To-may-to, To-mah-to

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 thoughts on “To-may-to, To-mah-to

  1. 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. 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.

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

  4. 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!

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