You have probably heard a woodpecker at some point in your life, but have you been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the bird behind the noise? The Pileated Woodpecker – one of the biggest, most striking birds in North America – is a particularly beautiful sight. This black bird with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest is nearly the size of a crow. Its bill is long and chisel-like, about the length of the head.
Any forest type can sustain Pileated Woodpeckers as long as there are trees large enough for roosting and nesting, although these birds are typically found in mature and old-growth forests. These powerful woodpeckers chip out characteristic oval or rectangular excavations in the trees where they forage for their prey, including wood-boring insects and insects that nest in trees like long-horned beetles and carpenter ants. These holes can be so large that they weaken smaller trees or even cause them to break in half. The sound of the Pileated Woodpecker’s hammering carries long distances through the woods. They also drum to attract mates and to establish the boundaries of their territory. These birds roost in hollow trees with multiple entrance holes. These roosting cavities are used later by many other birds and small animals.
Shooting for sport and food was formerly a significant source of mortality for Pileated Woodpeckers; fortunately, shooting these birds is now illegal. Clear-cutting of old-growth and other forests currently has the most significant impact on Pileated Woodpecker habitat, but this species is fairly adaptable, which offsets some of the impact from habitat loss.