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, so they can balance their tail while feeding.
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!
Written by R. Brune