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Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Mike Oxley

Cornwall Ontario, Canada

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Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
Cooper Marsh, Lancaster, Ontario, Canada
May 6, 2011

The clouds were staring to get darker and I decided to head back to the car. As I passed the old tree stump by the edge of the pond, this big bugger flew out right in front of me from behind it, squawking. Fair startled me it did. Anyway, once I had regained my breath and the echoes of profanity diminished into the distance, I noticed it was hanging a beating on the trees on the other side of the picnic area, so I moved closer (Stealth Mode, again) and saw it was doing a couple of the stereotypical “The Woodpecker On The Tree Trunk” poses. Couple of shots taken. Yawn. Then, for some obscure reason known only to itself, it decided to go to ground, so to speak, and started hopping along the grass. It stopped at the edge of the pond and started looking around.
“Thanks, me beauty!”, I said.

So here it is. One Pileated Woodpecker, flaunting convention.

A few facts, with thanks to

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest North American woodpecker. Although the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is actually larger, its numbers (Ivory-billed) are such that it is considered near or at extinction.


Measuring 16-19 inches long with a red crest and black bill. You’ll find these birds in mature forest with large trees.

The male Pileated has a red patch at the base of the bill whereas the female has a black patch at the base of the bill.

The territory of these birds can be 150-200 acres. Signs of their presence can be detected by lookin for 3-6 inch holes in trees.

Using suet feeders can bring them close up for a good look.

Since these birds eat carpenter ants and the ants tunnel deep into the wood, the birds will excavate a long gash in a tree to retrieve ants.

Mating Habits

Pileated Woodpeckers have been observed performing a courtship dance. This dance consist of one bird bowing, scraping, and stepping sideways in a circle around another bird.
Pair bonds tend to be for life and pairs stay together all year long. During Fall and Winter the Pileated Woodpecker pair roost at different locations during the night. Males sometimes use the previous nest site as their night time roost.

Pileated Woodpecker Nesting Habits

The nest cavity is excavated in dead wood 15-70 feet above ground. The entrance hole is about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. The depth of the cavity is between 10-24 inches deep.

The female will lay 3-5 white eggs which will be incubated for 15-16 days by both the male and female birds. Both male and female will also feed the nestlings. After 24 – 28 days the young will leave the nest.

The adults and young will stay together until fall. During this time the adult birds will continue to feed them and teach them how to find their own food. Around September, the family will break up and the young will find territories of their own.

Common predators include: Black snakes, Coopers Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Squirrels.
While not a rare bird, they can be quite shy and wary. Listen for a low-pitched drumming that trails off in speed and volume at the end. Follow the sound, and you just may find one.

Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 170 to 500 at 500 mm
iso 200, spot metered, F6.3, 1/60 second

Artwork Comments

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