Published on February 12, 2013 by Amy
The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocophus pileatus) is one of the most interesting birds of North America. Its large, awkward head shape, bright colors, and unusual call make it an exciting bird to encounter in the woods. However, this bird is rarely seen, because it stays concealed. Pileated Woodpeckers are cool birds. Woody Woodpecker was a Pileated Woodpecker.
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The Pileated is the largest woodpecker of the woodpecker family. An adult is 17″ or about the size of a crow. It has a long, broad, bill used for pecking holes in trees. It appears almost entirely black, when perched on a tree. It has a bright red crown and crest, white supercilium and throat, and white band running back from lores and down neck side to upper flanks. The male has a red mustache, which is black in the females and red in juveniles. It has a slightly undulating flight that reveals very prominent white area on front half of underwing and some white at bases of primaries and secondaries in both males and females. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a larger species that is similar except it has a black throat and crown. However, this species is now thought to be extinct.
The Pileated Woodpecker is found in the east from the forested parts of eastern North Dakota down to eastern Texas and extending to the east to the Atlantic Coast. It tends to reside in mature forests, older second growth, and occasionally wooded suburbs. The preferred forests are deciduous and mixed deciduous and coniferous. Mature, tall and extensive stands of trees are favored. Evidence suggests that they prefer riparian woodland and stands older than 40 years. For nesting they often prefer trees over 70 years old and close to water. Elongated holes are often the only physical signs that it occupies an area.
When the Pileated Woodpecker allows itself to be seen it is usually alone. Paired birds keep only loose contact but pairs may roost relatively close together in the non-breeding season. It is not afraid to feed at many levels in the forest. It will work on fallen trees as well as ant hills. Pecking and hammering comprise 60-95% of the foraging activities in winter. Dead wood is preferred for pecking and hammering but the woodpecker also scales and probes the bark. This is done carefully to find any of the small insects, which it calls food, hiding in the bark. The main food it eats is the carpenter ant. It also consumes wood-boring beetles, termites, and caterpillars. It will also pluck fruit from branches. The Pileated also has different displays including: crest-raising, wing-spreading, and head swinging. These displays can excavate into stabbing with the beak, if a confrontation lingers on. Displays are also used when finding a mate. Flashing the white parts of the wing and a fluttering aerial display are two common ones.
Courtship activities end as early as winter and eggs are laid in April or May. A new nest is excavated each year, by both sexes. This is done in old living or dead trees. The nests are often found on edges of forests and power poles but they are most common on the interior of the forest. The clutch size ranges from 2-4 eggs. Incubation is done by both parents and takes about 18 days. The male tends to incubate at night. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation, brood the young chicks, and participate in nest sanitation. The young fledge after 26-28 days and the parents each feed part of the fledged brood.
A woodpecker group roosts and nests in a cluster of 1 to 30 cavity trees. Most clusters have some cavities under construction, some completed and in use, and some abandoned.