May 19 2009

To-may-to, To-mah-to

Published by at 7:02 am under Musings & News,Songbirds

Male Pileated Woodpecker (photo by Darryl Ford Williams)

So how do you say his name?

Darryl Ford Williams called the other day to tell me she had the largest “Woody Woodpecker” she ever saw making mincemeat of a stump in her back yard. 

Based on her description I suspected it was a pileated woodpecker.  Not only are they large but they resemble the famous Woody Woodpecker cartoon character, though Woody’s supposed to have been modeled on the acorn woodpecker who doesn’t even have a crest. 

Darryl sent me a picture and my hunch was right – a beautiful male pileated.  I can tell he’s a male because he has a red moustache.

But having to tell her his name threw me into a quandary.  I had just had a conversation with another birder about pronunciation of bird names and I knew that I probably pronounced this one incorrectly … or did I?  I couldn’t remember.

I say “PILL-e-a-tid” but I’ve heard “PIE-lee-a-tid” and “PIE-lated” as well.  Since I’m from Pittsburgh and have a Pittsburgh accent (when I don’t concentrate on what I say), I usually doubt my own pronunciation.  Before I even opened my mouth I was stuck in the classic “tomayto, tomahto” problem.

Google to the rescue where I found this humorous article on how to pronounce bird names.  Apparently there are two valid pronunciations for pileated so I can have my choice.

Or to paraphrase a Gershwin song, “You say pie-lee-a-tid and I say pill-e-a-tid.  Let’s call the whole thing off.”

(photo by Darryl Ford Williams)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “To-may-to, To-mah-to”

  1. Patsyon 19 May 2009 at 9:47 am

    Have these in my backyard at times. They are beautiful birds. Am also wondering right now where the little ones at the Gulf Tower are. The nest is empty.

  2. Kristenon 19 May 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Heh. I just say woodpecker. 😉

  3. Leslieon 20 May 2009 at 12:16 am

    Kate, what exactly does the word pileated mean anyway? I was having this discussion with someone the other day and I thought it had something to do with coloring.

  4. Kate St. Johnon 20 May 2009 at 9:09 am

    Leslie, the word pileated comes from the Latin word pileus which refers to a cap on ones head. When I researched the answer to your question I found out that “10,000 Birds” blogged on this subject more than a year ago. The complete answer to your question is on their blog here:

  5. Leslieon 20 May 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks Kate, what a surprise! That also confirms that the long “i” is actually correct, which always sounded proper to me anyway.

  6. Doug Baumanon 29 May 2009 at 10:51 am

    I say Pill, not Pie

  7. Donna Marie Gawneon 05 Aug 2015 at 10:43 am

    We are out on our back deck this morning doing our crossword puzzle…when “what to our wondering ears should we hear” but the sound of two GORGEOUS pileated woodpeckers in our maple tree!!! We have lived here since 1971 and have seen other woodpeckers but NEVER these! What a wonderful site to behold!

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply