The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is the largest woodpecker in North America (excluding the, sadly, almost surely extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker). Pileated Woodpeckers feed mainly on ants and other insects, excavating deep into rotten wood with their powerful bills, but also eat a significant amount of fruit and nuts. Carpenter ants may account for up to 60% of the diet and wild fruits, berries, and nuts may account for a quarter of the diet. Pileated Woodpeckers leave characteristic rectangular or oval holes in dead trees.
Pileated Woodpeckers are resident from much of Canada south along the western coast of North America to central California (and in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) and across most of the eastern United States, especially in the Southeast. They are found mainly in mature deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, woodlots, and swamps, but also in coniferous forest. Pileated Woodpeckers became rare in eastern North America with the clearing of forests after European colonization of the continent. However, populations increased during much of the 20th century and these woodpeckers can even be seen around the edges of cities in parks and suburbs.
Pileated Woodpeckers defend their territories with loud drumming and calling. Courtship displays include spreading the wings (displaying white wing patches), erecting the crest, swinging the head back and forth, and performing a gliding display flight. At a prospective nest site, both sexes may tap or drum on wood. The nest site is a cavity in a dead tree (or dead branch of a live tree), sometimes in a utility pole, usually 15 to 80 feet above the ground. A new cavity is generally excavated each year, with both sexes excavating. The 3 to 5 white eggs are incubated by both sexes for around 18 days (with the male incubating at night and during part of the day). The young are fed (by regurgitation) by both parents. They leave the nest after 26 to 28 days, but may remain with the parents for 2 to 3 months.
Although Pileated Woodpeckers are generally permanent year-round residents, some individuals may wander far from breeding areas.
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Dunn, J.L. and J. Alderfer. 2011. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
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