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Your complete guide on everything Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

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.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Female Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker at the nest hole feeding his young

Pileated Woodpecker

Female Pileated Woodpecker at the base of a tree trunk foraging

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker in-flight in woodland

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Dryocopus pileatus





40cm to 49cm


66cm to 76cm


250g to 350g

Appearance & Identification

What do Pileated Woodpeckers look like?

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 standing on cut off trunk

Pileated Woodpecker Male

Female pileated woodpecker on post

Pileated Woodpecker Female

How big are Pileated Woodpeckers?

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 Woodpecker perching on a tree trunk during the winter

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Pileated Woodpecker make?

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 Woodpecker calling to his mate


What do Pileated Woodpeckers eat?

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.

What do Pileated Woodpecker chicks eat?

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 Woodpecker feeding on a grub

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Pileated Woodpecker?

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.

What is the range of a Pileated Woodpecker?

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.

Where do Pileated Woodpeckers live?

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.

How rare are Pileated Woodpeckers?

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.

Where can you see Pileated Woodpeckers in the US?

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.

Where can you see Pileated Woodpeckers in Canada?

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 Woodpecker in-flight in woodland

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Pileated Woodpeckers live?

Pileated Woodpeckers can live for nearly thirteen years, although most will have a much shorter lifespan.

What are the predators of Pileated Woodpeckers?

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.

Are Pileated Woodpeckers protected?

Pileated Woodpeckers are protected in both the United States and Canada.

Are Pileated Woodpeckers endangered?

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

Female Pileated Woodpecker on the ground foraging for food

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Pileated Woodpeckers nest?

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.

When do Pileated Woodpeckers nest?

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.

What do Pileated Woodpecker eggs look like?

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.

Do Pileated Woodpeckers mate for life?

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 woodpecker pair

Pileated Woodpeckers, Female (left) and Male (right)

Pileated woodpecker feeding young at nest hole

Pileated Woodpecker at the nest hole feeding his young


Are Pileated Woodpeckers aggressive?

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.

Where do Pileated Woodpeckers sleep at night?

Pileated Woodpeckers drill out their own roosting cavities with several entrances in dead, hollow trees.

Female Pileated Woodpecker in-flight

Female Pileated Woodpecker in-flight


Do Pileated Woodpeckers migrate?

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.

Are Pileated Woodpeckers native to the US?

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 Woodpecker feeding on suet from a garden feeder


What attracts Pileated Woodpeckers?

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.

What trees do Pileated Woodpeckers prefer?

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.

Do Pileated Woodpeckers harm trees?

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.

Do Pileated Woodpeckers go to bird feeders?

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.

Do Pileated Woodpeckers make square holes?

Pileated Woodpeckers often dig rectangular holes in tree trunks. These excavations are good clues to look out for when searching for these impressive birds.

What time of day are Pileated Woodpeckers active?

Pileated Woodpeckers are strictly diurnal. They seem to enjoy their rest, often arriving at their roost long before sunset.

Do Pileated Woodpeckers eat squirrels?

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.

Why are Pileated Woodpeckers important?

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.

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