Comparisons with Pileated Woodpecker in Flight

From the beginning of our analysis of the Luneau video, we considered and tested the hypothesis that the bird was a normal Pileated Woodpecker, an abundant species in the Arkansas Big Woods.  Besides studying hundreds of Pileated Woodpeckes in the field, we sought and analyzed comparable videos of Pileated Woodpeckers taking off from trees and in normal flight. Many of these were shot in the same forest, under similar conditions as the Luneau video.

Below we present several of these video clips to illustrate what a normal Pileated Woodpecker looks like taking off from a tree and flying away. We then compare specific characteristics evident in these videos with analogous views of the bird in the Luneau video. By viewing the individual video frames (see instructions below) you can see the pattern on the wings in various positions during slow-motion flight. Although a few individual frames in these videos flash a lot of white and may resemble fields of the Luneau video, in no case does the diagnostic black trailing edge of the wing disappear for 2 or more consecutive frames, and overall these depict the typical, mostly black dorsal surface of the wings during normal flight.

Click on each image to launch the video sequence. You can scroll manually through these video clips by moving the round button at the bottom of the frame with your mouse, or by using the left-arrow and right-arrow keys on your keyboard.

Clip 1, showing 2 Pileateds interacting on a tree trunk nicely illustrates the pattern on the upper and under wing surfaces.

                               Clip 1

Clips 2 and 3 show a Pileated Woodpecker in normal horizontal flight, showing how it can look mostly dark as the upper wing surfaces are visible in every wingbeat. Note also how the wing extends completely on the downstroke, resulting in the typical swooping flight style.

                               Clip 2

                              Clip 3

Clip 4 is a nice view of dorsal surface of Pileated Woodpecker wings, showing extensive black, even in bright sun.

                             Clip 4

Clip 5 shows a lateral view of a Pileated taking off from a narrow trunk showing mostly underwing surfaces, and again showing the extensive black trailing edge of the wing.

                              Clip 5

Here, in clip 6, a PIWO drops rapidly from a branch, revealing the extensive white underwings, but with a clearly visible black trailing section at all times.

                               Clip 6

Clip 7: This Pileated taking off from its nest shows both upper and underwing surfaces and shows the extensive black trailing portion even in the most blurry frames.

                                Clip 7

Clip 8: This clip also shows how the extensive black tailing portion of the upper wing is clearly visible, even in blurred video frames.

                               Clip 8

Clip 9 shows a PIWO taking off from a trunk and flying a short distance to another trunk. Note the black trailing edge to the underwing in most frames and the mostly black dorsal surface of the bird’s left wing near the top of the upstroke. Note also how the bird leans its body almost to a horizontal position, with tail jutting sideways, before extending its wings fully for flight.

                              Clip 9

Clip 10: This clip of a silhouetted Pileated Woodpecker during take-off illustrates the positions of the wings during the first complete wingbeat. Note that the wings extend fully downward during the downstroke, causing the typical Pileated “swooping” wingbeats. In contrast, the bird in the Luneau video folds its wings in towards the body during each downstroke, causing the shallower, more rapid wingbeats.

                               Clip 10

Clip 11 is a deinterlaced clip (half speed) of a Pileated Woodpecker in rapid flight (flushed on purpose by the videographer). It was selected because its poor focus and angle of view are perhaps most similar to the Luneau video. Even in these blurry video frames, the diagnostic features of a Pileated Woodpecker remain evident.  Note the black visible on the dorsal surface of the wings, especially close to the body, in most frames.  Even on the upstroke, when the undersurface of the bird’s right wing appears mostly white, the black upper surface of the left wing is clearly visible.  Compare this directly with the bird in the Luneau video, which shows extensive white in this same area of the wing. Note also how the wings extend completely on the downstroke, again giving the characteristic flight style of a Pileated Woodpecker, even in rapid escape flight.

                               Clip 11

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