pileated woodpecker

How to Attract Pileated Woodpeckers? The Ultimate Guide!

Are you tired of your backyard being devoid of the majestic presence of pileated woodpeckers? Do you yearn for the opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures up close and personal?

Look no further, for we have the ultimate guide on how to attract pileated woodpeckers to your yard!

Pileated woodpeckers, with their striking red crest and powerful beaks, captivate bird enthusiasts around the world.

Understanding their basic characteristics is crucial in successfully luring them to your yard.

From their preferred habitats to their dietary preferences, we delve into the scientific intricacies of these magnificent birds.

Key Takeaways

  • Provide a suitable habitat with large, unfragmented forests and dead trees for foraging and nesting.
  • Attract pileated woodpeckers with their favorite foods such as suet, nuts, and seeds.
  • Create a water source, such as a birdbath or small pond, for woodpeckers.
  • Preserve dead or decaying trees and provide nesting materials to attract pileated woodpeckers to your yard.
Pileated woodpecker feeding on suet

Introduction: The Fascinating Pileated Woodpeckers

The majestic pileated woodpecker, with its striking black and white plumage and distinctive red crest, captivates the imagination of bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Known scientifically as Dryocopus pileatus, this charismatic species is the largest woodpecker in North America.

Pileated woodpeckers are known for their unique behaviors, such as their ability to excavate large tree cavities with their powerful beaks and their distinctive drumming sounds that echo through the forest.

These woodpeckers play an important role in forest ecosystems, aiding in the decomposition of dead wood and creating habitat for other species.

Pileated woodpeckers are also known for their territorial behavior and complex communication, using a combination of vocalizations and drumming to establish their presence.

Understanding the behavior and conservation of pileated woodpeckers is vital for their protection and the preservation of their habitats.

Transitioning into the subsequent section about ‘pileated woodpecker basics’, it is important to explore their habitat requirements and diet preferences.

A pileated woodpecker eating suet.
Photo by Melissa Burovac on Unsplash

Pileated Woodpecker Basics

Pileated Woodpeckers are found in mature forests across North America, including parts of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

They are easily recognizable by their striking appearance, featuring a black body with white stripes on the face and a flaming red crest on the head.

These woodpeckers are one of the largest species of woodpeckers, measuring around 16–19 inches in length and weighing between 8–14 ounces.

Where Pileated Woodpeckers Live

Indigenous to North America, the majestic woodpecker species known for its striking appearance and distinctive call tends to inhabit forested areas with ample tree cover.

To provide a better understanding of where pileated woodpeckers live, the following list outlines their preferred habitat:

  • Range: Found throughout the United States and southern Canada, these woodpeckers are most abundant in mature forests.
  • Habitat: Pileated woodpeckers prefer large, unfragmented forests with plenty of dead trees for foraging and nesting.
  • Nesting: They excavate large cavities in dead or decaying trees for nesting, often reusing the same cavity year after year.

In addition to their habitat preferences, pileated woodpeckers have a varied diet, feeding primarily on insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae.

They also consume fruits, nuts, and sap. Understanding their habitat and diet is crucial for attracting these magnificent creatures to your yard.

Moving on to the next section, let’s explore what pileated woodpeckers look like.

What Do Pileated Woodpeckers Look Like?

Characterized by their vibrant plumage, pileated woodpeckers are easily recognizable with their striking red crest, black body, and white stripes on their wings.

These large woodpeckers are known for their unique behaviors and adaptations. Pileated woodpeckers primarily inhabit mature forests with large trees, as they rely on these trees for nesting and foraging.

Their diet consists mainly of ants and wood-boring insects, which they extract from tree trunks using their powerful bills.

Pileated woodpeckers are also vocal birds, producing loud, high-pitched calls that can be heard from a distance.

During breeding season, males engage in drumming behaviors to establish territories and attract mates.

With their distinct appearance and fascinating behaviors, these woodpeckers are a delight to observe in the wild.

Moving on to the next section, let’s explore the size of pileated woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker Size

One remarkable feature of pileated woodpeckers is their impressive size, making them one of the largest woodpecker species in North America. These majestic birds have an average weight ranging from 250 to 350 grams.


