The Pileated Woodpecker

DeerThe Pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America and is actually quite rare in some areas. However, I’m pleased to report that it’s alive & well and living in central Ontario.

The Pileated is a large crow-sized woodpecker possessing a bright red crest which extends from the upper mandible all the way past the crown of the skull to the eye-line at the rear of the skull.


This bird is strikingly beautiful and easy to spot simply because of it’s grand size and vibrant colour combination. The body feathers are almost entirely black except for tinges of white edging the primary feathers on the wings and the under-wing area including the axillars (a type of feathers which are located close to the bird’s body on the underside). A white stripe extends from below the eye curving upwards as it reaches the back of the skull, where it stops, and then proceeds down the nape of the neck, just to the back of the ear (auricular).

Even in flight this giant woodpecker is easily identified by it’s thrusting, pumping, but relatively slow wing beats, as it moves from tree to tree. Of course, if nothing else, it’s sheer size is a direct indication of the type of bird that it is. The adult Pileated can measure from 16” – 19.5” or 40 cm – 49 cm. They prefer conifer, mixed and hardwood forests and thick woodlots. Their diet consists of insects – ants and grubs, etc.

In some areas of Canada and the United States where they were once prolific, wide scale logging practices have seriously decimated their populations. One of the main factors leading to their decline, has been the destruction of dead stands of timber, which in many cases provides them with much of their food source and lodging. Dead poplar, birch, mountain ash and white pine are normally the favourite hosts for these birds to raise their young in, while at the same time these dead trees harbour their food source. It’s a rather convenient set up. Gourmet meals every night and they don’t even have to leave home.

You can always tell if a Pileated has been around. Just look at the dead trees in any given woodlot, preferably in an area with a marsh, swamp or other body of water nearby, and you’re bound to see large oblong or oval holes up and down the tree. Some of these holes can match the size of the birds themselves. I’ve seen some holes measuring 45 cm long and 15 cm wide, with the base of the tree looking as if a wood chip factory was present.

Their call is a loud shrill ki ki ki ki ki ki ki – ki ki and does not appear to follow any set pattern. With this woodpecker disappearing from so many areas, it’s nice to see that it appears to be doing very well in the Central Ontario region.


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