The Largest Woodpecker in North America: How to Attract Pileated Woodpeckers

Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Pileated Woodpeckers are considered the largest woodpecker in North America. A sizeable woodpecker with a flaming red crest, they announce their presence with loud "kuk" calls. Such a magnificent bird deserves our appreciation and certainly is the desired backyard bird for many.

Male Pileated Woodpecker in flight

These birds are known to mate for life and will defend a territory of 100-200 acres. If their mate passes away, they will seek a new one. It is rare to see more than two of them in any given area. Both male and females have the striking red crest atop their head, but only males have the red mandible line seen in the photo above.

This female Pileated Woodpecker has no red mandible line
To attract these impressive birds to your own yard, foster natural habitat for them. Pileated forage in large, deadwood. They are often searching for carpenter ants, which act as their main source of food. The clearing of forests, standing dead trees and logs can affect their ability to thrive. When they do not pose a risk to safety, these resources should be left for use. These woodpeckers actually carve the landscape, the large nest cavities that they create often end up being used by other animals. This is a major bonus for other hosts as the creation of the nest cavity usually takes 3-6 weeks. 

They stand out beautifully in trees and you can see them hammering away (you can also hear it)
Pileated woodpeckers are incredibly skittish and easily spooked by sound, so if you wish to capture one be as quiet and slow-moving as possible. Once you have observed them, you will realize how cautious and aware they are of their surroundings.

So, how can you attract them to your property?

  • If you have dead or dying trees or stumps on your property, consider leaving them, as they can attract Pileateds as well as other woodpeckers that want to nest in them 
  • Try putting up a nest box (long before the breeding season)
  • We offer a wide range of products that Pileated Woodpeckers will visit feeders for, including Suet, BarkButter, BarkButter Bits, Peanuts and Corn and Sunflower. To see a full list of feeders and food that will help attract them, visit our webpage here
Pileated Woodpecker nest boxes are quite large!! Here is an example, built by our owner Kristen Martyn with the help of her adorable daughter, Elena
I am very lucky to have more than one pair that visits my own yard regularly. They are both beautiful and striking to observe and I love to photograph them. Their relationships, behaviour and food preferences all add to the uniqueness of this particular bird.

Wishing you all many Pileated!