This three-part photo of a male Pileated Woodpecker shows how he puts his prodigious beak to work digging a nest hole for his family. (Click each section for larger versions)
It all began when a friend asked if I knew what “pileated” as in Pileated Woodpecker meant. I had to admit that I didn’t have a clue. So I did what any red-blooded, card-carrying, information challenged, birder would do - I pulled my Smart Phone traveling encyclopedia from my pocket and looked it up.
“Pileated: having a crest covering the pileum.” Well that certainly moved the ball forward! What in heaven’s name is the “pileum?” Back to my pocket encyclopedia to look up “pileum” and, lo and behold, it now makes sense: “the top of the head of a bird from the bill to the nape.”
That led to the second question: Which is the correct pronunciation of “pileated?” “Pill-le-ate-ted” or “pi-le-ate-ted?” That one I was sure I knew: it always starts with the “pill” sound, and I even remember bird call recordings and tapes in which the announcer always pronounced it with the “pill” first syllable, although I remember one once where the announcer said either pronunciation was correct.
Except those announcers and I were, and are, dead wrong. When you check the definition of “pileated,” immediately after the word there is a little loudspeaker symbol, which when clicked causes a sexy female voice to give the correct pronunciation as “pi-le-ate-ted.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pileated. And I always thought that the occasional birder that I heard use the “pi” first syllable pronunciation was just misinformed or a newbie! But I also suspect that after many decades of mispronouncing the word, it will take some time for the correct pronunciation to sound right.
The male Pileated Woodpecker (top) is the cavity excavator for the family. He begins by pounding into the tree to create wood chips, then, grabbing a mouthful from the hole, he closes his eyes and gives the chips a heave into the air. After he enlarges the hole sufficiently, he works from the inside, frequently coming to the entrance to discharge another mouthful. Meanwhile, the female (above, left and right), with her black mustache instead of the male’s red, shows up periodically to check the home building progress and cheer the male along. She is an adept hunter though, sometimes locating particularly juicy morsels such as this large white grub.
Back to “pi-(3.1416)-le-ate-ted,” though, I have wondered why the bird namers haven’t called our North American Cardinal, “Pileated Cardinal.” Pileated certainly seems to me to have more panache than the very mundane “Northern Cardinal,” which, I presume, was unnecessarily chosen to distinguish the species from the beautiful South American Brazilian Cardinal. A close examination of the crest on both birds, Northern Cardinal and Pileated Woodpecker, shows the Cardinal’s crest clearly qualifies as “pileated.” The close examination is also interesting to note the difference between the neck and bills of a woodpecker who needs a chisel and a flexible neck to excavate its home, compared to a seed eater that needs a heavy cruncher and strong neck muscles to operate it, in order to crack open the seeds that form its diet.
And if you are going to have a crest covering the pileum it might as well be red, and be given a name like “PILEATED!.” Otherwise it is just a crest (Great Crested Flycatcher) or merely a tuft (Tufted Titmouse.) Would Donald Trump’s hair style qualify as pileated? Just asking.
For images of the Brazilian Cardinal, (introduced into Hawaii as the Red-crested Cardinal and therefore regarded as an American species,) see this Google search link for the Brazilian Cardinal.