This crow-sized bird is the largest woodpecker in Ohio. Despite is size, in large tracts of mature forest the pileated woodpecker is heard more often than seen. Its voice is often described as a jungle animal sound, somewhat like a monkey. In fact, old Tarzan movies set in Africa often had the loud call of a pileated woodpecker in the background.
Besides its voice the most commonly recognized evidence that pileated woodpeckers inhabit a forest is the large rectangular holes found on dead and living trees. Single or multiple holes found 6 feet or lower on a tree trunk indicates the pileated woodpeckers search for its favorite food, carpenter ants. Once a rectangular hole is excavated pileated woodpeckers use their long barbed tongue to extract ants from tunnels. According to the Audubon Society, “In one study, pileated woodpeckers spent 58 percent of their foraging time on dead wood and 36 percent on live wood.” In another study, “the birds fed on dead wood 96 percent of the time, 44 percent on snags, and 36 percent in dead logs.” Besides ants, pileated woodpeckers also eat wood-boring beetle larvae, berries, nuts and sometimes suet.
Pileated woodpeckers stay with the same mate for life. Pairs establish forest territories 150 acres or larger. They drum on trees with their beaks to attract mates and year long to announce the boundaries of their territories. During breeding season, they find a dead tree within their territory to excavate their home 15- 70 feet high. Excavation of their nesting cavity can take up to six weeks. In the end, they line their nest with wood chips. They lay only one clutch per season. Both the male and female incubate up to five white eggs for about16 days. In the event the dead tree falls from decay or a strong wind pileated woodpeckers have been observed moving their eggs out of the nest to another site. This is a rare habit in birds. Once the eggs hatch both the female and male feed the young. The young typically leave the nest 22-26 days.
Want to help the pileated woodpecker? Pileated woodpeckers are not listed as a threatened or endangered species. However, they require large tracts of mature forest. Lumbering and development destroy habitat, which has a significant impact on the pileated woodpecker survival. Dead or decaying trees are essential for nesting, roosting and feeding. Protect large tracts of old growth forest from being developed or lumbered. Save all dead or decaying trees, stumps or logs from being removed in cities, suburbs and rural areas.