  • Length: 16-19 in (40-49 cm)
  • Weight: 8-14 oz (250-350 g)
  • Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in (66-75 cm)

Pileated woodpeckers are primarily insectivores, using their strong beaks to excavate and forage for ants, beetles, and other insects. They also consume fruits, nuts, and berries, adding variety to their diet.

These woodpeckers are known for their territorial behavior, defending their feeding and nesting areas vigorously.

During the mating season, males engage in elaborate courtship displays, which involve drumming on trees and vocalizations that can be heard over long distances.

Their distinctive vocalizations include loud, resonant calls and drumming sounds.

Understanding the size, feeding habits, territorial behavior, mating rituals, and vocalizations of pileated woodpeckers is essential in creating an environment that can attract these magnificent birds.

In the subsequent section, we will explore their preferred environments, or habitats, that can help in attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard.

A Pileated Woodpecker chiseling away at a tree.
Photo by Patrice Bouchard on Unsplash

Habitat: Exploring Their Preferred Environments

Preferred environments for pileated woodpeckers can be explored by considering their habitat requirements.

Pileated woodpeckers are found in a variety of ecosystems, including forests, woodlands, and even suburban areas with a sufficient tree cover.

They prefer large, mature forests with plenty of dead or decaying trees, as these provide ideal nesting sites and an abundance of insects for food.

Pileated woodpeckers are cavity nesters, excavating holes in tree trunks for their nests. They also require a good supply of food, mainly consisting of ants, beetles, and other wood-boring insects.

Therefore, areas with high insect activity are attractive to these woodpeckers. They have also been observed to have specific preferences for certain tree species, such as oak and pine.

Understanding their territory boundaries and the availability of suitable nesting sites and food sources is crucial for attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard.

Transitioning into the subsequent section about dietary preferences: what do pileated woodpeckers eat, it is important to consider the relationship between their preferred habitat and food sources.

Dietary Preferences: What Do Pileated Woodpeckers Eat?

Pileated woodpeckers have a diverse diet consisting mainly of ants, beetles, and other wood-boring insects, which they obtain by excavating holes in tree trunks.

These birds have a unique feeding behavior that allows them to locate their prey. They use their strong bills to break open decaying wood, exposing the insects within.

Pileated woodpeckers also consume fruits, nuts, and berries, particularly during the winter months when insect availability decreases.

Their diet may vary seasonally, with a higher proportion of fruits and nuts in the colder months.

The foraging techniques of pileated woodpeckers include scaling, where they strip away bark to access hidden insects, and probing, where they use their long tongues to extract insects from crevices.

Their diet plays a crucial role in the ecosystem, as they help control insect populations and disperse seeds. Additionally, their food preferences can attract a diverse range of bird species to the area.

Understanding the dietary habits of pileated woodpeckers can aid in creating an environment that supports a variety of birds.

Transitioning to the next section, vocalizations play an important role in pileated woodpecker behavior and communication.

A Pileated Woodpecker perched on a log eating from a suet feeder.
Photo by Sandi Mager on Unsplash

Vocalizations: Understanding Pileated Woodpecker Sounds

The vocalizations of Pileated Woodpeckers play an important role in their communication and territorial behavior.

One of their most distinctive calls is a loud, high-pitched ‘ki-ki-ki-ki’ sound that can be heard over long distances. This call is often used to establish their presence and defend their territory.

In addition to vocal calls, Pileated Woodpeckers also produce a unique drumming sound by rapidly pecking on trees.

The drumming serves multiple purposes, including attracting mates, signaling aggression, and communicating with other woodpeckers in the area.

Pileated Woodpecker Call

One effective way to enhance the attractiveness of your yard for woodpeckers is by familiarizing yourself with the distinct calls of the pileated woodpecker.

By understanding pileated woodpecker behavior and identifying their sounds, you can better attract these magnificent birds to your yard.

Here are two sub-lists to help engage you in this process:

Attracting woodpeckers with feeders:

  • Install suet feeders, as pileated woodpeckers are attracted to this high-energy food source.
  • Provide platform feeders with nuts, seeds, and fruits that woodpeckers enjoy.

