Observation of Nesting Pileated Woodpeckers

Updated on July 4, 2019
bravewarrior profile image

Nature and wildlife know exactly what to do to survive and thrive. Shauna believes we can learn valuable life lessons by observing nature.

Pileated Woodpecker and his young
Pileated Woodpecker and his young | Source

Recently, I was inspired by a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers as I watched them build a nest in a tree across the street from my property. It was at that point that I realized how much we humans can learn from their diligence.

My observations continue as I grow increasingly fascinated with these large, colorful birds. For starters, I wanted to be able to differentiate the male from the female. In my research, I discovered some interesting facts about these beautiful creatures, which I will share with you.

How to Identify Male From Female

First, let me show you the difference between the male and female. The bird on the left is female—she has a gray forehead and black and white striped cheeks. The photo on the right is of the male. Male Pileated Woodpeckers have a red crest running from the base of their beak, culminating in a peak at the back of their head. They also have a red stripe on their cheeks.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Female Pileated WoodpeckerMale Pileated Woodpecker in my Camphor tree
Female Pileated Woodpecker
Female Pileated Woodpecker | Source
Male Pileated Woodpecker in my Camphor tree
Male Pileated Woodpecker in my Camphor tree | Source

Interesting Facts About Pileated Woodpeckers

Now that we can identify male and female Pileated Woodpeckers, I’ll fill you in on what I’ve learned so far.

  • Pileated is a derivative of pileatus, which is Latin for “crested” or “capped”. Makes sense, right?
  • The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest of its species in the U.S.
  • They do not migrate. They are permanent residents of wherever they call home. Typically, Pileated Woodpeckers are found in deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, parts of the Pacific Coast and the boreal forest of Canada.
  • The Pileated Woodpecker is native to North America.
  • They mate for life, as do many bird species.
  • Males begin excavating in April. This attracts the female with whom he will mate and raise their young. Smart guy, huh? Build her a home before they pair up. What a concept!
  • The male and female work together in building their nest (once she says “yes”).
  • Eggs are laid in clutches of 3–5. They are white, slightly over one inch long and up to one inch in width.
  • The incubation period is 15–18 days. Both the male and female share in keeping the eggs warm, typically doing so in shifts.
  • Pileated Woodpeckers’ diet consists mainly of carpenter ants, but they will dine on other types of ants as well as termites.
  • Both parents feed the nestlings, via regurgitation, until they are old enough to leave the nest (about a month after hatching).

Pileated Woodpecker on top of utility pole
Pileated Woodpecker on top of utility pole | Source

Up-Close and Personal Observations

A couple of days after I wrote, Do as Woodpeckers Do to Achieve Your Goals, I witnessed an adult flying out of the nest. It was nearing dusk, and Pileateds don’t leave their eggs unattended, so I guess the changing of the guards had already happened. I ran inside to get my camera to document my new-found friends’ activities. Here’s what I was able to capture:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The female had flown into my neighbor's yardMama PW in my neighbor's yard
The female had flown into my neighbor's yard
The female had flown into my neighbor's yard | Source
Mama PW in my neighbor's yard
Mama PW in my neighbor's yard | Source

Attracting a Mate

Then, I saw something I’d not witnessed before: The woodpecker flew from the pole down onto a neighbor’s front yard. It was at this point I was able to identify my friend as a female. Hurray! The male had succeeded in attracting his mate and starting a family! After a bit of prancing around, she flew across the street where I assume she was getting a bite to eat.

Female taking a munchie break
Female taking a munchie break | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Male Pileated Woodpecker boring a hole for the nestMale PW clearing the lotMove-in ready the next day!
Male Pileated Woodpecker boring a hole for the nest
Male Pileated Woodpecker boring a hole for the nest | Source
Male PW clearing the lot
Male PW clearing the lot | Source
Move-in ready the next day!
Move-in ready the next day! | Source

Nest in the Making

I took the original photo of the male boring his nest-hole in the tree across from me on April 15th. The nest was not yet quite complete. By April 16th the nest was habitable. The above photos were taken on April 19th with the parents’ cohabiting. Based on that information, I calculate we should have some baby Pileated Woodpeckers somewhere around May 7th.

