For the first time this season I searched for pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) along the Pacific Crest Trail near Burney Falls State Park (Shasta County CA). This was an area where I previously found this elusive (at least for me) bird. My efforts were rewarded when I found a ponderosa pine snag dotted with excavated holes. It was difficult to determine the number of pileated woodpeckers visiting one particular hole in the snag, however, there were at least two.
I watched the woodpeckers repeatedly enter and leave the hole. My first thought was that I found a nest. Pileated woodpeckers characteristically dig rectangular holes and none of the excavations on the tree were rectangular. My pictures also showed that the woodpeckers carried grubs or something similar away from the dead tree. Each time the pileateds left the tree they seemed to head in the same direction. I began to wonder if the hole in question was a woodpecker nest or if the woodpeckers were gathering insects and taking them to a nearby nest.
Another trip to the area may help answer that question. I can observe the ponderosa snag again and attempt to follow the woodpeckers when they leave.
Pileated woodpeckers rarely reuse a hole, instead digging a new one each season. Eggs are laid on the hole floor without any lining other than a few wood chips that did not get removed during construction. The extensive excavations of the pileated woodpecker, though not used a second season, are appreciated by other birds (particularly other woodpeckers and house finches) for nests and shelter.
While watching the woodpeckers I sat on a downed log. A pileated woodpecker landed on the other end of the log and began searching for insects. It was so exciting to feel the vibrations of his slow drumming as they traveled through the wood.