A pileated woodpecker chips away the bark on a fallen tree before probing for insects in Chenango Valley State Park in Broome County, New York.
Growing up to 20 inches in length with a nearly 30 inch wingspan, the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopous pileatus) is one of the largest species of woodpecker. This striking bird with its bright-red crest can be found year-round throughout most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. But don’t expect to see a pileated woodpecker as a backyard birder: this bird is most likely to be found in mature, old-growth forests full of dead trees and fallen logs (although it can sometimes be found in young forests, as well).
With a characteristic thunk sound, the pileated woodpecker uses its long neck and chisel-like bill to powerfully strike logs, stumps and dead trees, leaving behind a distinctive rectangular-shaped hole. It then uses its spear-like, barbed tongue to feed on ants, termites, beetle larvae and other insects.
Experts believe populations of pileated woodpeckers may have declined in previous centuries, due to the clearing of forests in the eastern United States. But since the mid-20th century, populations have steadily increased as the forests rebounded.