Back to Nature (Published on - Oct. 18, 2006)
A rare glimpse at the pileated woodpecker
Photo by Rick Tremmel
In spite of its large 16- to 19-inch size and very loud, ringing call, the pileated woodpecker is also shy, making it a difficult bird to observe.
“Magnificent” describes the pileated woodpecker who is often heard before seen. The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in most of North America.

This bird can be 16 to 19 inches long, with a wingspan of 26 to 30 inches and can weigh up to 12.36 ounces.

In spite of its size and very loud, ringing call “cuk-cuk-cuk, wuck-a-wuck-a-wuck-a” the pileated woodpecker is also shy, making it a difficult bird to observe.

At the turn of the century the pileated woodpecker had drastically declined in numbers. Today the pileated woodpecker is listed as protected but is not on the threatened or the endangered species lists. This woodpecker is truly a symbol of hope.

Cornell University’s lab of ornithology: “Pileated Woodpecker populations declined greatly with the clearing of the Eastern forests. The species rebounded in the middle 20th century, and has been increasing slowly but steadily in most of its range as second growth forests have matured. Only in Arkansas do numbers seem to be going down.”

The pileated woodpecker can be found from the northern areas of Canada including the Yukon Territory down to the southern areas of the United States such as Florida and along our Gulf Coast. The pileated woodpecker (the bird that the cartoon figure, Woody Woodpecker, was fashioned after) prefers forested areas where it hammers rectangular or oval shaped holes in trees while in search of its favorite meal, carpenter ants, but also likes fruits, nuts and beetles.

The pileated woodpecker is black with a dramatic, flaming red crest. The female’s red cap is slightly less distinctive. Both male and female have a white line down the sides of the throat, but the males also have the red line or “mustache” from the bill to the throat and red on the front of the crown. Both male and female pileated woodpeckers flash white on the underwings in flight. The pileated woodpecker pair is monogamous, staying together within their territory all year round.

A close relative of the pileated woodpecker is the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was considered, until recently, extinct. Keep your eyes and ears open in search of the elusive pileated woodpecker and the once believed extinct ivory-billed woodpecker while birding in Florida’s panhandle. According to National Geographic, “The elusive ivory-billed woodpecker may be living in Florida, according to new evidence. The ivory-billed woodpecker, long believed extinct, may survive along the Choctawhatchee River in the state’s Panhandle, scientists report today in the online scientific journal Avian Conservation and Ecology.”

To view an excellent gallery of photos comparing the ivory-billed woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker visit 50 Birds online:

This pileated woodpecker is gradually moving closer to our city limits and second growth forests in adaptation of losing its permanent wooded habitats. Although the pileated woodpecker may require careful stalking to observe, the mere sight of this awe-inspiring bird is worth every single effort … back to nature.

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