Dryocopus Pileatus (Pileated Woodpecker)

The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is the largest of the common woodpeckers native to North America. This crow-sized bird normally inhabits deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast.
It is the second-largest woodpecker in the United States, after the critically endangered and possibly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. The term "pileated" refers to the bird's prominent red crest, with the term from the Latin pileatus meaning "capped".

Physical Description

Adults are 40 to 49 cm (16 to 19 in) long, span 66 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in) across the wings, and weigh 250 to 400 g (8.8 to 14.1 oz), with an average weight of 300 g (11 oz). Each wing measures 21.4 to 25.3 cm (8.4 to 10.0 in), the tail measures 14.0 to 17.4 cm (5.5 to 6.9 in), the bill is 4.1 to 6.0 cm (1.6 to 2.4 in) and the tarsus measures 3.1 to 3.8 cm (1.2 to 1.5 in). Its plumage is mostly black, except for the conspicuous, triangular red crest on the crown and the black and white stripes running along its face. There is a white, crescent-shaped marking on the upperside of the wings. When in flight, the white oval-shaped markings on the underside of the wings are visible, but are mostly concealed when the pileated woodpecker is at rest.

The pileated woodpecker has black legs and a large, powerful, slightly curved bill, which is roughly the same length as the head and has a chisel-like tip. The bill is dark grey above and yellow or horn-coloured below.

The male pileated woodpecker is slightly heavier than the female and has a red moustache-like marking on its face. The juvenile pileated woodpecker has a shorter crest and more rounded flight feathers than the adult, as well as flesh-coloured legs, which become darker as it ages. The eye of the juvenile is brown and becomes gold or yellow in the adult.

An extremely loud bird, the pileated woodpecker has a highly varied array of vocalisations, including a high-pitched ‘waa’, ‘wok’, ‘wuk’ and ‘cuk, cuk, cuk’ call. It also makes a loud, resonant drumming noise, which is produced in a rolling pattern when its bill hits dead trees at great speed.

There are two recognised subspecies of pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus pileatus and Dryocopus pileatus abieticola. The subspecies are known to vary in colouration, bill size and range, with D. p. pileatus being smaller than D. p. abieticola.


The pileated woodpecker is monogamous and territorial, and, as it is a non-migratory bird, pairs will defend their large territory year-round. Only when one of the pair dies will the other find a new mate, which it then allows to move into its territory. Pileated woodpecker pairs occasionally allow non-breeding adults within their territory, although this is more frequent during the winter. To defend their territory, the pair will use vocalisations and drumming, as well as chasing, striking with twigs and poking the intruder with their bills during conflicts.

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During the breeding season, the male pileated woodpecker selects a nest site and builds most of the nest, which is an oblong cavity in a tree lined with the shavings of wood that are produced during excavation. The nest can take up to six weeks to create. The excavations of the pileated woodpecker are made using its long, powerful bill, which is repeatedly drummed on the trunk of a dead tree to create an entrance hole into the hollow interior. The pileated woodpecker creates distinctive, rectangular holes which can be over 60 centimetres deep and are used for roosting and nesting. The pileated woodpecker is an extremely important part of the forest ecosystem, as its excavations also provide shelter for many other species, including swifts, owls, bats and pine martens.

The female pileated woodpecker lays one clutch per breeding season, with four eggs being most common, although the clutch can range between one and six eggs. The eggs are white and slightly glossy, and are incubated for 15 to 18 days by both the male and female, after which both sexes alternately feed the young in the nest for the next 24 to 28 days. After three to five months, the young leave the adults, but do not venture far from the natal territory.

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In addition to excavating holes for nest and roosting sites, the pileated woodpecker will drill holes into trees to gain access to its wood-boring insect prey, which includes carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.), termites, beetle larvae and other insects. The pileated woodpecker’s long, barbed tongue is used to extract its prey from the wood. This species also feeds on wild nuts and fruit.

Justification (IUCN Red List)

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

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