Bird Feature: Pileated Woodpecker

Identifying Pileated Woodpeckers:

This large woodpecker has a long neck, a distinctive triangular red crest that sweeps off the back of the head, and a long chisel-like bill. Average length from beak to tail ranges from 16-19 inches and the wingspan can be as large as 26-29 inches. Both male and female have black bodies with white stripes on the face and neck. Males can be distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek (see image above). 

Even if you can't see them, there are some distinct clues that Pileated Woodpeckers are in the area. The first is the loud drumming sound that can be heard when these large birds drill into dead trees in search of insects. The sound is a somewhat distinct deep, slow rolling pattern. The large holes that Pileated Woodpeckers drill into rotten wood have a rectangular shape that also help to identify the presence of these birds. Their calls are quite loud and have a somewhat "whinnying" sound. Listen to a Pileated call and drumming here.

Attracting Pileated Woodpeckers to Your Feeder:

Pileated Woodpeckers are primarily forest birds requiring an ample supply of standing or downed dead or rotten wood. Because of this, they are not as frequently seen at feeders in more suburban areas. If you do have a wooded area nearby, you may be able to attract these large woodpeckers to a feeder using suet. Suet can be bought ready to feed at the store, or you can make your own. For more information on feeding suet, and suet recipes see our blog post on "A Beginner's Guide to Suet".

Pileated Woodpeckers will come to traditional style hopper feeders with suet cages. A more specialized suet feeder like a tail prop feeder is ideal for this large bird because it offers extended surface area to allow space where the woodpecker can "prop" its tail for balance and feed more comfortably. As with many other bird species, woodpeckers also eat wild fruits and nuts, so incorporating native fruit- or nut-bearing shrubs and trees into your landscape can also help to attract these birds.


Pileated Woodpecker nests are typically located in cavities in dead trees within mature or old stands of either coniferous or deciduous trees. The male excavates the nest cavity and does majority of the work preparing the nest site. The cavity in the tree is excavated anywhere from 10-24 inches in depth and this construction can take 3-6 weeks. Pileated Woodpeckers don't line their nests with any softer material like many other birds do, but may incorporate some left over wood chips from the nest excavation. Nest cavities are not reused for future broods, and these old nest sites can serve as shelter for other small birds and, in some cases, even bats have been known to take up residency in the space.

Typical clutch size is 3-5 eggs with 1 brood per year. Eggs are a little over an inch is length and white in color. Incubation period is two and a half weeks and young will remain in the nest cavity for a month. 

Have you been lucky enough to witness a Pileated Woodpecker? Share your pictures and stories with us in the comment section below!

Comment on this post (4 comments)

  • Nature's Way Bird Products says...

    Hi Sid! How exciting that you possibly saw a tagged Pileated! Bird banding is actually more often done on a birds’ leg so it might or might not have been a banded bird. Banding is regulated by the Federal Government and scientists apply to be able to band and study birds so you might want to research if there are folks or organizations in your area that are studying birds. I found some good information on the website below if you are interested. Happy birding!
    - Nature’s Way Bird Products

    January 20, 2020

  • Sid says...

    Saw a peleated on my shoe mac tree looked like a tag on its wing does anyone tag these birds

    January 20, 2020

  • Nancy Wilson says...

    I saw a pileated woodpecker in Manheim, PA today. He stayed long enough for me to get a video.

    September 27, 2019

  • Helen says...

    Thank you for the information. I have a huge hole in a dead tree in my yard. My tree cutter Ed said it was a Woodpecker. After reading your site, I believe him. Thanks to this bird I now have a large
    Vertical crack in the tree. At least I now have useful information. Thank you again.

    June 20, 2019

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