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18 Interesting Facts About Pileated Woodpeckers

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 01-09-2024

Pileated Woodpeckers are medium-sized birds with vibrant red crest feathers that sit on top of their head. These birds are most commonly found in the eastern and southern portions of the United States. Read on to learn 18 interesting fun facts about Pileated Woodpeckers!

Facts About Pileated Woodpeckers

1. Pileated Woodpeckers Carve Out Rectangular Holes in Trees

A common sign that a Pileated Woodpecker is in the area is the shape of cavities they carve in dead or mature trees. When this bird species is foraging for food under tree bark, they carve out a rectangular-shaped cavity in the tree. When Pileated Woodpeckers create a nesting cavity, the shape is more oblong.

2. Pileated Woodpeckers Are One of the Largest Woodpecker Species in North America

Pileated Woodpeckers range from 15.8 to 19.3 inches (40-49 cm) in length. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was once the largest woodpecker in North America, but announced extinct in 2021. As a result, the Pileated Woodpecker is now considered the largest woodpecker species in North America.

3. Pileated Woodpeckers Are Monogamous

Pileated Woodpeckers will mate for life once they find a partner. Males attract females through a series of courtship displays, such as flight displays, head swinging, raising of the crest feathers, and spreading their wings to reveal white patches.

4. Both Male and Female Pileated Woodpeckers Participate in Feeding Nestlings

Some bird species do not participate in joint feeding of the nestlings. Both parents of the Pileated Woodpecker species participate in feeding by regurgitation of various insects, fruits, and nuts.

5. Pileated Woodpeckers Will Defend Their Territory

During nesting season, Pileated Woodpeckers will defend their territory from predators and other bird species by making loud drumming sounds and calls to deter threats.

pileated woodpecker on a tree
Image credit: birdfeederhub

6. Pileated Woodpecker Nests Take More Than One Month to Build

Male Pileated Woodpeckers spend up to six weeks excavating a nest cavity, typically in a matured or dead tree. Female Pileated Woodpeckers may participate in the nest cavity creation, but males dig out most of the cavity alone. After the outside of the cavity is complete, the Pileated Woodpecker will hollow out the inside of the cavity by chipping at the inside of the tree.

7. Pileated Woodpeckers Do Not Reuse the Same Nesting Cavity Each Year

Even though Pileated Woodpeckers spend quite some time hollowing out a nest cavity, they do not go back to the same cavity every nesting season. These woodpeckers will seek out another tree to excavate a new cavity upon nesting season.

8. Pileated Woodpeckers Play an Important Role in Their Ecosystem

Due to their excessive digging and creating cavities in trees, Pileated Woodpeckers actually create homes for other species that live in the same environment. Depending on the location of the cavity, other bird species, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles may seek shelter in a cavity that a Pileated Woodpecker has created.

9. Carpenter Ants Can Take Up More Than Half of the Pileated Woodpecker Diet

Carpenter ants are a common food source for Pileated Woodpeckers. While probing and pecking at dead trees, Pileated Woodpeckers will peel back bark to reveal various insects that live under tree bark. Pileated Woodpeckers will also seek out carpenter ants in logs and snack on other insects, fruits, and nuts.

pileated on old tree
Image: 272447 |

10. Pileated Woodpeckers Do Not Migrate

Pileated Woodpeckers are most common in the southern portion of the United States year-round. Smaller populations may be found in the northernmost states of the eastern U.S. and southern region of Canada. Migration is very uncommon with Pileated Woodpeckers as they will stay within their range throughout all seasons.

11. Pileated Woodpecker Populations Have Gradually Increased

Forest clearings heightened in the 18th and 19th centuries, causing the homes of Pileated Woodpeckers to be destroyed by deforestation. This led to rapid population decline. However, populations have increased significantly since the 1980s.

Pileated Woodpecker populations have increased by 19.1% each decade in the last 40 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are protected by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

12. Pileated Woodpeckers Prefer Living in Mature Forests

Mature forests are the preferred habitat for Pileated Woodpeckers because they are able to easily find dead trees to excavate cavities and remove bark to forage for food. Pileated Woodpeckers are most commonly found in deciduous or mixed deciduous and coniferous forests.

13. Young Pileated Woodpeckers May Stay With Their Parents Up to 3 Months After Hatching

pileated woodpecker baby in nest
credit: Chris Waits | CC 2.0 | flickr


Many young bird species leave the nest as soon as two or three weeks once they are well enough and able to fly. Young Pileated Woodpeckers leave the nest about a month after hatching, but may stick around with their parents for up to 3 months.

14. Male and Female Pileated Woodpeckers Differ in Appearance

Male and female bird species typically differ greatly in color. Males are usually much brighter, which helps them attract females. Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers do look very similar, but males can be easily identified by the bright red stripe present on the sides of their face.

Females do possess bright red crest feathers on top of their head, but they have a black stripe on their cheeks rather than a red one like males.

15. Hawks Are the Primary Predator of Pileated Woodpeckers

Since Pileated Woodpeckers are fairly large birds, they do not have a wide variety of predators. Pileated Woodpeckers are preyed on mostly by hawks, including the Cooper’s Hawk and Northern Goshawk. Other large, predatory birds may also prey on these woodpeckers, such as the Great Horned Owl.

Cooper’s hawk | Image: mpmochrie |

16. Pileated Woodpeckers Have a Large Habitat Range

Some bird species stick to a smaller home range, while Pileated Woodpeckers tend to live in a larger range averaging between 1.5 to 3 square miles.

17. Pileated Woodpeckers Are in the Picidae Family

The Picidae family includes over 200 species of birds that are characterized by their strong beaks and skulls that allow them to drill and excavate cavities into trees. This family includes the Pileated Woodpecker, along with Wrynecks, Piculets, and several other woodpecker species.

18. Pileated Woodpeckers Can Alert You of Infrastructure Issues

If a Pileated Woodpecker is attracted to your home and pecking on your house, this might be a sign that you have insects, such as termites, living in the wood. Pileated Woodpeckers are attracted to rotting wood and tree bark, which may be another reason a Pileated Woodpecker would be attracted to pecking on your home.