Pileated Woodpecker

Common Name: Pileated Woodpecker

Class:  Aves

Order:  Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Genus: Dryocopus

Species: Dryocopus pileatus

photo M. Noonan

 

Taxonomy/Description

 

The Pileated Woodpecker is a member of the Picid family in the Avian Order of Piciformes.  All other living species of woodpecker are also members of Picidae.  The Pileated Woodpecker's scientific name is Dryocopus pileatus, which means "crested tree-hitter". 

The Pileated Woodpecker is an exceptionally large woodpecker.  An adult is usually more than 40 cm long and about 400 grams in weight.  In the field, its size alone usually gives it away.  Another key field mark are the striking white wing bars that flash in flight.  At rest, both sexes display a prominent red crest on top of the heads.  In addition, the adult male has a red line from the bill to the throat.  An adult female has the same line, but it is black.

 

Habitat/Diet

 

The Pileated Woodpecker prefers older forests with many large trees.  Its principal foods are beetle larvae and carpenter ants, which it vigorously excavates from standing dead tree trunks (snags).  It is also known to eat berries and nuts. 

 

Behavior/Reproduction 

 

The Pileated Woodpecker is territorial, and is usually a year-round resident.  It characteristically calls in flight, emitting a staccato-like "laugh". It uses it's heavy, thick bill to excavate fist-sized holes in trees in the pursuit of its insect prey.  It's location is usually easy to detect because of the loud hammering sound it makes as it digs. 

Mating is almost always in monogamous pair bonds.  The birds use their bills to excavate melon-sized cavities in large trees.   They usually lay only one clutch of four eggs each spring.  Both parents take turns brooding the eggs and feeding their hatchlings.

 

Where to see them in WNY

 

One good place to find Pileated Woodpeckers is on the Swallow Hollow Trail at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.  From the parking lot, take the trail heading to the left.  When you reach the earthen dike, look among the standing dead trees in the flooded area on your left. 

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