At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Picidae, Woodpeckers, Tree-clinging Birds
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Permanent resident, but individuals sometimes wander far from breeding areas.
17" (43 cm). Very large, mostly black, with red crest, white stripe on neck. White under wings flashes in flight. Forehead and mustache red on male, black on female.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Red, White
Songs and Calls
A loud, flicker-like cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk, rising and then falling in pitch and volume.
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Scream
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.
Sign up for Audubon's newsletter to learn more about birds like the Pileated Woodpecker
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.
Both parents feed nestlings, by regurgitation. Young leave nest 26-28 days after hatching, may remain with parents 2-3 months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Pileated Woodpecker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Pileated Woodpecker
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.