Creating a suitable habitat:

  • Leave dead trees or snags standing, as pileated woodpeckers rely on them for nesting and foraging.
  • Provide a water source, such as a birdbath or small pond, as woodpeckers need access to fresh water.

Observing woodpecker interactions and becoming familiar with their calls can help you create an environment that appeals to pileated woodpeckers.

This knowledge will be further complemented by understanding the next subtopic, the pileated woodpecker drum.

Pileated Woodpecker Drum

Understanding the drumming behavior of the pileated woodpecker is essential for creating an environment that supports their nesting and foraging needs.

Drumming is a form of communication used by these woodpeckers to establish territories, attract mates, and communicate with other members of their species.

By understanding the different drumming patterns and their meanings, homeowners can attract these woodpeckers to their yards.

Drumming PatternMeaning
Rapid, continuous drummingTerritorial assertion
Slow, deliberate drummingAttracting a mate
Short, rapid bursts of drummingWarning or alarm call
Soft, rhythmic drummingCourtship display
Loud, resonating drummingCommunication with distant woodpeckers

By incorporating features in your yard that mimic the natural drumming substrates, such as dead trees or wooden posts, you can attract pileated woodpeckers and provide them with suitable nesting and foraging opportunities.

This will be further discussed in the subsequent section on breeding behavior: mating, nesting, eggs & fledglings.

Two pileated woodpeckers perched on a fence.
Photo by Jennifer Uppendahl on Unsplash

Breeding Behavior: Mating, Nesting, Eggs & Fledglings

Breeding behavior of pileated woodpeckers involves the intricacies of mating, nesting, and the development of eggs and fledglings, offering a glimpse into the fascinating cycle of life in these majestic birds.

Mating Behavior:

  • Pileated woodpeckers engage in courtship displays, which include drumming on trees and vocalizations to attract a mate.
  • Once a pair is formed, they engage in mutual preening and bill tapping to strengthen their bond.

Nesting Habits:

  • Pileated woodpeckers excavate large nest cavities in dead or decaying trees, using their strong bills.
  • These cavities are typically located at a considerable height from the ground, providing protection from predators.

Egg Laying Process:

  • The female lays a clutch of 3-5 pure white eggs inside the nest cavity.
  • Incubation lasts for about 15 days and is carried out by both parents.

Fledgling Development:

  • After hatching, the nestlings are altricial, meaning they are naked and helpless.
  • Both parents take turns feeding the young, regurgitating insects and fruits.
  • Pileated woodpeckers face threats from natural predators such as raptors and arboreal mammals.

Natural Predators: Who Threatens Pileated Woodpeckers?

Natural predators pose a significant threat to the survival of pileated woodpeckers, with raptors and arboreal mammals being among the main culprits.

Raptors such as owls and hawks are skilled hunters that prey on woodpeckers, while arboreal mammals like raccoons and squirrels may raid their nests for eggs and fledglings.

These natural predators contribute to the ecological threats that pileated woodpeckers face, along with habitat destruction and population decline.

Conservation efforts have been implemented to protect these woodpeckers, including the preservation of their habitats and the creation of nesting boxes.

By creating suitable habitats and reducing the impact of natural predators, conservationists aim to increase the population of pileated woodpeckers.

Transitioning into the subsequent section about attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard, tried and true approaches have been developed to entice these birds without disrupting their natural behavior.

A pileated woodpecker looking for food from an old tree stump.
Photo by Patrice Bouchard on Unsplash

How to Attract Pileated Woodpeckers: Tried and True Approaches

To attract Pileated Woodpeckers to your yard, there are several tried and true approaches that can be employed.

One method is to tempt them with their favorite foods, such as ants, beetles, and other insects found in dead or decaying trees.

Creating a habitat with dead, dying, or fallen trees is another effective strategy, as it provides the woodpeckers with both a food source and a place to nest.

Additionally, cultivating fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can attract Pileated Woodpeckers, as they are known to feed on berries and fruits.

