Throughout the eastern United States and even into parts of the Pacific Northwest, the Pileated Woodpecker is a common sight. This striking bird is very large—arguably reaching ‘crow size’ territory—with many observers reporting sizes that might surprise you.
So, how big is a Pileated Woodpecker? In this article, we’ll be exploring the wide variety of Pileated Woodpecker sizes, starting from when this bird hatches to when it reaches full maturity.
Photo Credit: Andy on Flickr
The Size Of The Pileated Depends Upon Geographic Location
What does a German anatomist by the name of Carl Bergmann have to do with the size of Pileated Woodpeckers? A lot, actually.
You see, Carl Bergmann was the first biologist to figure out that in areas where the average temperature of a climate is lower, the overall body mass of a given species found in that area would be larger. This would go on to become known as ‘Bergmann’s Rule’, and it’s applicable to the Pileated Woodpecker (source).
Following this rule, it’s safe to say that the average size of a Pileated Woodpecker found in Canada is probably going to be larger than one found in Georgia. However, while the size will change between geographies the amount is typically on the order of +/- 20%.
So, how big are these things?
Average Adult Pileated Woodpecker Size
Well, as we’ve already mentioned, the Pileated Woodpecker is comparable to a crow insofar as size is concerned. An average-sized adult is likely to measure 16-19 inches in length, with a wingspan of up to 30 inches. When this impressive-looking bird is in flight it is a beautiful sight to see!
A Pileated Woodpecker is not far in size from the largest woodpecker in the world: the imperial woodpecker
Photo Credit: Andy on Flickr
Baby Pileated Woodpeckers
When female Pileated Woodpeckers lay their eggs, they typically produce between three and five of them in what is known as a ‘clutch’. After laying her eggs, the female and male will typically swap incubation duties for about two weeks, at which time the eggs will hatch and the tiny Pileated Woodpecker babies will be welcomed into the world (source).
In a 1988 study of Pileated Woodpeckers in Oregon, it was found that it takes about 24-28 days before nestlings are mature enough to fledge from the nest. As the young birds grow, they begin to practice the telltale habit of excavation, the term used to describe the ‘drilling’ that woodpeckers do to locate their food (source).
It’s estimated that before the Pileated Woodpecker sees it’s first Fall season, it has already broken from it’s family and has actively started locating a territory of its own.
How to Spot a Pileated Woodpecker
Because Pileated Woodpeckers prefer to forage for food and establish nests inside dead or dying trees, it’s common to find them in woodlots where older, succumbed trees can be found. These birds are often heard before they are seen, as their drumming is loud enough to be heard from hundreds of yards away.
Interestingly, Pileated Woodpeckers drum as a way to find food, yes, but it’s also done as a means to communicate with other Pileated Woodpeckers. So, if you see a crow-sized bird perched on the side of an older tree, and if that bird happens to have a red head with black-and-white streaks, it’s possible you’re looking at a Pileated Woodpecker.
While this bird is not necessarily endangered or even threatened, it is known to be quite shy and it’s probably not going to be very friendly if you decide to investigate it’s nest. These birds are best appreciated from afar, and they respond well to suet-style bird feeders installed in thoughtful locations (on or near older trees or tree stumps).