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Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

There is no mistaking the Pileated Woodpecker. It is the crow-sized black woodpecker with the flaming red crest and a call like a maniacal laugh which inspired the character Woody Woodpecker.

The Pileated Woodpecker is our largest woodpecker, at nineteen inches. Pileated are mostly black but in flight flash white from the undersides of the wings and a wingbar on top. Both sexes appear much alike, but the male’s red crest extends lower on its head and the moustache line is red instead of black. Both have yellow eyes and a large daggershaped bill. Instead of singing to attract a mate and establish territories, woodpeckers drum by banging on hollow logs. Each species has its own rhythm. The drumming of the Pileated is unmistakably loud due to the large bill.

These bills are used for chiseling out fist-sized, rectangular holes in dead or dying trees to search for their favorite food–carpenter ants. You often see two of these distinctive holes, one directly on top of the other. Many species of birds and small mammals depend on these holes for shelter and nesting.

Pileated Woodpecker pairs generally require a hundred acres of mature forest to support themselves. Their numbers have increased with the change in lumber practices. A pair will take three to six weeks to excavate a nesting cavity. The female lays four white eggs on a bed of wood chips. The male takes the night shift and incubates the eggs and later the young brood. Young leave the nest in about a month.

Other names include Black Woodpecker, Carpenterbird, Woodcock or Good God bird.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan January 2012
Pileated Woodpecker photo Nöel Lee