Nature Canada
Larry Kirtley

Meet The Pileated Woodpecker

At an average length of 18 inches, the pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in Canada. This large bird strikes a remarkable resemblance to prehistoric pterodactyls in flight with their noteworthy red crest and black body with white stripes. They’re even thought to be the inspiration behind the beloved cartoon character Woody the Woodpecker. Just like Woody’s loud laugh, the pileated woodpecker also has a voice to match their size. Their drumming, which they perform by beating their bill against trees or poles, sounds eerily similar to construction machinery. 

You can hear the pileated woodpecker’s tune while they’re scouring for food. Digging a rectangular hole, the pecker will look for ants, termites, larvae of wood-boring beetles, and other insects. But diner time isn’t the only occasion in which you can hear the beat this creature makes. The woodpecker will perform drumming while defending their territory. Loud calls of warning will also accompany this kind of drumming. While they will protect their territory all year round, they’re more tolerable of newcomers in the winter. 

The Pileated Woodpecker Is A Bit Of A Homebody

The pileated woodpecker does not migrate. Instead, mated pairs will hang out in their territory all year round. Single males who have yet to find a mate or have lost one can be found courting females by showing off their white wing patches, raising their crest, swinging their head back and forth, and displaying their gliding flight. 

This bird species became quite rare in North America in the 18 and 19th centuries due to deforestation. Luckily, we’ve seen a steady climb in numbers since the 20th century. Today, they can be found throughout most provinces in Canada year-round. You can find them in forests making homes out of trees, both dead and alive. If you want to encourage a visit from these feathered friends, consider leaving your dead or dying trees or snags on your property. Nesting boxes can also be made and added onto sturdy trees or poles for the pileated woodpecker to inhabit.

Bird Friendly City Program

Birds, just like the pileated woodpecker, all across Canada need our help. They play an essential role in upholding healthy and strong ecosystems, and unfortunately, our towns, cities, and planet present many hazards to birds. Through the Bird Friendly City Program, people are coming together to make their cities safer for our flighted friends. Learn more about what you can do to help and stay up to date by joining our email list. 


  • Pileated Woodpecker. 24 Dec. 2019,
  • “Pileated Woodpecker Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.” Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

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