Ensuring easy access to fresh water and establishing a welcoming nesting space are also important factors in attracting these birds.

Tempt Them with Their Favorite Foods

Fulfilling their dietary preferences is crucial when attempting to attract pileated woodpeckers to your yard. These impressive birds have specific favorite foods and feeding habits that can be utilized to increase their presence in your area.

To attract pileated woodpeckers, consider the following techniques:

  • Offer suet: Pileated woodpeckers are particularly fond of suet, a high-energy food made from animal fat. Place suet feeders in your yard to entice these birds.
  • Provide nuts and seeds: Pileated woodpeckers also enjoy nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, and acorns. Offer a variety of these foods in bird feeders to attract them.
  • Mimic natural habitats: Pileated woodpeckers prefer mature forests with large trees. By planting native trees and creating a diverse forest-like environment, you can make your yard more appealing to these birds.

By incorporating these attracting techniques and providing their favorite foods, you can enhance the chances of attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard. Creating habitat with dead, dying, or fallen trees further increases the likelihood of their presence.

Create Habitat with Dead, Dying, or Fallen Trees

To further entice pileated woodpeckers to your yard, it is crucial to create a suitable habitat for them. One effective method is by preserving dead, dying, or fallen trees in your yard. These trees provide the ideal nesting and foraging sites for these woodpeckers.

By leaving these trees untouched, you are not only creating a natural environment for the woodpeckers, but you are also contributing to the overall health of your ecosystem.

This practice, known as tree preservation, is an essential aspect of wildlife gardening and ecological landscaping.

The presence of dead or decaying trees promotes biodiversity by attracting a variety of insect species, which in turn provides a food source for the woodpeckers.

By incorporating tree preservation into your yard, you can successfully attract pileated woodpeckers and contribute to the overall ecological balance.

Cultivating fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can further enhance the appeal of your yard to these magnificent birds.

Cultivate Fruit-Bearing Trees & Shrubs

Cultivating fruit-bearing trees and shrubs in your landscape can enhance the biodiversity and ecological balance by providing a valuable food source for a variety of bird species.

Fruit bearing trees such as apple, cherry, and pear trees, as well as shrubs like blueberry and elderberry, offer an abundant supply of nutritious fruits that attract birds, including pileated woodpeckers.

When planning your garden, consider incorporating these species to create a bird-friendly habitat. Additionally, bird feeders stocked with fruits can further entice pileated woodpeckers to visit your yard.

By offering a diverse selection of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, you provide a sustainable and natural food source for these birds, promoting their presence in your yard.

  • Wild Grape
  • Pokeweed
  • Virginia Creeper
  • Blueberry
  • New England Aster
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Sunflower
  • Virginia Creeper
  • American basswood
  • Sumac
  • Hack berry
  • Wild cherry
  • Serviceberry
  • Holly
  • Dogwood
  • Elderberry

To ensure easy access to fresh water for pileated woodpeckers and other bird species, the subsequent section will discuss the importance of bird baths and water features.

Ensure Easy Access to Fresh Water

Ensuring easy access to fresh water is essential for maintaining a thriving ecosystem in your landscape, providing a vital resource for various bird species.

Pileated woodpeckers, like many other birds, rely on fresh water sources to quench their thirst and maintain their overall health.

To attract these magnificent birds to your yard, consider incorporating a bird bath or a water feature. These can serve as shallow pools where woodpeckers can drink and bathe.

Additionally, creating a watering hole by placing a shallow dish with water near the base of a tree can provide a convenient drinking spot for them.

Pileated woodpeckers are more likely to visit your yard if they have easy access to fresh water. Next, we will explore how to establish a welcoming nesting space for pileated woodpeckers.

  • Offer mealworms or grubs in shallow dishes on the ground near the birdbath. Birds love this type of protein rich snack!
  • Use suet cake (softened) and peanut butter in the bath. Mix together one cup of birdseed, two tablespoons of suet, and one tablespoon of peanut butter. Put it all into a zip-lock baggie with about an inch of water to make it more pliable.-Spread oil on the surface to help birds maintain their waterproofing.-Leave out fresh fruit or berries for them!
  • Create an obstacle course for birds by adding rocks, moss, and sticks. 
  • The design of the bird bath should have one or two shallow edges and be at least 2 inches deep.

