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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Where and How to Spot Pileated Woodpeckers

The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a crow-sized, North American woodpecker that inhabits forests across the eastern United States, throughout Canada and parts of the Pacific coast. It is the largest woodpecker in the United States, with the possible exception of the possibly extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers are easy to recognize due to
their size, dark coloration and distinctive red crest. Except for the undersides of the wings, the pileated woodpecker is predominantly black. The undersides of the wings are white and can be spotted when the bird is in flight. There are also black and white stripes on its face and neck. The differences in color between male and female specimens of this woodpecker are mainly limited to the coloring of the crest with the male’s plumes covering his head from the base of the bill to the backside of his head. The female’s crest, on the other hand, begins at the very top of the head and continues to the backside. The male also has a red stripe that runs along the side of his head. This is often referred to as his mustache.

Pileated woodpeckers eat carpenter ants, beetle larvae and other insects, drilling distinctive rectangular holes in dead wood to get to them. It will also feed on wild fruits and nuts, but ants constitute the bulk of its diet. In addition to drilling holes in trees to get at insects, it also excavates large holes in trees to create nests.

The nests of the pileated woodpecker are made in tree cavities, which is begun by the male and worked on by both the male and female, and eggs are laid in batches of four. These eggs are incubated by both parents during the day while the male incubates them at night. The normal incubation period is slightly longer than two weeks and the young woodpeckers fledge, or develop wing feathers large enough to fly, at approximately a month old.

Pileated woodpeckers are very territorial during most of the year. Once it has attracted a mate it ‘drums’ on dead trees to mark its territory and will not tolerate new arrivals except during the winter months. This drumming sounds like loud hammering and can be heard for quite a distance. The pileated woodpecker’s territory is usually within a mature stand of coniferous or deciduous trees, but this will vary depending on the level of forest growth. Dead and fallen trees or even younger growth can attract these woodpeckers if their preferred habitat is not available. These woodpeckers compete with wood ducks, European starlings, Eastern bluebirds and other woodpeckers for territory. However, you can occasionally find swifts and even bats sharing roost cavities with pileated woodpeckers.

The sight and sound of the pileated woodpecker is as distinctive as the bird itself is. With its undulating flight and large size, they can easily be identified in flight, and the red crest that crowns their head along with their distinctive call allows identification while roosting or foraging.
pileated woodpecker eating on suet feeder

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