I checked on the nest several times throughout the day. I could see it from my bistro on the front porch. One morning as I was having my coffee, I witnessed the changing of the guards. It was amazing! Of course, being bleary-eyed and not fully awake, I didn’t have my camera with me nor did I have time to retrieve it.

But all is not lost. I found a video on YouTube (below) that gives you a pretty good idea of what I saw.

Habitable Nest

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Female Pileated Woodpecker looking out of nestAdult female in nestMale and female in the midst of Changing of the Guards
Female Pileated Woodpecker looking out of nest
Female Pileated Woodpecker looking out of nest | Source
Adult female in nest
Adult female in nest | Source
Male and female in the midst of Changing of the Guards
Male and female in the midst of Changing of the Guards | Source

Male and Female Pileated Woodpeckers Sharing Nesting Duties

I hope you’re enjoying this journey as much as I am. I see these beautiful birds in my neck of the woods all the time, but this is the first time I’ve been privy to the incredible process our wildlife goes through to perpetuate life and enhance the lives of us humans.

I feel incredibly blessed and want to share my observations with you, my beloved friends and readers. How often in life do we have the opportunity to see the beauty of nature in the making?

Peace,

Bravewarrior

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Shauna L Bowling

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      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Denise, I love the names your kids gave the swallow hatchlings. Observing the tiny family gave them plenty of stories to share with their teachers and classmates, I'm sure.

        I'm glad you enjoyed this. Thank you for reading and sharing your experience!

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        4 months ago from Fresno CA

        That was incredible. I loved seeing the video of the changing of the guard. What a blessing to have the wildlife so close by so you can share in nature. When I lived out in the country, we had a pair of barn swallows that nested just under the eaves outside our dining room window. Several times a day that spring we could see them taking care of business. The kids even named them, Breathless and Itchy. Breathless because she always seemed to have her beak open as though she couldn't catch her breath and Itchy because he always seemed to be scratching at something under his feathers. It was a hoot to see them raise 3 nestlings and watch them all fly away.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Patti, they're pretty amazing, aren't they? You and I have the pleasure of sharing space with so many tropical dwellers.

        I hope you're doing well in your neck of the woods!

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        4 months ago from North Central Florida

        Shauna I very much enjoy watching these amazing creatures. They are so entertaining. I did not however know all of the information you provided. Thank you for filling in the gaps in my knowledge. Angels are once again on the way ps

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Mar, I love you my sweet True Blue!

        I'm hoping to post more of my amazing Pileated Woodpecker's journey this weekend.

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 

        4 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

        Dear Sha,

        It's wonderful to see your writing and glorious photography. I can imagine sharing this journey with you over our morning coffee.

        I loved the video. We have so much to learn from animals.

        Have a peaceful weekend with your camera close by! Love, mar

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Thank you, Readmikenow. I'm glad you enjoyed this. Since I spent a few weeks observing this family, I have more to offer about their habits. Stayed tuned!

      • Readmikenow profile image

        Readmikenow 

        4 months ago

        Shauna, I have these in the woods of my property and see them quite often. Thank you for providing some very interesting information about them. I enjoyed reading your article. The pictures are also very good.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Bronwen, I agree with you 100%. It's sickening to see what's happening to our wildlife by way of Man's greed and disregard. I'm a huge proponent of saving our earthly creatures.

        Thanks for the wonderful comment. Enjoy your day!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Marlene, how cool that you have woodpeckers in your area! They're fun to watch. Try to pay attention come next Spring. You may witness the making of a family home. The male keeps at it until it's complete, which only takes a day. What stamina!

      • BlossomSB profile image

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        4 months ago from Victoria, Australia

        Thank you for such an interesting article. Our wildlife is precious wherever we live and it's good to share an interest and to promote their care, so many beautiful creatures are disappearing.

      • MarleneB profile image

        Marlene Bertrand 

        4 months ago from USA

        This is absolutely fascinating! I have woodpeckers around my house here in the mountains, but your article has sparked a higher level of interest in them.

        I found it interesting to learn that woodpeckers do not migrate. I just moved to this place a year ago. I think I will spend time looking at them now and hope to discover generations of woodpecker families in the future. Thank you for sharing your woodpecker journey.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Chitrangada, birds really are fascinating creatures. I love it when the various species welcome the new day with their orchestrated calls. It's a wonderful way to wake up.

