The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest black and white woodpecker in the United States . These birds are nearly the size of a crow with a 30” wingspan. The most obvious feature of the Pileated Woodpecker is its large, red crest. On males the crest is totally red but on females the crest is dark on the forehead and only red toward the top and back of the head. (yes, Woody Woodpecker was modeled after these beautiful birds. Read more fun facts about Pileateds in Al Batt’s article.) There are black and white markings on the face, starting at the very large bill and extending down the side of the neck. Males have a red “mustache” whereas females do not. The body is all black with a long tail. In flight the wings show white linings. The size and prominent crest of Pileateds make them hard to miss.
Pileated Woodpeckers can be fairly secretive birds. This is not to say that they do not appear in backyards, but if you are getting Pileateds to your feeders many folks will be envious. Pileateds prefer large expanses of mature woodland for their territories. They need fairly large trees, at least 16” in diameter, in which to excavate nest cavities. The Pileated Woodpecker ranges over most of the Eastern United States and the West Coast, wherever there are sufficient stands of large trees. A telltale sign of a Pileated’s territory are the large, rectangular holes that the Pileated Woodpecker makes while foraging for insects.
Insects, especially carpenter ants, make up toe majority of the Pileated Woodpecker’s diet. Their powerful bill allows them to excavate deep into tree bark and heartwood to find insects even in the dead of winter. They will also forage on nuts and berries when they are available. Having a Pileated come to a suet feeder is a great experience. These large birds really prefer to use larger style feeders. Use a double suet cage, or a cage with a “tail prop” so the birds can use their tails to balance like they would on a tree trunk. A log suet feeder also works great if you are being visited by a Pileated Woodpecker.