*The water should be changed daily, as well as scrubbed down with soap and water every few days.

Establish a Welcoming Nesting Space for Pileated Woodpeckers

Establishing a suitable habitat that provides suitable nesting opportunities is crucial for promoting the presence of the majestic woodpecker species known for its distinctive red crest.

Pileated woodpeckers typically nest in large cavities found in dead or decaying trees. These cavities serve as their homes and breeding grounds.

To attract pileated woodpeckers to your yard, it is important to create an inviting nesting space that meets their specific requirements.

One way to do this is by providing nesting materials such as wood chips, bark strips, and leaves.

These materials can be scattered around the yard to mimic the natural environment in which pileated woodpeckers build their nests.

Additionally, leaving dead or decaying trees standing in your yard can provide potential nesting sites for these birds.

It is also important to understand the territorial boundaries of pileated woodpeckers. These birds require a large territory for foraging and nesting.

By ensuring that your yard has enough space and resources, you can attract pileated woodpeckers and increase the likelihood of successful nesting.

During mating rituals, pileated woodpeckers engage in elaborate displays to attract mates. Providing suitable nesting spaces can enhance these displays and increase the chances of successful reproduction.

Once the eggs are laid, pileated woodpeckers exhibit strong parental care. They take turns incubating the eggs, and both parents participate in feeding the hatchlings.

By creating a welcoming nesting space, you can encourage pileated woodpeckers to establish a breeding pair in your yard and observe their fascinating parental behaviors.

Establishing a suitable nesting space is crucial for attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard.

By providing nesting materials, understanding territorial boundaries, and promoting successful mating and parental care, you can enhance your birding experience with these magnificent woodpeckers.

A pileated woodpecker perched onto the side of a tree, drumming away.
Photo by Patrice Bouchard on Unsplash

Frequently Asked Questions

Are pileated woodpeckers attracted to specific types of bird feeders?

Pileated woodpeckers are not typically attracted to bird feeders. Instead, focus on creating a welcoming habitat by providing dead trees for nesting and foraging, and ensuring a diverse selection of insects and fruits for food.

How can I create a safe nesting environment for pileated woodpeckers in my yard?

Creating a safe nesting environment for pileated woodpeckers in your yard involves understanding woodpecker behavior and implementing proper birdhouse design. This promotes habitat preservation and attracts wildlife, ensuring the safety and well-being of these birds.

Do pileated woodpeckers migrate during certain times of the year?

Pileated woodpeckers do not migrate during certain times of the year. They primarily inhabit mature forests with large trees, where they feed on ants and beetles, nest in cavities, communicate through drumming and calls, and engage in elaborate courtship displays.

Are there any plants or trees that can attract pileated woodpeckers to my yard?

Plants, such as fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, are effective in attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard. Creating a bird-friendly yard with suitable trees and vegetation provides a habitat for woodpeckers and other wildlife, encouraging their presence in your garden.

What are some signs that pileated woodpeckers have visited my yard?

Signs of pileated woodpecker visitation include large rectangular holes on trees, wood chips on the ground, and bark scaling. Behavior observations may include drumming, foraging for insects, and excavating nesting cavities. Identifying markings include a prominent red crest and black body. Territorial calls are loud and distinctive.


To maximize the enjoyment of observing pileated woodpeckers in your yard, it is essential to create an environment that meets their habitat requirements.

Enhancing birdwatching and attracting wildlife can be achieved by implementing birding tips and creating a bird-friendly environment in your backyard.

Pileated woodpeckers prefer mature forests with large trees that provide nesting and foraging opportunities.

To attract these magnificent birds, consider leaving dead or dying trees standing, as they serve as important foraging sites and potential nesting sites.

Additionally, providing a variety of food sources, such as suet feeders and natural food sources like insects and fruits, can increase the chances of attracting pileated woodpeckers to your yard.

By incorporating these strategies, you can create an inviting space that enhances your birding experience and allows for the observation of these remarkable birds.


  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.