Birds/ Feathered Friends Backyard Guests/ Free Gardening Tips

Pileated Woodpecker

How to tell the male and female pileated woodpecker apart

Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America. The term pileated comes from the Latin word pileatus meaning “capped”  which refers to the red crest on the top of the birds head.

What Does The Pileated Woodpecker Look Like?

• Adults are 16 – 19 inches long.
• Wingspan of 26-30 inches.
• Mainly a black bird with red crest and a white line running down throat.
• Large bill
• Whack-a-wack-a-wack and kac-kac-kac-kac calls.


How To Tell The Male From The Female

There are a few distinct differences between the male and female pileated.

Male Pileated

The adult male has a red line from the bill to the throat which I like to call the males mustache and also a red line from the top of the bill to the crest.

Male Pileated Woodpecker. Notice red under bill area.
  • Bill longer than head.
  • Head, crest, and malar stripe scarlet ; chin and side of head pale lemon-color or white ; a white patch on the wings ; under wing- coverts white ; rest of plumage dull brownish black ; feathers of belly tipped with ashy color.

Female Pileated

Adult females only have a red crest (head).

Notice there is no red under the bill area of the females.

Female Pileated Woodpecker large red black and white woodpecker
Female Pileated Woodpecker. Note no red under bill area.
  • Bill longer than head
  • Adult Female : Like male, but crown and malar stripe (malar stripe is under the bill area) is a brownish black instead of red.


The birds like mature forests and heavily wooded parks. Prefeing large, mature hardwood trees with plenty of down and rotten trees.  

What They Eat

1.) Carpenter ants and beetle larvae – The pileated woodpeckers mainly eat insects, they love carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. They feed on insect larvae from inside tree and under the bark by using their long tongues to get into the crevices.

2.) Fruits, Nuts, Berries – They forage fruits, nuts, and berries in the wild.  On occasion the birds will come to feeder for black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, peanuts and a variety of berries if using a large platform feeder or feeder attached to a tree.

3.) Suet – They will come to feeders for suet, try your hand at making your own will this recipe. Be sure that your suet holders are firmly attached to a tree and not swinging in the wind.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower Hearts & Chips

Black oil sunflower seeds attract the widest variety of songbirds, including cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

The seed can be used in tubular, hopper or tray feeders


An easy way to prevent litter under under feeders. Great for decks, gardens and patio areas.

Attract finches, cardinals, jays, chickadees and woodpeckers. High in protein, especially great in the winter, when birds need conserve their energy to stay warm


Platform Feeders

Pileated woodpeckers are not a fan of swinging in the wind.

Large wooden platform feeders that are securely fasten to poles and decks are a good choice for pileated woodpeckers to take peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds, and sunflower hearts from.



Unsalted in shell peanuts attract blue jays, woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, squirrels and more.


Suet Feeders


Be sure to purchase a feeder with a extra long tail prop bottom panel, this will allow the Pileated Woodpecker (and for that matter, Flickers & Red-bellied Woodpeckers) to use their tail to support them when on the suet feeder.


Purchase cakes that include rendered beef suet, cracked corn, millet, pecan and nut pieces and processed grain.

Attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, cardinals, siskins, nuthatches, titmice, sparrows, blue jays and juncos


What Feeders and Food Pileated Woodpeckers Eat

Damage They Can Do

Pileated woodpeckers often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees and search out ant colonies.

The holes they create can be oval in size and 4 to 8 inch deep, often seen going up and down the trucks of trees.

The woodpeckers have been known to be some trouble for homeowners on homes, garages and trees.

Attracting Mate

That loud drumming sound they make happens for a reason.

That loud noise is the bird’s way of claiming its territory and attracts a mate. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young.


• Woodpeckers raise their young every year in a hole excavated in the trunk of a large dead tree, from 20 to 75 feet from the ground.

• A roost of a pileated woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes.

• 3-5 eggs that are glossy, transparent white, and become opaque as incubation advances are laid by the female. The eggs rest on a bed of wood chips that line the nesting cavity in a tree in May or June.

• Both parents incubate the eggs 12 to 16 days. The young stay in the nest for about a month.

• The adults feed their young by regurgitation for the first two weeks or longer.

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