Daily Bird: Pileated Woodpecker
April 22, 2020
by Mike Aurelia, former member of the Connecticut Audubon Board of Directors
Today’s Daily Bird is edited from a version published in June 2015 and features a short video by Board member Gilles Carter.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker found in Connecticut. Crow-sized, it is an inhabitant of the mixed deciduous and coniferous forests of North America. The birds especially like forests where large old trees can be found.
In Connecticut, the Pileated Woodpecker can be tracked down in almost all large forested areas year-round, if one is patient. The birds don’t seem to migrate if there is enough food to be found in their local territory. As forests returned to Connecticut in the late 1800’s and suburban development expanded beyond the city limits, this woodpecker started to be observed in backyards if large, old trees were nearby.
What it looks like: The Pileated Woodpecker is 16- to 19 1/2-inches long and, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is “largely a black bird with a white line from the bill through the cheek and down the neck and with a very distinctive red crest.” As a child I thought of it as my “Woody Woodpecker” bird.
Where and How to Find It: This woodpecker is common throughout the state, though it sometimes can be difficult to find. Quite often you will hear its loud, irregular call of: Kik-kik -kikkik – kik-kik which sounds a little like a Northern Flicker but louder. Its drumming is also distinctive and can be heard from great distances. The drumming starts like a slow drumroll, loud and resonant, and speeds up toward the end.
Other interesting facts: The Pileated Woodpecker largely eats carpenter ants and wood-boring grubs as well as wild fruit and nuts. Its large chisel-like bill is responsible for making large piles of chips at the base of dead trees and large rectangular holes in the tree trunks. You will often see the pile of chips or holes before you notice the bird. This woodpecker is seen as often near or on the ground exploring downed trees as it is high up on a tree trunk.
Conservation Status: Although the pileated woodpecker was once thought to be extirpated from Connecticut, it has slowly increased in numbers as the forest habitat returned. As long as the forest habitat with large trees and snags is maintained around the state, this large woodpecker should be able to maintain its current population numbers.