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"Jackhammer" The Pileated Woodpecker

Updated on April 13, 2014

Pileated Woodpecker at Nest


It was the last Saturday of March and the sun was just poking its head up in the eastern sky turning night into day.  I was enjoying my morning cup of coffee and looking out my window when a large bird flashed past and landed on a power pole at the end of my driveway about  30 yards from where I was standing.   As I focused my gaze I realized I was looking at the “Jack Hammer” of the forest, the Pileated Woodpecker.  I’m not sure I should call this bird beautiful, after all it was the inspiration for the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker, but I will, this beautiful bird was clinging to the pole about 20 feet above the ground when its body partially disappeared.  I continued to watch, and the bird reappeared.   I realized that this bird was excavating its spring nest.  I’ve been watching for several days and have seen both the male and female working on this nest, and in this short time the nesting cavity has been excavated to the point that either of the woodpeckers can enter completely and be totally out of sight.   It would be my guess that the female will soon be laying eggs.  With my binoculars I should have a Birdseye view of this new family in the making.  I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. 

Feeding Young

I did a little research on The Pileated Woodpecker and here’s what I learned.      

The Pileated Woodpecker is slightly smaller than the American Crow.  Their length is from 40 to 49cm or 16 to 19 inches and they weigh between 250 to 350 grams or ½ to ¾ pounds.  Overall,  The Pileated Woodpecker’s feathers appear black.  They have a long tail that they use as brace when chiseling.  Underneath their wings, they have white wing linings which are visible during flight and when a wing is extended.  They have a white line that starts at the bill and runs across the cheek and down the neck.  Both the male and female have a red crest  atop their head.  The red crest on the male starts from the bill, and runs to the nape of the neck while the red crest starts farther back on the head of the female.  The males have a red mustached stripe on the sides of their face that the female lacks.  Both male and females have yellow eyes.  The upper part of their bill is blackish in color, and the bottom half is a horn color.

Here are some interesting facts about this bird;                            

·         The Pileated Woodpecker is the third largest woodpecker in North America.  The Imperial and the Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers are larger although they are generally considered extinct.

·         Territory size varies between 1000 and 4000 acres.  They will defend their territory year round.

·         Northern birds tend to be larger in size than birds in southern populations.

·         They sleep in roost cavities.  Each bird normally sleeps alone, one bird per roost.  Although, on some occasions more than one will occupy a roost.  The roost trees they use have multiple entrance holes to provide alternate escape routes from predators.  Roosting and nesting in cavities provides protection from weather and from predators. 

·         Predators of the Pileated Woodpecker include; Northern Goshawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Weasels, Martens, Squirrels, and some snakes such as the Black Rat Snake.

·         To declare their territory they drum by striking their bill on a hard surface such as a tree or utility  pole.  Drumming is done at 14 to 16 beats seconds.

These woodpeckers reside in North America throughout Canada and the United States.  Their range covers from northern areas of Canada (as far north as the Yukon Territory) to southerly areas of the United States such as Florida along the Gulf Coast with their eastern and western range going from Nova Scotia to the west coast of California.  They are not found in the southwestern United States.  They occupy areas of mature coniferous and deciduous forests that contain large numbers of dead trees.  They do well in urban areas that contain many large trees and urban forested areas such as parks and golf courses, and also use river corridors to make homes.  This wood peckers favorite food item is the Carpenter Ant.  They also eat other insects such as wood boring beetle larvae as well as wild fruits and nuts.  They obtain their insect food by scaling bark off trees and cresting excavations in trees to expose ant colonies.  The Pileated Woodpecker uses its long tongue to catch and extract ants from tunnels. 

Pileated Woodpeckers are monogamous, meaning they stay with the same mate for life.  Each spring the male and female woodpeckers  share the work  creating a new nest cavity.  The Pileated Woodpecker has one brood per season.  The average clutch size is four eggs, but can range from one to six, with both parents aiding in the incubation of the eggs.  At the time of hatching, the young are naked and helpless with both parents sharing in the feeding of the young by regurgitation.  Fledgling usually occurs after 24 – 30 days, differing with different latitudes and locations.  After Fledging, the young depend on their parents for several months, at least until September.  The parents provide food and teach them to acquire their own food during this time.  In the fall the young leave their parents and wander until spring.  They will then nest and acquire their own territories.

References for this article,  Bull, E. L. and J.E. Jackson 1995 Pileated Woodpecker.   In The Birds of North America, # 148 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds).   The Academy of Natural Sciences,  Philadelphia, PA.   The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.


If you live in a wooded area and are interested in these birds, you can attract them to your yard.   They will visit suet and bird feeders and will drink water from bird baths.  You can put out a roosting house for their sleeping needs.  Good Luck and Good Birding.


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    • profile image

      AC Witschorik 7 years ago from Victoria, Mn.

      They will take woodpeckers and they certainly will take the eggs from the nest

    • Daddy Paul profile image

      Daddy Paul 7 years ago from Michigan

      I had no idea the Black Rat Snake ate woodpeckers.


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