Our largest North American Woodpecker

February 8, 2011

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the Pileated Woodpecker as “nearly as large as a crow…”. Wow, if you’ve ever seen one of these birds, they look way bigger than a crow!  So, I had to look up the lengths of the respective birds. Cornell gives measurements for the Pileated Woodpecker at 15.7 to 19.3 inches long with a wingspan of 26 to 29 inches. They measure the American Crow at 15.7 to 20 inches long with a wingspan of 33.5 to 39.4 inches. So, the crow is definitely a bigger bird but the Pileated looks so huge, it’s hard to believe.  Maybe it’s the enormous bill and the red crested head that influences the impression.

The Pileated is found east of the Mississippi, across southern Canada and down through the Pacific coast states. Pairs stay together on their 150 – 200 acre territory throughout the year. A telltale sign that Pileated are in the area are the large, 3-6 inch holes they excavate in dead trees as they search for carpenter ants.  One huge, dead tree on my property was at least 3 ½ feet in diameter. It had so many of these holes in it that one day it broke in half with a deafening crack. An interesting fact—because these big birds excavate nesting cavities in the largest and tallest trees, their nests can be subject to lightning strikes! Pileated Woodpeckers will also eat wood-boring beetles, seeds and fruit and they will come to bird feeders for suet.  If you’ve seen a Pileated or a pair in your area, you might attract them to your yard with a suet feeder. They can manage smaller suet baskets, but the best feeder for them would be a large, tail-prop suet feeder.

Sometimes you might hear these birds before you see them. As they drill for ants it almost sounds like someone is whacking a tree with a sledgehammer. If you hear a sound like that and wonder what it is, go looking for it!  You just may get your first glimpse of this remarkable bird!

–R. Brune

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Dee Belanger February 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Thanks for the info! I’m on the search!!

Donna Bierman February 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Are the territorial? Only one pair to such a large area or do they share their areas? I see them frequently here in north central Arkansas and hear the calls just as often. Majestic looking birds!

corrine February 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for this! I hadn’t seen hardly any for the last 3 years in northern VA until this Fall. Now I see and/or hear them almost every day, and once in a while they visit my tail prop suet feeder! Always exciting when they come visit.

R. Brune February 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I read they will not share their territory in nesting season but may to some extent in the winter. I’ve only seen one at a time, probably the same one. I do live near a tract of land that is at least 200 acres of deep woods, so I think it hangs out there for the most part.

Bonnie Tappan February 8, 2011 at 6:37 pm

We have the large tail-prop suet feeder and have frequently seen two pileated woodpeckers in and around our feeding area.

I am not sure by your article. Would there be only one pair per 150 to 200 acre site?

Lynn Czarniawski February 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm

We have very tall trees in our area that have attracted a least one pair, if not two pairs of pileated woodpeckers. On our back deck we have a small suet feeder with short tail that they come to frequently. They seem to enjoy the Heath orange suet the best! It’s amazing to see them fly in and out from the feeder. We would love to find where they might be nesting. We also had a 2 foot high tree trunk that they eventually whittled down to the ground!! Very helpful birds!!

R. Brune February 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Well, Cornell says their territory is 150-200 acres and they don’t share it except a little bit in winter. So, if you have two or several it could be a pair and their offspring which haven’t established their own territory yet.

K Allen February 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

We have a pileated pair that visit our suet feeder daily. They are so flighty that if they see movement in one of our windows, off they go. Love having them at our feeder and they are HUGE!!

rhode island RED February 19, 2011 at 8:31 pm

HI FROM LITTLE RHODE ISLAND !! MY DREAM IS TO SEE ONE OF THESE COOL LOOKING BIRDS !!! LAST WEEK ONE MALE WAS PHOTOGRAPHED IN LINCOLN WOODS, RI. A RARE SIGHTING !!!

Roberta February 21, 2011 at 10:36 am

I absolutely love that photo of the Pileated with it’s two babies sticking their little heads out of the tree trunk! That would be a treat to see!

Nancy February 21, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I saw one for the first time ever a couple weeks ago and we live in western Wisconsin. It’s almost prehistoric looking – very impressive!

Mary Dugan February 22, 2011 at 9:24 am

I Have 3 of them in the woods by my house

Carolyn Dixon March 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Last year I was able to photograph three of them on a tree across the road from where we live. You could tell one was a baby and trying to reach where the mom or dad was and on the other branch was the other parent.
they are really fun to watch but I’ve been told can do lots of damage.

TJ Cole April 12, 2011 at 9:10 am

Saw three together in the Village of Fairport New York. They all looked about the same size. Does anyone know if the adolescent birds stay with the parents?

m chichester May 29, 2011 at 11:14 am

wonderful,the right stuff for the bird lover on line i have many woodpeckers in my large yard also the meadowlark has a nest very protective i cannot walk by it gets so defensive so i watch and feed it from my bedroom it loves peanuts.which i just put in a small tray i shall returne to shop your wonderful catalog thank you for helping my backyard projects m chichester portsmouth va.

James Bell October 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm

How far off the ground should the Eco-Strong Tail Prop Suet Feeder be hung to attract Pileateds?

Kathleen M. October 25, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I was lucky enough to view this bird as I sat on a hillside,overlooking a lake, at Lake of The Ozarks, Missouri. I enjoyed watching this bird go from just a few chosen tall trees,but always ending up at this super tall old dead tree.This one was by himself,never seeing another one in sight.I sat there for a number of hours in a late summer day,listening to him call and peck.It was a treat.

Dan November 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

Hi i live in Maryland and have around ten acres of woods outback of my patio .There are alot of rotten trees all through the woods. We have about six different woodpeckers that have shown up at my seedfeeders and suet feeders.We have pileated woodpeckers and when they show up you know it. They like peanutbutter suet and about pull down my seedfeeders when i put seed with fruit and nuts mixed with the seed. For some reason the like to get on my window screens and peck.They are a beautiful bird.

Pam January 18, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I saw a pair today outside the Nature Center at Blacklick Woods in Reynoldsberg, Ohio. They were beautiful, big and loud

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