Dryocopus pileatuspileated woodpecker

Geographic Range

Resident through forested North America from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, s. Quebec, and central Ontario south to s. Florida, and west to forested river bottoms extending into the Great Plains in e. Texas and se. Oklahoma. The winter range is also the same. A permanent resident of deciduous or coniferous forests in southern Canada and in the western, midwestern, and eastern United States.


Coniferous or deciduous forest. Prefers to nest in mesic areas, close to streams; selects stands with greatest basal area, greatest density of stems, and highest crown canopy. Typically roost in hollow trees with multiple entrances.

Physical Description

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker found in most of North America. Only the possibly extirpated Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) in the southeastern United States and Cuba and the Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) of western Mexico are larger. Dryocopus pileatus is best recognized by its large, dull black body and red crest. Because of its size and chisel-shaped bill, this woodpecker is particularly adept at excavating, and it uses this ability to construct nests and roost cavities and to find food.

  • Average mass
    364 g
    12.83 oz


Dryocopus pileatus is oviparous, its incubation period is approximately 12-14 days. Both parents incubate eggs alternately during the day; the male incubates at night. The eggs are attended 99% of the time. Kilham (1979) reported that eggs were unattended for up to 20 minutes in the first few days; attended nearly 100% of the time after that. A clutch size of 4 is most common in this woodpecker.

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    18 days



Adapted primarily for climbing on vertical surfaces; occasionally hops on the ground. Awkward on small branches and vines when reaching for fruit. A strong flyer with slightly undulating strong flight; flight is rather slow but vigorous and direct. Sleeps or roosts in cavity at night. During conflict with conspecies, much chasing, calling, striking with wings, and jabbing with its bill. Drumming usually occurs atop a dead tree that resonates sound; most frequent in the morining, but can occur through the day and increases in frequency during early spring as courtship activities begin. Drumming is used to proclaim a territory.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

This woodpecker feeds on insects, primarily carpenter ants and woodboring beetle larvae; also wild fruits and nuts. It pries off long slivers of wood to expose ant galleries. The Pileated Woodpecker uses its long, extensible, pointed tongue with barbs and sticky saliva to catch and extract ants from tunnels.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As a large, non-migratory insectivore, the pileated woodpecker may provide an important role in controlling insect outbreaks, particularly those of tree beetles. Also, this woodpecker may be a keystone species because its nest excavations provide habitat for many other species (Aubrey and Raley, 2002).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Dryocopus pileatus hollows out nests 8 inches wide and 2 feet deep. Homeowners and utility companies are often concerned about damage to homes and trees. However, there are many products now on the market to prevent or repair this damage. Also, providing nesting boxes or other nesting habitat for the birds may be a successful strategy (Texas Partners in Flight, 2000). It is illegal to harm or remove the birds without a permit.

Conservation Status

Pileated woodpeckers have a large range and large population size, so they are not considered threatened or endangered. They are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.


Diana Young (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Beckwith, R.C., Scat Analysis of the arthropod of the Pileated Woodpecker diet. 1985. Library of Congress.

Bull, E.L., Jackson, J.A., Birds of North America. 1995. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York. Blanford Press.

Renken, R.B., Wiggers E. P., Habitat Characteristics related to Pileated Woodpecker densities in Missouri. 1985. Library of Congress.

Aubrey, K., C. Raley. 2002. "The pileated woodpecker as a keystone species: USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-181" (On-line). Accessed 21 April 2003 at http://www.psw.fs.fed.us/Tech_Pub/Documents/gtr-181/023_AubryRaley.pdf.

Texas Partners in Flight, 2002. "Woodpecker damage: A simple solution to a common problem" (On-line). Accessed 21 April 2003 at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/wildlife_habitat/pdf_docs/nuisance_woodpecker%20.pdf.