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Bird Gallery

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker (male)
Pileated Woodpecker (male)

© Wayne Wendel

Dryocopus pileatus

Family: (Picidae) Woodpeckers

Preferred Habitat: Old growth woodlands.

Seasonal Occurrence: Common permanent resident.

Profile by Vicki Stittleburg: A large, crow-sized woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker is mostly black with white stripes on the face and neck and a flaming red crest. White wing linings are visible when the bird is in flight. The dark bill is long and chisel-like, about the length of the head. The eyes are yellow. While both sexes have the red crest and white neck stripe, only the male has a red forehead and mustache.

Pileated Woodpeckers favor mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forest, but can be found in a wide variety of forest types including second-growth and fragmented woodlots. Despite development, Houston has enough areas with tall trees that Pileated Woodpeckers are fairly common, even in city parks and suburbs. As a primary cavity nester, the Pileated Woodpecker plays an important role in forest ecosystems. Its abandoned cavities provide crucial shelter for ducks, owls, bats, and flying squirrels. The Pileated Woodpecker uses its powerful bill to chisel out uniquely shaped rectangular cavities in its search for food. Carpenter ants are its main prey, but it will also consume wood-boring beetle larvae, berries and nuts.

Pileated Woodpeckers are quite vocal, typically making a high, clear, series of piping calls that sounds like woika, woika, woika, woika. They also give shorter calls that sound like wuk, wuk or cuk, cuk to indicate a territory boundary or to give an alarm. Both sexes drum powerfully on trees at any time of the year, typically a fairly slow, deep rolling that lasts about 3 seconds.

Ivory-bill or Pileated?

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pileated Woodpecker (female)

© David McDonald

Every year Houston Audubon receives calls about possible sightings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. After the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the spring of 2005, this has become particularly common. For those new to birding, the two woodpeckers look confusingly alike. The easiest distinguishing mark for the Ivory-bill is its large white wing patches on the upper surface of its wings. Both woodpeckers display large white areas on the underneath surface, but for Pileated Woodpeckers the upper wing surface is black with only a touch of white on the side. Ivory-bills have much longer, whiter bills and also are larger in size. Finally, we recommend that anyone who sees what he or she is convinced is an Ivory-bill to document the bird by photographing it.
- Susan Billetdeaux