Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) are the largest of the North American Woodpeckers and one of the largest species in the Picidae family worldwide.
These eye-catching birds partly inspired the Woody the Woodpecker character, and they are a species that all American birdwatchers should see. But where exactly do they live?
Pileated Woodpeckers occur from the west and northwest of the United States, across southern Canada to the Atlantic coast, and south through the eastern half of the USA to Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Pileated Woodpeckers are forest birds that favor areas with scattered or dense stands of large trees. Their specialized diet of ants and insect larvae live within rotten wood, so snags, stumps, and dying trees are an essential habitat requirement.
These boldly colored birds are instantly recognizable, although often uncommon. They occupy the same territories throughout the year, so persistence in your search will pay off in the right habitats.
Would you like to learn more about the Pileated Woodpecker range and habitats? Continue reading for more in-depth information.
Pileated Woodpeckers are forest birds that favor areas with scattered or dense stands of large trees
Pileated Woodpeckers occur only in North America. They are found across most of the eastern half of the USA and in parts of the northwest. These large Woodpeckers are also widespread in Canada.
Pileated Woodpeckers have a wide geographic range in the Lower 48. However, they are absent from most of the West and Southwest. These birds are most common in the Southeast, but birdwatchers could see them in over thirty American States.
Read on to learn which US states are home to the Pileated Woodpecker.
Pileated Woodpeckers are widespread in the eastern half of the Contiguous United States. They occur from Florida in the southeast to Eastern Texas in the Southwest.
Moving north, these unmistakable birds live all the way to the Canadian border in New England and across to Minnesota in the Midwest.
Pileated Woodpeckers occur in most of the eastern states but are scarce or absent from large parts of southern Midwestern states like Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
In the West, the Pileated Woodpecker range sweeps south out of Canada, extending through Washington, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and California.
Pileated Woodpeckers have a wide geographic range in the Lower 48
Pileated Woodpeckers occur across Southern Canada from the west coast to the east. Look out for them in the following provinces:
Pileated Woodpeckers may have a wide distribution, but they have some specific habitat requirements within their range. Keep reading to learn which habitats they prefer.
Male Pileated Woodpecker pecking at a tree
Pileated Woodpeckers occur in many types of mature deciduous and mixed coniferous forests. They will also use young forests if they include some large, old trees. Pileated Woodpeckers adapt readily to suburban areas with mature tree growth. Some even visit backyard bird feeders.
Typical Pileated Woodpecker Habitats:
These large Woodpeckers look for dead snags or living trees affected by fungi that rot their heartwood. These trees are home to their principal food sources, ants and beetle larvae. Snags and partially rotted trees are also easier to excavate for roosting and nesting chambers.
Pileated Woodpeckers occur in many types of mature deciduous and mixed coniferous forests
Pileated Woodpeckers have recovered from the effects of extensive habitat destruction and hunting for sport and food in the 1800s. Today they are most common in the Southeast. Elsewhere they are fairly common to uncommon, depending on habitat suitability.
Pileated Woodpeckers have large territories in areas with low-foraging potential. Territories in the west may exceed a thousand acres, which makes them pretty scarce. However, these birds have adapted to altered suburban landscapes and often visit backyards in suitable habitats.
Pileated Woodpeckers require forest areas with snags, stumps, and fallen trees. That doesn’t mean you have to head out to remote wilderness areas to find these impressive birds. Local parks and woodlots with large trees and dead wood are often a good place to start.
Homeowners with larger properties should leave some snags and fallen trees in the environment to encourage these birds.
Backyard birdwatchers from established suburbs with tall trees might attract them with large suet feeders and large nest boxes with a 4-inch (10 cm) entrance diameter.
Pileated Woodpeckers are best seen in forests and local parks
Pileated Woodpeckers are diurnal birds. They forage during the day and spend the night roosting in cavities in live or dead trees.
Pileated Woodpeckers come out after sunrise. They spend about half of the day feeding and the rest engaged in other activities like calling, nesting, and resting. They return to their roosts up to an hour before sunset, although some birds stay out until dusk.
Pileated Woodpeckers are resident within their breeding range. They do not migrate, and paired adults remain on their territory throughout the year.
The pair will not allow other paired birds to forage within their territory, but they tolerate floaters (single birds) in the non-breeding season.
Juvenile Pileated Woodpeckers stay with their parents for many months after fledging the nest. They leave their family to find a partner and establish their own territory in the fall.
Nesting Pileated Woodpecker at its nest cavity
Pileated Woodpeckers live in the same areas throughout the year but use their territories differently across the seasons. In the north, they prefer to forage on standing dead or injured trees in the winter when snow covers ground-level food resources.
They may spend more time foraging on stumps and logs in the summer.
Summer is the Pileated Woodpecker nesting season. These birds nest in a tree cavity that the pair excavate each year. They incubate their eggs continually, although the parents take turns during the day, and the male takes the night shift.
Pileated Woodpeckers also brood their chicks for their first week or so. The male continues to spend the night in the nest, but he shares the duty with his partner during the daylight hours.
Close up portrait of a Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpeckers may be seen alone, in pairs, or in family groups. These birds mate for life, and the pairs remain together throughout the year, often foraging in the same vicinity.
Pileated Woodpeckers are devoted parents that spend many months caring for their offspring after they have left the nest. The young birds follow their parents as soon as they are ready to fly, and the family group can total five or more.
Sometimes the parent birds will go off in different directions, and the family group may divide in two temporarily.
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