• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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.

Yard Map Attract More Birds
Learn About Celebrate Urban Birds!

Keys to identification Help

Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Pileated Woodpecker is a very large woodpecker with a long neck and a triangular crest that sweeps off the back of the head. The bill is long and chisel-like, about the length of the head. In flight, the wings are broad and the bird can seem crowlike.

  • Color Pattern

    Pileated Woodpeckers are mostly black with white stripes on the face and neck and a flaming-red crest. Males have a red stripe on the cheek. In flight, the bird reveals extensive white underwings and small white crescents on the upper side, at the bases of the primaries.

  • Behavior

    Pileated Woodpeckers drill distinctive rectangular-shaped holes in rotten wood to get at carpenter ants and other insects. They are loud birds with whinnying calls. They also drum on dead trees in a deep, slow, rolling pattern, and even the heavy chopping sound of foraging carries well. Their flight undulates like other woodpeckers, which helps separate them from a crow’s straight flight path.

  • Habitat

    Pileated Woodpeckers are forest birds that require large, standing dead trees and downed wood. Forests can be evergreen, deciduous, or mixed and are often old, particularly in the West. In the East they live in young forests as well and may even be seen in partially wooded suburbs and backyards.

Range Map Help

Pileated Woodpecker Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Very large woodpecker with thick, chisel-like bill
    • Bright red crest
    • Solid black back and underparts
    • Black stripe through eye
    • © Marcus Sharpe, Winter Park, Florida, October 2009
  • Adult female

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Very large woodpecker with solid black back
    • Bright red crest
    • Female has dusky gray forehead and mustache stripes
    • White on sides of neck
    • © Dan Lockard, Wolf Lake, Michigan, March 2011
  • Adult male

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Very large black woodpecker
    • Male has entirely red crest (female has dark forehead)
    • Male has red whisker (malar) stripe on face
    • © Judy Stockham/PFW, Keewatin, Ontario, Canada, February 2008
  • Adult female

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Very large, black-backed woodpecker
    • Black stripes on white face (male show red on mustache stripe)
    • Bright red bushy crest
    • White patch usually visible on folded wings
    • © Steven Wildman, Loxahatchee, Boynton Beach, Florida, April 2010
  • Adult male

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Very large, black-backed woodpecker
    • Bright red crest
    • White on sides of neck
    • Occasionally shows faint white barring on black breast
    • © Reid Barclay, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, December 2007
  • Adult male (left), female (right)

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult male (left), female (right)
    • Very large black woodpecker with red crest
    • White stripes on face and down neck
    • Both sexes have all-black back and red crest
    • Males have red whisker and forehead
    • © Maureen H-May Bisson/PFW, Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, March 2009
  • Adult male with young

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult male with young
    • Very large, black-backed woodpecker
    • Heavy, chisel-like bill
    • Bright red crest
    • White and black striped pattern on neck
    • © Aida Villaronga, Everglades NP, Florida, May 2009
  • Adult

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Adult
    • Very large woodpecker
    • Distinctive in flight with white patches on broad, black wings
    • Long tail
    • Heavy, chisel-like bill
    • © Wayne Bierbaum, Maryland, March 2011

Similar Species

Similar Species

Pileated Woodpeckers are such large, striking birds that they’re hard to confuse with other species. They are most similar to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which is now extremely rare or extinct and was only ever known from swamps of the Southeast. For information on how to distinguish the two species, visit our Ivory-bill site. The Red-headed Woodpecker is smaller with a shorter neck, an entirely red head, and large white patches on the trailing edge of the wing. At distance, in flight, American Crows flap steadily instead of with the impulsive, bounding motion of a Pileated Woodpecker. Crows show no white in the wing.

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.