© 2018 Elena West

All rights reserved. Images used with permission.

Fight or Flight


Our project is very lucky to have so many talented and dedicated citizen science volunteers, many of whom work long hours throughout the year to document Red-headed Woodpeckers, their oak savanna habitat at Cedar Creek, and many of the other species found here. Cedar Creek has many vibrant ecological communities and any amount of time spent in the field guarantees you'll see something interesting—even in the fall and winter when animal activity slows down.


Siah St. Clair (one of our most enthusiastic volunteers and an uber talented photographer) has incredible stories and photos to share on an almost weekly basis during the summer and early fall. It can be hard to keep up with all of them sometimes amidst the controlled chaos that is field research (for example, he casually shared with me recently that he was sorting through the 19,000 photos he had taken this summer!). Our hats are off to Siah and the many other volunteers who share with us their stories and photos from the field. They help bring to life the research we are carrying out in a meaningful way. The following excerpt and photos are from one of the many encounters Siah had while documenting Red-headed Woodpeckers at Cedar Creek in September.



These pictures document an interesting encounter yesterday morning between a red-headed woodpecker and a Pileated Woodpecker. The interaction happened very quickly when it was quite cloudy and quite a distance from me, so the picture quality is not great, but I felt lucky to have seen it at all. The encounter took place quite low on the tree and the wind was blowing grasses and brush stems between the woodpeckers and the camera lens, making it go in and out of focus.


The Pileated Woodpecker looks like a hatch year male, and he definitely under-estimated the tenacity of the Red-headed Woodpecker to defend his territory against any and all intruders. My guess is this was a male Red-headed Woodpecker, as it was drumming on a couple of trees all morning. It is not too hard to see the substantial size difference between these two species of woodpecker. The first picture sort of says it all.



The Pileated Woodpecker has an expression of surprise on his face, and looks like he is thinking, "really, this little pipsqueak thinks he is going to chase me away?!"



The Red-headed Woodpecker looks like he is getting the worst of it with the Pileated Woodpecker spearing his belly with his beak in the above picture, but the Red-headed Woodpecker would not back off and stood his ground (or tree) and was definitely the aggressor.



A few seconds later the Pileated Woodpecker was the one to leave. I don't get to see something like this every day. And am glad I was able to get some pictures of it.