        I'm glad you enjoyed this article. There's more to come on this subject. I promise!

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        4 months ago from New Delhi, India

        What an interesting observation and so educative! You are fortunate to be so close to these beautiful creatures.

        I love watching the birds closely. I can relate to your article, though not regarding Pileated woodpeckers. Recently, during my visit to a National Park, I had the luxury of watching many wild birds closely and to say the least, it was a fascinating experience.

        Enjoyed your article and the beautiful pictures and video. Would love to read further about these amazing birds.

        Thanks for sharing your wonderful observations.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        You're welcome, Larry. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Larry Slawson profile image

        Larry Slawson 

        4 months ago from North Carolina

        Very cool. Thank you for sharing.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Thank you, Lora. I am indeed fortunate to share life with these beautiful birds. Their call is very distinct. I hear them before I see them. Luckily, not a day goes by that I don't hear their unique voices.

        Thanks for your awesome comment. Much appreciated!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        John, that could very well be. It would be worth looking into. Man is destroying wildlife habitats at an alarming rate. However, it's encouraging to know that many species won't go down easily; that they're survival instincts are kicking in.

      • Lora Hollings profile image

        Lora Hollings 

        4 months ago

        You are so lucky, Shauna, to have these amazing birds so close to you that you can observe them daily! I hope that these pileated woodpeckers will never become extinct as so many other bird species have due to clearing so much of their habitat.

        I really enjoyed your article, the pictures and the video too. Looking forward to your continued coverage of this awesome event.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        This was very interesting, Shauna, and the photos great. I was going to say I had only seen a woodpecker pecking a nest in a tree once but checked on Google and apparently we have no native species of woodpecker in Australia so I am now skeptical what I saw, however, I see comments from others from Britain and America who claim they saw or heard woodpeckers in Australia. There is a possibility SE Asian woodpeckers are migrating some here due to the destruction of their habitats for palm oil production, so it is not impossible.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Thank you, Linda. It was a trip watching the process. With so much tearing down of natural habitat that's going on in my neighborhood, I'm fortunate to provide a haven for these incredible birds and other species.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        The birds are lovely. You are so lucky to have them close to your home! Thanks for sharing the information and your discoveries. I enjoyed reading about the woodpeckers and their lives.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Bill, so true! I only wish I'd had the camera I have now when I took these photos. Twenty time zoom would have brought you up close and personal with these majestic birds.

        Maybe I can catch them again next Spring.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Peggy, their symmetry when building is amazing, isn't it? I have a photo of a tree with several holes perfectly situated vertically. I may have to add it to this post.

        Thanks for the visit my friend!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Linda, you have such a variety of wildlife in your neck of the woods! I could spend hours on your property taking it all in.

        I've seen our red-headed woodpeckers banging on metal as well. I wonder why they do that. Don't they know they'll never make a dent and that even if they did, no booty would be found inside? LOL

        Pileated Woodpeckers must be much smarter. I've only seen them peck away at trees.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Heidi, I'll be posting more of my observations in the near future. It was so cool to watch Nature at its best!

        I'm glad you've gotten to experience it too. Pay attention next Spring. You may be able to see the process from start to finish. It really is exciting.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        I take my camera with me when I sit out back to read, Paula. I have lots of trees, so there's always something going on!

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Mom, we have the red-headed woodpeckers here, too. They rat-a-tat-tat on the utility poles, of all things!

        I'm glad you were able to send them into their natural habitat and out of yours!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Very cool indeed,Sha! It's neat that you are that close and able to observe so much. There is so much fascinating beauty around us if we just pay attention, eh"

        love

        bill

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        4 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

        These are fascinating creatures. I love their dedication to each other and to their offspring. Here in Texas we have Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. One lives in a tree in my back yard. It's fascinating to watch him work and listen to his noise when he drills into the tree. There are a series of holes in straight horizontal lines up and down the trunk.

        So glad to see your muse return. Maybe she will encourage mine to come by.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        4 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Sha, we have these in our woods and they are stunning, aren't they? I did not know anything about their nesting habits or that they mate for life so thanks for making me even smarter than before LOL.

