Photo: Martha/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

A big, dashing bird with a flaming crest, the largest woodpecker in North America (except the Ivory-bill, which is almost certainly extinct). Excavating deep into rotten wood to get at the nests of carpenter ants, the Pileated leaves characteristic rectangular holes in dead trees. This species became rare in eastern North America with clearing of forests in centuries past, but has gradually increased in numbers again since about the beginning of the 20th century. Where unmolested, it even lives in parks and woodlots around the edges of large cities.
Conservation status Numbers in eastern United States declined sharply in 18th and 19th centuries with clearing of eastern forest. Since about 1900, a gradual comeback, with the species becoming common again in some areas. May be adapting to second-growth woods and proximity of humans.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Conifer, mixed, and hardwood forests; woodlots. Favors mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forest, also coniferous forest. Wide variety of specific forest types from southern swamps to old-growth Douglas-fir forest of northwest. Also in second-growth and fragmented woodlots, as long as some large trees are present.
A big, dashing bird with a flaming crest, the largest woodpecker in North America (except the Ivory-bill, which is almost certainly extinct). Excavating deep into rotten wood to get at the nests of carpenter ants, the Pileated leaves characteristic rectangular holes in dead trees. This species became rare in eastern North America with clearing of forests in centuries past, but has gradually increased in numbers again since about the beginning of the 20th century. Where unmolested, it even lives in parks and woodlots around the edges of large cities.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • adult male and nestlings
  • Feeding holes in tree
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly by probing, prying, and excavating in dead wood in search of insects. May gouge deep holes in rotten wood to get at ant nests, sometimes tearing apart stumps and big sections of fallen logs. May clamber about acrobatically in small branches to get at berries.


Eggs

3-5. White. Incubation is by both sexes (male incubating at night and part of day), about 18 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings, by regurgitation. Young leave nest 26-28 days after hatching, may remain with parents 2-3 months.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings, by regurgitation. Young leave nest 26-28 days after hatching, may remain with parents 2-3 months.

Diet

Mostly ants and other insects, also fruits, nuts. Carpenter ants may be up to 60% of diet; also eats other ants (rarely digging into anthills on ground), termites, larvae of wood-boring beetles, other insects. About one-quarter of the diet may be wild fruits, berries, and nuts.


Nesting

Territory is defended with loud drumming and ringing calls. Courtship displays include spreading wings (showing off white wing patch), raising crest, swinging head back and forth, gliding display flight. At prospective nest site, both sexes may tap or drum on wood. Nest site is a cavity in a dead tree or in dead branch of a live tree, sometimes in utility pole, usually 15-80' above ground. Generally makes a new cavity each year, with both sexes helping to excavate.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident, but individuals sometimes wander far from breeding areas.

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Migration

Permanent resident, but individuals sometimes wander far from breeding areas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud, flicker-like cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk, rising and then falling in pitch and volume.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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