Lots of birds have frequented Little Crum Creek’s feeders this winter:
Blue Jay, Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, European Starling, House Finch, Goldfinch, assorted Sparrows, Mourning Dove, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, a few Woodpeckers—Downy, Red-bellied, & Hairy—and several opportunistic Hawks—Cooper’s, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, & Red-shouldered.
Any one of them could lift one’s spirit from the desolation of winter dormancy.
But the absence of another really drew me out to the invigorating cold.
Hoping to discover why we never see the Pileated Woodpecker on Little Crum Creek, I set out for the snowy trails of Ridley Creek State Park.
There the Pileated first announced itself with distinctively powerful drumming.
Slow and deliberate, like the strike of an axe, it was much louder than we are accustomed to hearing from smaller woodpeckers.
After scanning the bare trees and creaking limbs awhile, I finally spotted one.
In subsequent visits, I followed the Pileated’s loud laughter from tree to tree.
It made many stops over a large area of dense woods, increasingly gaining more ground than I could cover.
It especially seemed to love chipping out large rectangular holes in the larvae-rich trunks of dead tree snags.
Woodchip piles littered the snow.
I’ve seen similar evidence in the Crum Woods of Swarthmore, just a few suburban blocks from the headwater spring of LCC.
But the thin corridor of LCC runs a residential course. Trees are generally younger and increasingly fewer downstream.
Property owners often remove dead ones before they can mature into rich old snags on which the Pileated depends for food and nesting.
Fewer trees, over smaller areas, where snags are scarce … these are probably sufficient reasons to explain the Pileated Woodpecker’s absence from Little Crum Creek.
But even its absence highlights something about our place in the region.
And now I have some clues for how to find one.
To see a nearby Pileated Woodpecker in action, check out this cool video from Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, just about a 30 min. drive from LCC.