during my photo hikes. When I do I consider it a treat, especially when the woodpecker is perched in a location that is suitable for photography.

I found this male Pileated Woodpecker hanging beneath a tree limb during a hike through Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers, Fla. It provided a nice diversion from the variety of wading birds — Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets — and alligators I had photographed that day. The bird would drill on the limb for a few seconds, then pause to examine its work. That’s when I grabbed this photo.

Pileated Woodpeckers are huge, standing up to 19 inches tall. That’s about the size of a crow and twice as large as a Blue Jay. 

And they are active, flying from tree to tree to drill the wood in search of insects, often a colony of ants (their favorite food). 

When a Pileated Woodpecker is finished with a tree it looks like someone has taken a jackhammer to the wood. Sometimes the cavity created by the woodpecker is so deep that it can cause a smaller tree to break.

It’s this constant activity, plus the fact that the birds are usually high in trees surrounded by branches, that makes Pileated Woodpeckers so difficult for me to photograph.

According to my favorite web site for bird information, All About Birds"The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. It’s nearly the size of a crow, black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest. Look (and listen) for Pileated Woodpeckers whacking at dead trees and fallen logs in search of their main prey, carpenter ants, leaving unique rectangular holes in the wood. The nest holes these birds make offer crucial shelter to many species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens.”

Pileated Woodpeckers are mostly black with white stripes on the face and neck and a flaming-red crest. Males have a red stripe on the cheek. In flight, the bird reveals extensive white underwings and small white crescents on the upper side, at the bases of the primaries.

The Pileated Woodpecker served as the model for Woody Woodpecker, the cartoon character created by Walter Lantz in 1940.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.