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Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. It’s nearly the size of a crow, black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest. Look (and listen) for Pileated Woodpeckers whacking at dead trees and fallen logs in search of their main prey, carpenter ants, leaving unique rectangular holes in the wood. The nest holes these birds make offer crucial shelter to many species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens.

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Calls

Pileated Woodpeckers are quite vocal, typically making a high, clear, series of piping calls that lasts several seconds. The sound is quite similar to a Northern Flicker’s rattling call, although it tends to be more resonant and less even in tone, with changing emphasis or rhythm during the call. Pileated Woodpeckers also give shorter calls that sound like wuk, wuk or cuk, cuk to indicate a territory boundary or to give an alarm.

Other

Both sexes drum powerfully on trees at any time of the year, typically a fairly slow, deep rolling that lasts about 3 seconds. Males drum in late winter to establish and defend a territory, both sexes drum as part of courtship, and either sex may drum to solicit mating, to summon a mate from a distance, or in response to an intruder near a nest.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

If you have dead or dying trees or snags on your property, consider leaving them alone as they may attract Pileated Woodpeckers (as well as other woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc.) to forage, roost or even nest in them. Pileated Woodpeckers sometimes visit backyard bird feeders, especially for suet.

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Look for Pileated Woodpeckers in stands of mature forest with plenty of dead trees and downed logs—deep excavations into rotten wood are telltale signs of this species. Also listen for this bird's deep, loud drumming and shrill, whinnying calls. Pileated Woodpeckers occur at all heights in the forest, and are often seen foraging on logs and near the bases of trees.

Get Involved

Keep track of the Pileated Woodpecker at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

You Might Also Like

Here's an incredible up-close video of a Pileated Woodpecker coming to a suet feeder. Just don't turn your sound up too loud, as this bird makes quite an entrance.