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Pileated Woodpecker pileated woodpecker

Identification and Pictures

(Dryocopus pileatus)

Pileated Woodpeckers are very large woodpeckers, about the Pileated Woodpecker size of a crow, 16 to 19 1/2 inches.  They are black with a bright red crest from the beak to the back of the head.  The face has a red mustache, and a white bar goes across the face, and extends down the neck.  Males have a white line over the eyes.  They have a long, sharp, black bill, with yellow bristly feathers over their nostrils that help keep out wood chips.  Their strong feet allow them to cling on tree trunks.  Females have a dark forehead, and do not have the red mustache.  In flight they can be identified by the white under wing coverts, and sweeping wing beats. 

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

You may see a Pileated woodpecker as it flies from tree to tree searching for insects.  When it detects a grub beneath the bark it will begin its slow methodic hammering.  The head swings in a large ark, chips fly as the bill smashes into the tree like a sledge-hammer with a force that you might think would break its neck.  When the hammering stops he will probe the hoes with his pointed, spear like tongued until he gets his meal. His extremely long tongue ends in a horny, barbed tip, and can be used to impale prey.
                      Pileate woodpecker tounge

Pileated Woodpecker sounds

Their call sounds much like the flicker's call, but louder.  They also have a ringing call that rises and falls.  In addition to the sound they make digging for insects in trees, they drum on hollow trees to claim territory, making loud drumming sounds that can heard for long distances.  They use this drumming to attract mates, and to define their territories.  Sound   sound 2

Preferred Habitat

Pileated woodpeckers can be found across Canada, and in eastern and western U.S.  They usually remain resident, and defend their territory year round.  They like mature wooded coniferous, and deciduous forests that contain a lot of dead trees.  They will also reside in city parks and golf courses.

Breeding and Nesting
pileated woodpecker

Pileated Woodpeckers mate for life.  For a nest both birds excavate a large cavity a in a tree.  The nest will often have more than one entrance, giving them an extra escape route in case of predators.  They will peck the bark around the hole to get sap running.  The sap helps keep predators away from the nest.  These woodpeckers will excavate a new cavity each year providing cavities for other birds to use.  They will also nest in nest boxes.  See birdhouse dimensions for building plans.

The females will lay 3 to 5 white eggs.  Both parents will incubate the eggs for about 2 weeks, and the young birds will fledge in roughly a month.  The parents continue to feed, and teach the young birds how to forage for several months after they fledge.  The young birds will leave the parents in the fall, and establish their own territories in the spring.


pileated woodpecker at feederThese woodpeckers eat insects such as ants, and beetle larvae, as well as nuts, and berries.  They pull the bark off of trees, and chip out large holes in trees with their long sharp bill, searching for insects.  They have a long sticky tongue they stick in holes to pull out ants.  They also forage on the ground.  They will also visit suet feeders in back yards.

The Pileated Woodpecker was the inspiration for the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker.

Watch video of Pileated woodpecker taking a bath in a stream below


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