Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

Year-round Resident

Pileated Woodpeckers are year-round residents in the Washington metro area, but they are not common at Monticello Park and are not known to nest there. One or more sometimes comes to Monticello, but they tend not to stay long.

Where to See Them in the Park

When Pileated Woodpeckers are in the park, they often are in trees on the ridge, past the dog exercise area. They are the most skittish of all the woodpeckers who visit Monticello, and they usually prefer areas with little human traffic. However, sometimes when they are looking for insects in logs on the ground, they can be so involved in what they are hammering that they do not notice nearby people.

Physical Description

Pileated Woodpecker Male
Male - Photo by William Young

Pileated Woodpecker Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Pileated Woodpeckers are by far the largest woodpeckers in the Washington Area. They are as long as crows, but sleeker. They are unmistakable, with the male having a bright red crest that extends to his bill. He also has a red malar stripe (the stripe coming down from his bill).

Pileated Woodpecker Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The back and underparts are black. The black upperwing has a white crescent which becomes much larger when the wing is open.

Pileated Woodpecker Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Pileated Woodpecker Female
Female - Photo by William Young

Females are similar to males. Their forehead is gray rather than red, and the malar stripe is black rather than red. Adult males and females have the same plumage all year.

Pileated Woodpecker Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

As with the other woodpeckers in our area, the Pileated is a cavity nester. Here is video of a male excavating a tree cavity for a nest.


Some of the calls of the Pileated are incredibly loud and can probably be heard from a mile away. A common call is a long laugh consisting of kek notes that rise and then fall. Their drumming can be very loud, sounding like a jackhammer.

Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Pileated Woodpecker.


The Pileated Woodpecker was the model for how Woody Woodpecker should look. There is a dispute about the pronunciation of Pileated. Some people say "PILL-e-ated", while others say "PIE-lee-ated". The second pronunciation is more likely to be correct, because the word is derived from the word pileus, which is a pointed cap that used to be worn by ancient Romans. The red crest makes the woodpecker appear to be wearing one of these caps, and the cap is pronounce "PIE-lee-us".

Origin of Names

Common Names: Pileated from the red crest resembling a pointed cap called a pileus. Woodpecker because they peck wood.
Genus Name: Dryocopus means tree cleaver.
Species Name: Pileatus means capped.

Pileated Woodpecker video footage 1 and video footage 2

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