Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

Picidae (woodpeckers) in the order Piciformes


The pileated woodpecker is a crow-sized woodpecker that is primarily black, with white highlights and a red crest. Males have an entirely red crown and a red moustachial streak. Both sexes have horizontal black and white stripes on the face and a white stripe that extends down the neck. Seen from below in flight, the wing lining is white, and a white line extends along each side of the throat to the base of the bill. The loud, resonant drumming sounds something like a banging hammer.


Length: 16½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).


Photo of pileated woodpecker head in profile
Pileated Woodpecker
The pileated woodpecker’s spongy skull bones protect its brain during tree hammering.


Photo of young pileated woodpeckers in a tree cavity
Pileated Woodpecker


photo of a pileated woodpecker on a suet feeder
Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated woodpeckers' natural foods include insect grubs, but they like beef suet, too.

Pileated Woodpecker

Photo of pileated woodpecker head in profile
The pileated woodpecker's loud, rapid-fire call sounds a little like maniacal laughter.
Habitat and conservation

Pileated woodpeckers favor large forests; they excavate nest cavities in dead trees, so mature forests containing suitable nesting trees are important.


Insects, nuts, fruits, and sap make up most of the diet. In winter, ants constitute much of the food supply.

image of Pileated Woodpecker distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, in appropriate habitats.


The pileated woodpecker is an uncommon permanent resident in forested habitats throughout most of Missouri. It is most abundant in the large forests of the Ozarks, and it is least common in the northwest region.

Life cycle

In spring, the male bores a nest hole in a tree trunk, and the pair raise their nestlings together.

Human connections

These large woodpeckers are striking to behold. They certainly made an impression on the makers of the “Woody Woodpecker” cartoon, whose main character was modeled after this species.

Ecosystem connections

This species plays an important role in decreasing populations of insects, many of which might seriously injure trees if left unchecked. Also, the nest cavities they create are used later by many other animals that can’t bore their own cavities.