Tree Holes at Lathrop, #1

You can see lots of holes in Lathrop trees, living or dead. Who made them? Who uses them? For what?

The holes in this dead tree on the east campus were made by pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) Sharon and I heard a pileated woodpecker’s loud cry in the Mulberry Lane Meadow on the east campus just a few days ago. You can hear it online at

The pileated woodpecker is about the size of a crow. It’s black, with white stripes down its neck, and a bold red crest.


When you were trying to sell your big old frame house in the country, finding carpenter ants and termites meant a big, big headache. Pileated woodpeckers go after these critters like a prospective buyer’s building inspector. What the birds are finding is dinner. Long tongues help the birds pursue the insects and larvae who thought that burrowing into the tree would keep them safe.

The birds don’t seem to get a headache– though just thinking of using my head to hammer a hole in a tree gives ME a headache. The birds lean their heads way back to get momentum, and then slam their beaks into the tree, pulling with their feet for extra force. The sound is so loud you can hear the rapid drumming in the woods. And then just imagine having to drum like this, not only for dinner, but to excavate a home, chase off intruders, find a mate, and go a-courtin’.

Drumming together appears to create strong bonds: A pair stay together for life and defends its territory. So as a newcomer, if you’re going to have a territory and some babies, you generally have to find a widow or widower, or a new, unclaimed territory.

The good news is that new territories are appearing, and pileated woodpecker numbers are rising, as former farm fields return to forest, and as young forests, like the one in the photo, grow old enough to provide more than the occasional large tree. As our forests mature at Lathrop, our pileated woodpeckers will get happier and happier. Go out into our forests and listen for them. Trail maps are available in the Inn lobby by the mailboxes, at the Meeting House desk, and online at this site:

The land committee’s 20 members work well together, enjoy our land, and enthusiastically seek new members, whatever their physical capabilities–there’s lots of interesting work to do. Contact me at


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