Pileated Woodpecker, the ABA’s 2021 Bird of the Year!

by Frank Izaguirre

Where did you see your first Pileated Woodpecker? In the deep woods of a protected forest? Within the dense cypress strands of a southern swampland? Or maybe in a parking lot, like where I saw mine.

The Pileated Woodpecker—quite common in the southeastern United States, increasing in other parts of the East, present throughout much of southern Canada, and uncommon in some parts of the West—has adapted to people and disturbed forests as it increases its presence in urban areas. This large and hardy bird can be at turns cryptic, silently working tree trunks and logs while disappearing in the dim light of the understory, or conspicuous, unmistakably gliding through a wooded ravine with its trademark cackle. Its huge form and far-reaching laughter are often the highlight of a day’s birding excursion. The ABA is proud that the Pileated Woodpecker, emblem of both the wild woods and the adaptability of birds to anthropogenically altered spaces, is our 2021 Bird of the Year.

We see these qualities too in Juan Travieso’s entrancing 2021 Bird of the Year art. The Pileated’s profile is spliced with stark red and fuchsia lines, which blend into its crest and mustache stripe as if they were diagnostic marks. The bird is overlaid on digital cubes, speaking to its, and maybe all birds’, merger with digital identities: we think of birds through our online understanding of them. The red vine leaves and pink flowers draped behind the bird add an almost pop sensibility, perhaps both a reinforcement and reevaluation of the Pileated Woodpecker’s iconicism.

The most intriguing element of the image may be its energy. The bird gazes back at us, ready to leap from the branch and heave its massive wings, while the lines seem to draw it forward and out of the frame. Where will this bird go next? Where does this bird take you? It might not be where you first saw a Pileated Woodpecker.