The Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive bird by all accounts. As the largest American representative of the Picidae family, they are twice the weight of any other surviving woodpecker in the United States.
Female Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker at the nest hole feeding his young
Female Pileated Woodpecker at the base of a tree trunk foraging
Pileated Woodpecker in-flight in woodland
40cm to 49cm
66cm to 76cm
250g to 350g
Pileated Woodpeckers are not built to blend in. These striking black, white, and red birds are highly visible in their forest habitat. Their large, powerful feet are set well forward on their bodies and complete with two forward and two backward-facing toes for grip and support. They also have a long, dagger-like bill for drilling into wood in search of food.
They are mostly black, with a fine white stripe above each eye and another that runs from the base of the bill to the side of the face and then down to the shoulder area. They also have a white chin and bold white markings above and below each wing. A bright red crest that can be raised at will is perhaps their most striking feature.
Female Pileated Woodpeckers look very similar to males, although there is a key difference between their facial plumages. Females have a black mustache stripe, while males have a red one. You can learn much more about females and how they differ from males in this in-depth guide.
Juvenile Pileated Woodpeckers have very similar colors to their parents. However, they have a smaller crest, darker eyes, and they are generally smaller.
Pileated Woodpeckers are difficult to mistake for any other bird. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was larger but similar in appearance, although sadly, that species is likely to be extinct.
Pileated Woodpecker Male
Pileated Woodpecker Female
Likened to the size of a crow, Pileated Woodpeckers are large, robust birds.
Adults measure approximately 16 to 19 inches or 40 to 49 centimeters in length.
These birds have an average weight of about 10 ounces or 275 grams, although the largest specimens can reach over 12½ ounces or 350 grams.
Pileated Woodpeckers have an impressive 26 to 29-inch (66 - 76 cm) wingspan.
Pileated Woodpecker perching on a tree trunk during the winter
Pileated Woodpeckers are very loud, vocal birds that call and drum on hollow wood to communicate with their mate or discourage intruders. Their typical call is a cackling or clucking ‘yuk-yuk-yuk.’
Pileated Woodpecker calling to his mate
Pileated Woodpeckers are primarily insectivorous. They find their food by drilling into logs and tree trunks for carpenter ants and the grubs of beetles that tunnel into wood. They will also eat plant foods like berries and nuts, and they also visit large suet feeders for a free meal.
Check out our detailed guide to learn more about the Pileated Woodpecker’s diet and feeding behavior.
Both Pileated Woodpecker parents feed their chicks by regurgitating insects into their mouths. The young birds depend on their parents for many months after fledging the nest.
Pileated Woodpecker feeding on a grub
Pileated Woodpeckers prefer mature forest habitats, particularly where snags are plentiful. They can be found in deciduous, coniferous, or evergreen forests, and they also live in many established suburban areas.
Pileated Woodpeckers are restricted to North America, where they occur widely in the United States and Canada. They are most widespread in the east of the United States, although their range also extends across the southern half of Canada and south along the West Coast to Central California.
Pileated Woodpeckers are built for life on tree trunks, especially large, dead trees. However, they frequently descend to the ground to search for food in fallen logs and stumps.
Pileated Woodpeckers are pretty common in suitable habitats. However, they are territorial, and pairs may occupy areas of hundreds of acres, so you’re not likely to see them in large numbers.
Pileated Woodpeckers are most numerous in the east of the United States, from Florida in the Southeast to New England in the Northeast. They extend inland to eastern Texas and north to the Upper Midwest, avoiding the open Great Plains Region.
Although less common, birdwatchers can also spot these large and impressive woodpeckers west of the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Pileated Woodpeckers are widespread in the south of Canada. They occur from British Columbia to the Maritime Provinces but avoid the prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Pileated Woodpecker in-flight in woodland
Pileated Woodpeckers can live for nearly thirteen years, although most will have a much shorter lifespan.
Adult Pileated Woodpeckers are most vulnerable to large birds of prey like the Northern Goshawk and Great Horned Owl. Mustelid mammals like martens and weasels also prey on their eggs and chicks.
Pileated Woodpeckers are protected in both the United States and Canada.
Pileated Woodpeckers are a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List, and their numbers are thought to be increasing.
Female Pileated Woodpecker on the ground foraging for food
Pileated Woodpeckers are cavity nesters that excavate their own two-foot-deep nest chambers in large dead or partially decaying trees. They will use a variety of tree species for nesting, sometimes choosing a site over 150 feet above the ground.
