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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you. It's not necessary to keep to the subject of the day's Bucket, you can report anything of interest going on in your natural neighborhood. Just let us know where you are located, as close as is comfortable for you.
February 10, 2014. Seattle.

Those of us who watch in the Forest have a good idea of where the big birds' nests are located. The Bald Eagles are easy. They settled in a good while ago, the northern pair piling their sticks in the uppermost crotch of the city's oldest Doug Fir back in the early '80s. This one was the first Bald Eagle nest in Seattle after the Eagles began to recover. It grows a bit every year and is now easily the size of a Volkswagen of the same vintage, passed on from that first pair to another pair, and perhaps another.

The southern pair of Bald Eagles claimed their territory in the mid '90s, a half-mile south of their competitors and two-thirds up the side of another old Doug Fir that stands across a meadow from the amphitheater where we gather on summer evenings to watch a local theater group do Shakespeare.

The Barred Owls' nests have been a bit trickier to find, due to their luck and perhaps their furtiveness. The southern pair have never chosen their real estate very well. Their nest snags seem to fall on a regular basis, and they've had to relocate almost every season. The northern pair nested in the same tree long enough that we could observe their whole process for a good number of years. Last year they moved their nest - maybe they didn't like us watching. It's somewhere nearby. We never did find it.

It's the Pileated Woodpeckers that have kept us intrigued. We thought we'd figured them out the two years that they nested in a recently demised Western Hemlock right next to one of the major Forest trails. We could stand under the cover of a green canopy of alder, peering at their comings and goings without their noticing. They fledged one kid each year. The last one yelled from the nest hole for close to a week after his parents figured he was old enough to get his own damned food before he left the nest to join them.

The nest snag fell the next winter.

Since then, we've had good times gossiping about the annual Pileated babies, some years one, some years two. We've taken great pleasure in the way they follow their parents up and down the trees with their disheveled pale orange crests bobbing up and down, the way they yell feed me! feed me!! in their squeaky baby Pileated voices. We haven't been able to find their new nest holes.


The Forest is quiet as Bill-the-Dog and I make our daily traverse along the western side of the Forest peninsula. I'm struck by the silence, even as I hope to hear the first Pacific Wren singing from the forest floor. Their spring song is always the earliest in the Forest, but so far there's been no sound except my breathing and the familiar tinkle of Bill-the-Dog's collar tags. We walk, up and around the carcass of the old Madrona that fell during the Big Storm of 2006, down and around the horizontal root ball of a Doug Fir that fell before I started walking here.

I hear the first thuk! as the trail goes flat just above The Clearing, definitely the sound of a Pileated excavating its real estate. I bring Bill-the-Dog close and we walk slower, listening.

thuk! thuk!   ... thuk!  ...  thuk!
I know exactly where to look. There's a snag just west of the trail, with a hole near the top just the right size and shape for a Pileated nest. The regular walkers staked this place out a couple of years ago, casually taking turns to watch for a week or so before it was obvious that nothing was happening here.

Two Pileated Woodpeckers, male and female, are clinging to the side of the snag.

January 31, 2014. The Forest. Pair of Pileated Woodpeckers investigating a nest hole?

He disappears for a moment before reappearing above her. She fluffs herself, a bit more alert.
January 31, 2014. The Forest. Pair of Pileated Woodpeckers investigating a nest hole?
And he takes a moment to check out a possible nest hole.
January 31, 2014. The Forest. Pair of Pileated Woodpeckers investigating a nest hole?

I rather liked the notion that I was witnessing a late winter pair of Pileated Woodpeckers checking out a possible nest hole, but fear that my enthusiasm may have gotten the best of me.

One of the perks of retiring from a state university is that I've been able to keep my library privileges, and am still able to access Cornell's expensive version of The Birds of North America, the one with pages and pages and pages of information on every bird present in North America.

Yes, male Pileated Woodpeckers usually select the nest site each year (Lawrence, L. de K. 1970. The apartment. Audubon 72:4-7.), but for the most part, "old nest cavities may be used as roost sites but are seldom used for nesting again." (Bull, E. L. 1987. Ecology of the Pileated Woodpecker in northeastern Oregon. J. Wildl. Manage. 51:472-481.) And then there's this: a paper from 1992 reporting Pileated eggs present some 50 miles south of here in late April through mid-May, and nestlings present in the same location mid-May through mid-June. (Aubry, K. B. and C. M. Raley. 1992. Landscape-level responses of Pileated Woodpeckers to forest management and fragmentation: a pilot study. Progress rep. on file at Pacific Northwest Res. Stn. Olympia, WA.)

What I'm left with after reading all of this is the memory of watching a crying Pileated nestling from a hidden place in the shelter of green Alder branches.

But the Alders in the Forest don't leaf out until late April, and Pileated Woodpecker kids aren't usually present until mid-May around here, and Pileated Woodpeckers rarely use old nest holes a second time...

Forgive me, but here's the thing: I really wanted to be the first of the regular watchers to find a new Pileated Woodpecker nest in the Forest - and I so wanted it to be this spring.

February, 2014. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers are present in the Forest.


Your turn. Let us know what's happening in your neighborhood. I'll be in until early afternoon, away until dinner time PST and then out in the evening.

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