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Pileated Woodpecker

Image of Pileated Woodpecker on a tree

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus, formerly Picus pileatus) is a very large North American woodpecker, roughly crow sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is also the largest woodpecker in the United States.

Adults are 40 to 49 cm long, span 66 to 75 cm across the wings and weigh 250 to 400 g. They are mainly black with a red crest, and have a white line down the sides of the throat. They show white on the wings in flight. The flight of these birds is strong and direct but has an undulating quality, similar to the relatively unique flight style of all woodpeckers.

The call is a loud, far carrying laugh sometimes described as a ‘jungle bird’ call due to its wild unfettered quality.

These birds mainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood boring beetle larvae. They also eat fruits, nuts and berries, including poison ivy berries. Pileated woodpeckers will often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects, especially ant galleries. They also will lap up ants by reaching with their long tongue into crevices.

Usually pileated woodpeckers excavate their large nests in cavities of dead trees. They make such large holes in dead trees that the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. They raise their young every year in a hole in a tree. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Their nests are often used later by many other species such as raccoons, squirrels, tree nesting ducks and many forest song birds.

A pileated woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is a non migratory species. The nest is unlined except for wood chips. Both parents incubate three to five eggs for 12 to 16 days. There is an average of clutch size of 4 per nest. The young may take a month to fledge. The oldest known pileated woodpecker was 12 years and 11months old.

Free flying adults have few predators but can be taken in some numbers by various hawks and owls.