Habitat Creators: How Pileated Woodpeckers Carve the Way for Other Species

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Pileated Woodpeckers are widely recognized as one of the largest forest birds in all of North America. They are quite loud, heard before seen with their whinnying calls and rolling drumming. As incredible as Pileated woodpeckers are to observe, they also play key roles in the ecosystems that they occupy. They are one of the only birds in occupied regions that forage by excavation.

A Male Pileated Woodpecker inside it's nesting cavity. Photo by Marlene Trott. 

Pileated woodpeckers are considered a keystone species, which simply means that their behaviour directly aids a number of other species within the ecosystems that they exist. Only Pileated's are capable of hollowing out large cavities for nesting. Each year, a mated Pileated pair will typically go through the process of creating a new nesting cavity, and the old one will be utilized by other species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats and Pine Martens.  

Male Pileated Woodpecker. Photo by Heather Kerrison

The impact of Pileated's work doesn't end there. Because of their own foraging behaviour, where they drill distinctive rectangular-shaped holes in rotten wood to get insects such as ants that may be present. By doing this they create foraging opportunities for other species such as House Wrens or other species of woodpecker. They even accelerate decay processes and nutrient cycling. Identifying keystone species, such as the Pileated Woodpecker ,who create, modify and maintain habitat and foraging opportunities for other species is an incredibly important part of conservation. If you consider the broader picture of where conservation efforts should be directed, protecting the habitat and activities of a species that aids so many others is a critical approach to protecting more species.

So, how can you help keep more Pileated woodpeckers around and therefore, help many other species?

  • Consider leaving dead or dying trees on your property, you may attract a Pileated, or even better- a pair! Pileated woodpecker pairs stay together year round. They do defend this territory year round, but are more tolerant of new arrivals in the winter.
  • They also are huge fans of suet, try offering it in one of our specialized Pileated Tail Prop Feeders for maximum comfort for these large birds.

Female Pileated Woodpecker on Pileated Tail Prop Feeder. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

Ultimately, Pileated's do it all! They create and alter habitat that is used by many other species, facilitate foraging opportunities and thrill us all with their stunning plumage and calls that echo through the forest. We can't sing enough praise for this incredible species, as habitat creators. and ultimately stewards of the ecosystems in which they exist. If you want to read even more about this species, check out our former blog The Largest Woodpecker in North America: How to Attract Pileated Woodpeckers.

Wishing you many Pileated's!!



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