Pileated Woodpecker

Bird of the Month: Pileated Woodpecker

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Pileated Woodpecker)

PC: Mick Thompson (Pileated Woodpecker)

Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus

Length 16.5 in

Wingspan 29 in

AOU Band code PIWO

The Pileated Woodpecker (PIWO) is about 16-1/2” long with a 29’ wingspan. The genus name Dryocopus (dry-OCK-oh-pus) is from the Greek drys, a tree, especially an oak, and kopis, cleaver; a “tree cleaver” or “wood cutter”. The species name pileatus is Latin for capped, or crested, in reference to its large crest. The name can be pronounced PIE-leh-ated or PIL-eh-ated. It is our largest woodpecker and is about crow size.

It is found in mature forests, where it searches for its favorite food - carpenter ants – by excavating large rectangular feeder holes. The nesting holes are round. The PIWO is long-necked, broad-winged, and long-tailed, with a prominent crest. It is mostly black with a bright red crest. The crest on the female is less extensive than on the male. The male also has a red patch on the black line off the base of the bill. In flight, look for the large size and striking white on the linings of the underwings.

In addition to carpenter ants, the PIWO eats beetles, other insects, seeds, fruit, and will come to suet bird feeders. It prefers dense mature forest, but is adapting well to human encroachment, becoming more common and more tolerant of disturbed habitats and second-growth woods. Their territory size can be 150-200 acres. Signs of a Pileated’s presence are chiseled-out, rectangular, 3-6” holes in trees.

The call is a loud, rising-and-falling wuck-a-wuck-a-wuck-a, similar to the flicker but higher and louder. Its drum is slow, powerful, accelerating and trailing off at the end; short or up to three seconds long with slight variations in tempo and intensity throughout, only one or two per minute.

The nest cavity is excavated in dead wood, 15-70 ft. high. The entrance hole is about 3-1/2” in diameter with a cavity depth of 10-24”. There are 3-5 white eggs that are incubated for 15-16 days before hatching. The young fledge in 28 more days. There is only one brood per season.