What is a Pileated Woodpecker?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
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A pileated woodpecker is a bird that has distinct markings that include black feathers on their breasts, back, and wings, with bright white feathers lining their wings and adding accent markings to their rest of their body, as well as a set of brilliant red feathers on the crowns of their heads. These birds are rather large in comparison to other members of the woodpecker family. They are comparable in size to crows. A fully grown pileated woodpecker is 15 to 20 inches (between 40 and 49 centimeters) long and can weigh between one half of a pound (about 250 grams) and three quarters of a pound (about 350 grams).

The native regions of the pileated woodpecker are all in North America and include eastern parts of the continent including regions in Canada. The pileated woodpecker can also be found in some places along the Pacific coast. One of the key differences between male and females in this species is the presence of a second area of red feathers in addition to the red feathers on the crown of the head. Males have a red patch of feathers that forms a line from the bills of their mouths down to their throats. This patch of feathers on the female pileated woodpecker is black.


Insects make up a large part of the diet for a pileated woodpecker. They gather most of their food by using their very strong beaks to bore into the bark of trees and felled wood in which the insects live. This boring is often done at a rapid speed and the sound is similar to the sound of wood being hammered in quick repetitions. Wood-boring beetle larvae and carpenter ants are two of the main insects that these woodpeckers eat. In addition to consuming insects, the pileated woodpecker also eats nuts and fruits.

In addition to using their beaks to find food, the beak is also used to create a nest. During mating season, the male pileated woodpecker will bore a hole into a tree. This hole is meant to attract the female pileated woodpecker as it will be the place where the baby birds will be raised. Despite the work that goes in to making these holes, they are not reused in following years. For the next mating season, the male pileated woodpecker must once again carve out a nesting space and the female must choose the one that she likes the best.


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