Both partners work at pecking out the nest, and the process can take several weeks. These birds nest in the same area or even tree each year, but they don’t reuse old nest cavities.
Pileated Woodpeckers nest in spring and summer. Their eggs hatch after about two weeks, and their young spend a further four weeks in the nest before fledging. These birds produce a single brood each year.
Pileated Woodpeckers usually lay four eggs, although larger and smaller clutches are known. Their plain white eggs measure about 33 millimeters long and 25 millimeters wide.
Pileated Woodpeckers form stable, long-term bonds, and pairs stick together all through the year. These birds pair for life, although they will accept a new partner if their mate dies.
Pileated Woodpeckers, Female (left) and Male (right)
Pileated Woodpecker at the nest hole feeding his young
Pileated Woodpeckers are territorial birds, although they are not highly aggressive. Conflict with other members of their species is most likely in the nesting season, when they may pursue each other and even fight with their wings and bills.
Pileated Woodpeckers drill out their own roosting cavities with several entrances in dead, hollow trees.
Female Pileated Woodpecker in-flight
Pileated Woodpeckers do not migrate. Pairs will remain in the same areas throughout the year, so bird watchers can spot these birds in any month in their range.
Pileated Woodpeckers are native to the United States. Apart from Canada to the north, they occur nowhere else.
Pileated Woodpecker feeding on suet from a garden feeder
Pileated Woodpeckers are most attracted to large snags (standing dead trees), so consider leaving these in place wherever it’s safe to do so. Homeowners with a suitable tree in their yard can also attract a breeding pair by putting up a nest box.
Pileated Woodpeckers prefer larger trees, especially with a wide trunk diameter. They look for trees that are dead or dying, harbor tasty insects, and are soft enough to drill into.
Pileated Woodpeckers can cause a lot of damage to small trees, sometimes causing them to snap over. However, they only feed on trees that are already dead or infested with wood-boring insects.
Pileated Woodpeckers are occasional visitors at backyard bird feeders. The ideal feeder design for these large birds is a suet feeder with a bottom board long enough to brace their tail against, although they will eat from a platform feeder too.
Pileated Woodpeckers often dig rectangular holes in tree trunks. These excavations are good clues to look out for when searching for these impressive birds.
Pileated Woodpeckers are strictly diurnal. They seem to enjoy their rest, often arriving at their roost long before sunset.
Pileated Woodpeckers do not eat squirrels. However, these two tree-dwellers do find themselves in competition for food from time to time. Their interactions can get pretty heated, but the squirrel usually comes out on top.
Pileated Woodpeckers are important for forest ecology because the roost and nest holes they excavate provide a cozy home for many other bird and animal species. These birds drill out a new nest cavity for each brood, creating many opportunities for other cavity nesters that aren’t equipped with such a powerful bill.
Williamson’s sapsuckers are found in scattered breeding locations between southwestern Canada and parts of the southern and western United States. Winter territories extend into central Mexico. Unusually for a woodpecker, male and female Williamson’s sapsuckers are very different in appearance, with males a striking, bold black, white, yellow and red, and females mainly a cryptic mottled brown, with heavy light and dark barring.
Arizona woodpeckers are small woodpeckers, native to a small area centered on oak, sycamore and pine forests in the southwestern corner of Arizona and across the border in a strip that runs through western Mexico. Due to their remote nesting sites, there is little detailed information available about this species.
Similar in habits and appearance to the more widespread northern flicker, the gilded flicker is a colorful resident of the desert landscapes of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, where it excavates nest cavities high up in giant saguaro cacti.
Formerly known as cactus woodpeckers, ladder-backed woodpeckers are native to the desert landscapes of the southern United States and Mexico. They construct nest cavities in trees or cacti on arid scrublands, where they feed on insects and larvae living on the thorny vegetation.
Only found in mountainous pine forests of the western United States and in a small region of British Columbia, white-headed woodpeckers are one of North America’s least numerous woodpeckers. Habitat loss, due to logging and removal of snags from coniferous woodlands, is a potential threat to the stability of the species’ population.
The only North American woodpecker to excavate cavities in living, green wood, the red-cockaded woodpecker is also the most endangered on the continent, with a population of only around 15,000, a decline of more than 80 percent since the 1970s.
