Pileated Woodpecker

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"Its flesh is tough, of a bluish tint, and smells so strongly of the worms and insects on which it generally feeds, as to be extremely unpalatable."

- John James Audubon, 1842


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Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus
Habitat: Extensive mature forests and isolated woodlots
Adult Weight: 10-16 oz.
Adult Body Length: 16-19.5 inches
Nesting Period: March - May
Broods Per Year: 1
Clutch Size: 3 - 5, average 4
Foods: Insects, worms and grubs found in trees - carpenter ants are a favorite, small amounts of fruits and acorns.


The pileated (meaning "crested") woodpecker is the largest woodpecker living in Ohio today. Although they are large, they are seldom seen.

It can be identified by its size as well as its large red crest and black and white body. The strong bill is used in making nesting cavities and locating wood-boring insects for food. Their extremely strong bill works quickly, taking 1/1000 of a second for each stroke.

The pileated woodpecker was the model for the cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker.



The remains of pileated woodpeckers have been found in a number of archaeological sites in Ohio. Their brilliant red crests were used by American Indians to decorate calumets (pipes).


Like other woodland species, pileated woodpecker populations declined throughout Ohio as early settlers cleared the forests to make way for farmlands. The deforestation took away trees which provided food and nesting sources.

19th Century

The growing need for open land, free of forests, caused the extirpation of pileateds in many areas of Ohio by 1900. During the 1800s, the pileated woodpecker was considered by some a game species and was even sold in city markets for food.

20th Century

By the turn of the century, very small numbers of pileateds could be found in eastern Ohio. It was not until the 1920s, when abandoned farms in southeastern Ohio reverted to woodlands, did populations improve. They increased and expanded in the 1940s and 50s. By the 1960s they had recovered in most of their former range.

See Also


  1. Bent, Arthur C. Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers. Smithsonian Institution, U.S. National Museum Bulletin 174. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, pp. 1-12.
  2. Peterjohn, John. The Birds of Ohio; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN; 1989.