Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

The majestic Pileated Woodpecker is North America’s largest woodpecker, due to the unfortunate, virtual extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. If you listen closely in the forest, you will be sure to hear the pileated calling or drumming, and if you’re lucky enough, you may even catch a glimpse of it flying by or hammering on a snag.

Photo by George Mason

Photo by George Mason

Why they Matter to Us

Pileated Woodpeckers

  • are majestic birds that are fascinating to watch and a welcome visitor at any suet feeder

  • spark the interest of many birders and wildlife photographers

  • play a crucial role in forest ecosystems: their abandoned nest holes offer shelter and nesting habitat for many species of wildlife, including small owls, ducks, bats, and even pine martens

  • consume large numbers of wood-boring insects that damage trees

How You Can Help

Nest at Boisvert's GreenWoods

Nest at Boisvert's GreenWoods

  • Sponsor a Pileated Woodpecker  to help EALT protect important old growth forest habitat.

    • Our Boisvert’s GreenWoods Conservation Lands is home to nesting Pileated Woodpeckers. This natural area conserves important old growth forest where numerous species of woodpeckers have plenty of snags – crawling with bugs – to feast on. 
  • If you live near a ravine, or any woodpecker habitat, you can hang a suet feeder on a tree to help provide food for Pileated Woodpeckers. 
  • Leave dead or dying trees standing (rather than knocking them down) in natural areas and green spaces. They provide lots of food for woodpeckers.

How to Identify

Identify by Sight

To identify the Pileated Woodpecker, look for these distinguishing features:

Male Pileated Woodpecker by Doris May

Male Pileated Woodpecker by Doris May

  • solid black back
  • white stripes on the face
  • flaming red crest
  • long chisel-like bill
  • males have a red mustache

Identify in Flight

To identify the Pileated Woodpecker as it flies by, look for these clues:

  • undulating flight pattern
  • extensive white underwings
  • small white crescents on upper side of wings

Identify by Sound

Characteristic rectangular feeding hole made by Pileated Woodpeckers

Characteristic rectangular feeding hole made by Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers have a loud, shrill piping call with notes that sound like ‘wuk’ or ‘cuk’. It is similar to the Northern Flicker’s call, but is less even tone, with changing emphasis throughout. They also make a deep drumming sound when feeding or when trying to attract a mate in the spring.

  • Click here to listen to the many sounds of a Pileated Woodpecker.

Identify by Sign

You can tell a Pileated Woodpecker lives in the area by their uniquely distinguishable rectangular holes left in snags where they feed. Other common woodpecker species in Alberta leave smaller, round holes when they excavate for bugs.

Where to Find

Pileated Woodpeckers are found throughout most of Alberta, in forested regions. They live in mature forest and young forests which are scattered with a supply of large dead trees. You can find these woodpeckers right in Edmonton’s river valley! 

Pileated Woodpeckers are residents and do not migrate in the winter. They have plenty of food sources to sustain them year round.

Social Life

by Doris May

by Doris May

  • Pileated Woodpecker pairs stay together in their territory all year.
  • They defend their territory, only tolerating new arrivals in the winter months.

Food Chain

  • Food: mainly ants and other wood-boring insects; also fruits, nuts, and berries.
  • Predators to the nest: martens, weasels, and squirrels, but the adults will guard their nest – which was observed by a photographer watching a nest and an intruding squirrel. Click here to see photos.
  • Predators to the adult birds: some hawk and owl species.

Fun Facts

  • The oldest known Pileated Woodpecker was 12 years, 11 months old.
  • You can pronounce ‘pileated’ two ways, with a short ‘I’ sound (pill-ee-ated) or a long ‘I’ sound (pile-ee-ated).
  • A group of Pileated Woodpeckers is called a “crown”.
  • A woodpecker’s head moves 6 m/s at each peck enduring a deceleration more than 1,000 times that of gravity. Scientists have been studying woodpeckers’ skulls to find out how the birds can peck with such force, without resulting in injury to their brain. This research may be helpful in designing more effective head protection for people.


Help conserve homes for Pileated Woodpeckers by donating to EALT today!