A small woodpecker native to oak woodlands of western California, the Nuttall’s woodpecker takes its name from the British naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Year-round residents of the extreme southwest corner of the United States, Nuttall’s woodpeckers excavate their own cavities, but do not reuse them in subsequent seasons, making them a key contributor to the survival of secondary-cavity nesters, such as wrens and titmice.
Black-backed woodpeckers are found in coniferous forests of southern Canada and parts of the northern United States. Their inky black plumage acts as effective camouflage against the charred trees of burned forests they inhabit after forest fires, where they thrive, feasting on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
One of two North American woodpecker species with three toes, the American three-toed woodpecker is widespread across much of Canada and also resident in the Rocky Mountain states of the US. Three-toed feet are a particularly useful adaptation that allow these woodpeckers to lean back further while clinging to a tree, and therefore deliver stronger, more powerful blows when striking the trunk.
Native to the western coastal regions of North America, red-breasted sapsuckers are unmistakable woodland birds with a crimson head and breast and bold white shoulder stripe. Perhaps what makes them more remarkable still are the neat rows of holes they drill into trunks of trees to access the sweet sap inside.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a controversial bird. Officially listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, they are generally believed to be extinct. Still, some birdwatchers cling to the hope that these majestic birds still haunt the forests of the American Southeast.
An active, noisy and conspicuous bird, the golden-fronted woodpecker adds a splash of color to the mesquite brushlands of southern Texas. Fruit, nuts (especially pecans) and seed make up a large portion of its diet, which also comprises insects and larvae, gleaned from the trunks of scrubland vegetation.
Named for its characteristic call, or perhaps the flash of white rump and brightly colored wing feathers, the Northern Flicker is a large, handsome woodpecker that you’re more likely to see foraging on the ground than up in the trees.
The deserts of the Southwest are home to a unique and rowdy woodpecker species. Gila Woodpeckers are adapted to life in the arid zone, where the mighty Saguaro cactus replaces regular trees.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a bold and bright forest bird that occurs almost throughout North America. They are regular and welcome visitors to backyard bird feeders, although less common than the similar Downy Woodpecker.
Despite their name, the most conspicuous feature of red-bellied woodpeckers is the vibrant red coloring on the head, crown and nape of males of the species. The “red belly” is limited to a pinkish patch, barely visible unless at very close range. These highly patterned black-and-white woodpeckers are present across much of the eastern US, where they are both common and widespread.
A colorful member of the woodpecker family, the red-headed Woodpecker is widespread across the east-central United States. It is an occasional visitor to backyard feeders in winter, with its brilliant crimson head in deep contrast to its black and white body making it instantly recognizable.
Often dubbed the “clown-faced woodpecker”, acorn woodpeckers are distinctive red-crowned woodland birds found along the Pacific Coast of the United States. As well as their striking appearance, they are known for their intricate carpentry work to create “granaries” in trees for storing acorns.
Anything but a typical woodpecker, the Lewis’s woodpecker forages for flying insects like a flycatcher, has the shape and stature of a crow or jay, and the coloring of a hummingbird. They are not particularly skilled at excavating nest cavities and their drumming abilities are limited.
Known for their fondness of tree sap and ability to drill neat rows of sap wells into tree trunks, red-naped sapsuckers are the most common species of sapsucker in the western regions of North America, and favor aspen stands and ponderosa pine forests for both nesting and foraging.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does not have the most flattering (or accurate) name. Widespread across the eastern half of North America, these birds are one of just four species in the Sphyrapicus genus.
America’s most common woodpecker is also its smallest. The boldly marked Downy Woodpecker is a familiar little bird of forests, woodlands, and backyards across the United States and Canada.
Once a common breeding bird in the UK, the Wryneck is now only a brief visitor en route between Northern European breeding grounds and African overwintering sites. What they lack in colour and song is made up by wonderfully textured plumage and some truly bizarre behaviours.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is the United Kingdom’s rarest woodpecker species, and its unexplained decline is of great concern. This elusive, sparrow-sized species presents a real birdwatching challenge.
European Green Woodpecker
Woodpeckers belong to the family Picidae. There are over 230 recognised species of woodpecker from 33 genera, to be found across the world, albeit many species are specific to relatively small, isolated areas. As a family they can be found in almost all regions of the globe apart from Antarctica, Greenland, Madagascar and Australasia. This profile is limited to the 3 species of Picus viridis otherwise known as the Eurasian Green Woodpecker and concentrates on the Picus viridis viridis subspecies, common throughout the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia and western Russia.
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