Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pileated woodpecker

I was told, by a naturalist on a hike at Lake Minnewaska earlier this summer, that big rectangular holes like this one in a dead hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are made by pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) looking for insects.

Pileated woodpeckers are crow-sized and the largest woodpecker in North America.  They're year-round inhabitants of forests here in the Hudson Valley but relatively shy and hard to spot.  Once seen, however, they're easy to recognize due to the distinctive red crest on the back of their heads (both males and females).  The generic name Dryocopus means "oak-tree cutter" and pileatus refers to a "skullcap" and obviously due to the bird's bright red crest.

Image from Wikipedia

Pileated woodpeckers have a distinctive call (listen here).  I do hear them occassionally in the woods behind my house and have also heard them on hikes on the Shawangunk Ridge.  I also hear drumming sometimes but I'm not sure if it's a pileated or one of the other local woodpeckers (in the winter, hairy (Picoides villosus) and red-bellied (Melanerpes carolinus) woodpeckers are frequently seen at our suet feeder.  I've only seen a pileated woodpecker once, briefly, on a tree across the road from my house a few summers ago.

Next time you're out hiking, take a little time to sit quietly in the woods and listed for a bit.  You might hear the wild laughter of this amazing bird.


  1. Hey I just saw one of these beautiful birds in the middle of my office park here in Rockleigh NJ (next to Piermont NY) on the west bank of the Hudson about 20 Miles from NYC.

    He was quite bold and let me get quite close but when I got too near he kept the tree between us.
    He was huge! Much bigger than an average sized crow. Great experience!

  2. I just saw this beautiful woodpecker in Westtown NY.. Right outside my office window. Amazing but could not get a pic. Maybe next time.

  3. Wow, just saw one and it flew off before i could get a photo. Now i see where the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker comes from!