Nature Preschool meets our pileated woodpecker

By Leigh Ashbrook

Editor’s note: one of the largest– and rarest– birds in the Schuylkill Center forest is the pileated woodpecker, our largest woodpecker with a wood chipper for a beak. We’ve seen them here this winter, and Nature Preschool has become enchanted by them. One of our teachers, Leigh Ashbrook, also a great birder, teaches about birds in the school, and writes about her students meeting them recently.

pileated chris petrakPhoto: Chris Petrak

Sixteen Nature Preschoolers are meandering along the Widener Trail toward the bird blind, flanked by trees of the second growth forest. Out of the woods on their left an emphatic Kukukukukukukukuk rings through the woods. One of the teachers calls out, “What do you think made that sound?” As the children turn their ears toward the source of the raucous call, the teacher then calls out, “We hear you, pileated woodpecker! Where are you?” Some of the preschoolers laugh, some repeat the question. The class is treated to the sight of a pileated woodpecker flying through the woods, long, slow wingbeats and its great size making it easy to find and follow until it disappears past Founders Grove. 

Along the Widener Trail is one of the locations here at the Schuylkill Center where hikers and birders can often find these marvelous woodpeckers.

Some of the locations that the pileateds tend to frequent are some of the very tall trees beside Fire Pond, and they will announce their presence with their kukukuk call, or perhaps their irregular, sonorous drumming on a dead tree. We have also heard the pileateds in the woods surrounding the Butterfly Meadow, working the loop of trees by the maintenance shed, the lower section of the upper fields trail leading to the ravine loop, and as far down the slope as Polliwog Pond. The most delightful sightings of this striking crow-sized woodpecker for our Nature Preschoolers, however, where they have been most visible and accessible to the young feeder watchers, has been at the suet feeders just outside the Sweet Gum classroom on the back side of the building. There the preschoolers are participating in Project FeederWatch, and both the male and female pileated woodpeckers have made appearances at eye level and even on the ground at times, amazing the children and adults. One cannot remain unimpressed by the sight of these marvelous birds! 

2 thoughts on “Nature Preschool meets our pileated woodpecker

  1. Thank you for this beautiful piece–it “takes me” to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s trails, models how early childhood educators support children’s learning, and shows how young children can participate in scientific work.

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