Nesting Habits of Pileated Woodpeckers


One of the largest woodpeckers that calls North America home is the pileated woodpecker. Its odd appearance and red crest were the inspiration for the best-known woodpecker of all -- Woody Woodpecker. Pileateds range in size from 16 to19 inches long. They are mainly black with one distinctive white stripe down both sides of their faces and necks. Some of the nesting habits of the pileated woodpecker are similar to that of other woodpeckers.


  • Mating occurs in late spring and pairs have one clutch annually. Pileated woodpecker pairs stay together for life, defending their territory, which can range up to 1,000 acres. Pileateds may occupy the same territory for 30 years or more, passing it down from generation to generation. The pairs stay together throughout the year but may roost in different places during the cooler seasons of fall and winter.

Nesting Location

  • Like most woodpeckers, pileateds prefer forests with plenty of large deciduous trees to nest in. Nests are located up to 75 feet high in large dead trees or branches that are large enough to accommodate the family. Both woodpeckers will work on hollowing out the tree cavity creating an entrance that is oblong or somewhat rectangular. The entrance is between 3 and 4 inches in diameter. Pairs may take six weeks or longer to construct their home and will move to a new location every year. The nest is usually empty, with the exception of wood bits left behind.

Clutch Size and Incubation

  • Average clutches consist of three to five white eggs and the pair will take turns incubating them for two weeks. Incubation usually begins while the eggs are being laid. The pileated woodpecker has altricial young, which means they are born without feathers and unable to care for themselves. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will care for the young.


  • Parents will take turns foraging for food and then regurgitate it for the young until they are old enough to learn how to find food on their own. The young will fledge between three and four weeks and the parents will both continue to feed and train them to find food on their own. The young will stay with their parents until early fall at which time they will leave to find their own territories.

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