        We also have red-breasted sapsuckers (which are a type of woodpecker) and downy woodpeckers. Interesting that all 3 have red heads, but the pileated puts on the best show.

        I do wonder how they can rat-a-tat like that without causing a concussion. Many times they go after the metal roof on our camper.

        Thanks for taking the time to share your experience and research with us. I look forward to more from the Brave Warrior.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        4 months ago from Chicago Area

        Love your photo diary of this bird's story!

        We had woodpeckers nesting in one of the trees in our yard. But we didn't realize that was happening. Then one day, we hear them going to town making a nest hole. First we thought something like the HVAC was acting up. Then we realized what it was. Now I hear them in other trees throughout the neighborhood.

        Looking forward to more. Cheers!

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        4 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Note to self:...."Like Sha suggested, girl...try taking your camera outdoors with you when you go out to sit & relax...."

        Ahhhh duh,,,,Aw shucks, Sha......that's a GREAT idea! ROFLMAO!

      • profile image

        Barbara Cook 

        4 months ago

        I haven’t experienced the Pileated Woodpecker in my jungle probably because of construction going on, but the red headed woodpeckers used to come to my house & drill holes in the eaves. I hung foil pie plates to scare them off and force them back into the woods because the holes attracted insects to nest in my house They continue to send their Morse Code rat-a-tat-tat in the trees in the woods hoping a female will answer.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Yes, Paula, I took all the pictures in this post. Pileated Woodpeckers are huge. They're about the size of buzzards, but much more beautiful.

        Pileated Woodpeckers prefer warm climates. That's probably why you haven't seen them in your neck of the woods.

        We also have Red-Headed Woodpeckers, the kind you may have in your area. They are reminiscent of Woody the Woodpecker. They're much smaller than the Pileated Woodpecker.

        You might want to make a habit of having your camera handy when you're outdoors. Either that or keep your cell phone with you. My camera is a Nikon Coolpix and has a 20x zoom. It's great for taking close-up photos of nature. However, I must admit, the photos that appear here were taken with the camera I had prior to the Nikon. I think it was a 6x zoom. After documenting the Pileated Woodpeckers, I decided it was time to upgrade.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Thanks for the comment, Mark. But I'm Shauna, not Lori.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        4 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Sha.......What a fascinating info-hub on pileated woodpeckers (which I'd never heard of) It stands to reason, as with most all animals, there are various specimens within their general group. I'm pretty sure the "woody's" in and around my wooded property are your basic Woody Woodpeckers.

        The pictures are really great (Did you take them?) Good job! Every single time I run to get my camera because I see something terrific in my trees, by the time I get back, they've moved or flown off!. These neighbors of yours, look much bigger than my woodpeckers.

        I can relate to enjoying just sitting out and taking in all that goes on with all natures creatures coming to visit and play in and around my property........I get such a variety, it's quite an interesting show I get to see on a daily basis.

        I also agree with you, Sha. We can learn a whole lot about life, working, playing, parenting etc ....just by watching their beauty and simplicity! Appreciating nature along with you, girlfriend! Paula

      • Mark Tulin profile image

        Mark Tulin 

        4 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

        This observation of the woodpecker, Lori, was fascinating. It’s amazing how they bore holes in trees like that. The video was interesting, too. I didn’t realize they were so big.

      • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        Flourish, I've thought the same thing. How can they bang as hard as they do without getting a headache??? Their beaks must be hard as nails.

        Thanks for being the first to comment. I'm thrilled to see you here.

        I love all the birds and squirrels in my yard. My indoor cats watch them from the window sills, too.

        I have an outside stray who has adopted me. Fortunately, she's not the least bit interested in the lizards, squirrels, or birds that visit my property. Wildlife knows they're just as safe here as my adopted strays.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 months ago from USA

        I enjoyed this. I feed woodpeckers and a range of birds plus squirrels of course in my backyard with large feeders. I have large window seating areas so that my cats cat sit and watch them all day. We are sometimes awakened by woodpeckers on the house even though they have lots of trees to bang on. I don’t know how it does not cause them a headache.

      working

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