Illustration of pileated woodpecker

Illustration by Donald L. Malick


Map: Pileated Woodpecker range


The pileated is a crow-size, crested woodpecker of forested areas that feeds largely on carpenter ants and beetles extracted from fallen logs, stumps, and living trees. Foraging birds excavate large, rectangular holes in trunks and logs. Polytypic. Length 16" (42 cm).

Identification Mostly black, with a slaty-black bill, white chin, white stripe from bill down neck to sides of breast, a white patch at base of primaries, and extensive white on the underwing linings. Flight consists of deep, irregular crowlike wing beats with little or no undulation. Adult male: red crown, crest and malar mark. Adult female: forecrown mottled black, malar black.

Geographic Variation Two to four subspecies recognized, but differences are minor; northern birds average larger.

Similar Species Ivory-billed woodpecker; virtually all ivory-billed reports turn out to be pileateds. Crows with aberrant white wing patches can momentarily suggest a pileated.

Voice Call: a long, flickerlike series kee kee kee kee, often slightly irregular in cadence. Also, single wuk or cuk notes. Drum: loud and resonant, lasting 1–3 seconds with about 15 beats a second; beat rate accelerates slightly, often trails off at very end.

Status and Distribution Common and widespread in Southeast; uncommon and more localized in the Great Lakes region, boreal areas, and the Pacific coast. Year-round: dense coniferous and deciduous forests and woodlots, with suitable presence of large older trees, snags, and downed wood. Vagrant: wanders casually slightly away from resident range, with documented records in California from coastal Los Angeles County and the San Joaquin Valley; there are also unsubstantiated reports for east-­central Alaska, Colorado, Utah, northwestern Arizona, and southern New Mexico.

Population Generally stable.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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