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A Young Woodpecker Takes Flight Thanks to the SFWC

An injured pileated woodpecker, unable to fly, finds his wings again thanks to the SFWC

  • A close up of a pileated woodpecker that shows his striking markings. Aaron Ansarov/The HSUS

  • The young woodpecker once he started to feel better, showing off his climbing ability. Liz Breder/The HSUS

  • The pileated woodpecker upon release, checking out his new habitat. Shelby Proie/The HSUS

  • The woodpecker feeling much better, enjoying being back out in the wild. Shelby Proie/The HSUS

Pileated woodpeckers are master climbers, able to effortlessly cling to the side of trees while searching for food. So when a young pileated woodpecker was brought into the South Florida Wildlife Center in one of our ambulances with broken feathers and damaged nails, we were concerned about his ability to feed and fend for himself.

Pileated woodpeckers are one of the most distinct forest birds in North America. As large as crows, with a bold white stripe down the neck and a flaming red crest, their striking beauty is hard to miss. Like all woodpeckers, they hunt for food by drilling holes in tree trunks, but they leave a unique calling card in the shape of a rectangular hole. Many of their large nesting holes are used by other birds for shelter, making them an important part of the ecosystem.

Once the woodpecker arrived at our veterinary clinic, he was examined and found to be unable to fly. He was also having trouble climbing and perching due to his injured nails.

The woodpecker was set up in our nursery, where he was hand-fed because he was not eating on his own, and he was closely monitored to see if his condition would improve. Slowly but surely, his spirits began to lift and new feathers began to actively grow to replace damaged ones. Although we were happy that he was improving, he was still not willing to fly, which was imperative to his making a full recovery.

Once he began to show improvement, he was moved to an outdoor rehabilitation habitat. Our staff then routinely took him to trees to work on his climbing skills and to gently encourage flight. We discovered that pileated woodpeckers living wild in the area would come close to the habitat enclosure and interact with him. These enriching visits had a noticeable effect on his spirits, and he would even climb the branches in his habitat, mimicking his wild pals—a key milestone in his road to recovery.

After weeks in rehabilitation, we noticed he was diligently trying to fly from perch to perch and finally getting some lift—a sure sign that he would be able to go back to the wild soon enough. One of our veterinary staff noted:

The week of his release, he flew from one side of the habitat to the other. It was miraculous! His feathers were finally coming in normally. - SFWC staff

After almost three months in our care, we joyfully released the woodpecker into the wild. Although it is always gratifying to see rehabilitated animals returned back to their natural homes, this release was especially rewarding because we really weren’t sure if at first he would fully recover. But, thanks to your continued support, we are able to provide the expert care and rehabilitation to animals like this woodpecker, who is now happily back where he belongs with others of his own kind. We wouldn’t see results like this without your help.

Check out a short clip of this beautiful woodpecker taking a short, but very important, flight across his enclosure:

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