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Pileated Woodpecker, Alan Burger
Photo © Alan Burger

Photo: Alan Burger
Breeding evidence - Pileated Woodpecker
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Pileated Woodpecker
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Pileated Woodpecker
Elevation plot

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Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
8 - 1614 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
6
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
123 178 936 496
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 1.89 (0.71 - 3.3)Medium
Canada1970 - 2012 2.46 (1.25 - 3.42)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.040.03 0.080.07 0.06
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.040.03 0.020.07 0.07
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.070.07 0.09  0.05

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
 0.030.090.06
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
 0.060.050.08
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.08 0.05 
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce
0.080.030.090.07

Characteristics and Range The striking Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in Canada. A resident species, pairs loudly defend their large territory all year, chasing off intruders, calling and drumming (Bull and Jackson 2011). While the Atlas constitutes some of the most northern breeding records, Pileated Woodpeckers have a widespread range extending from the southern Boreal Forest south through western and eastern forests to the United States' Southern Coastal Plains.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat While more common widespread in the southern half of British Columbia, the Atlas confirmed Pileated Woodpeckers breed in all but a single ecoprovince, the Northern Boreal Mountains, where breeding is probable. Breeding observations are absent from the central and northern coasts, including on Haida Gwaii. This general distribution is similar to The Birds of British Columbia was published published in 1990, however the Atlas provides more comprehensive coverage and definitive breeding records throughout the provincial range.

Pileated Woodpeckers are more likely found in valley systems and on interior plateaus at elevations below 1,250 m. This coincides with their preferred breeding habitat, where they select for larger diameter, taller trees for nesting and roosting compared with other woodpeckers (Bull and Jackson 2011). Pileated Woodpeckers are more abundant in British Columbia's interior forests and the drier forests of the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone than in the wetter coastal forests.

Throughout the mixed forests of British Columbia's interior, it prefers large, live Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides), often with visible signs of decay (Martin et al. 2004). Throughout British Columbia's western forests, it uses a variety of tree species, mostly coniferous, both snags and deteriorating live trees. All trees are large and tall; many have heart rot fungi (Bull and Jackson 2011). Pileated Woodpeckers are typically most abundant in forests with higher densities of dead wood, older trees and more complex structure and species composition (Hartwig et al. 2004, Bull and Jackson 2011).

Conservation and Recommendations Populations appear relatively stable across most of British Columbia with a notable recent increase across the Northern Rockies Bird Conservation Region coinciding with the largest continental outbreak of Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) ever recorded (Environment Canada 2014, Martin et al. 2006). The Pileated Woodpecker plays a critical ecological role in the continent's forests by excavating large cavities used by a diverse array of animals for nesting and roosting (Martin and Eadie 1999, Bull and Jackson 2011), supporting high breeding site productivity for ducks and raptors (Evans et al. 2002, Martin et al. 2004). Pileated Woodpeckers accelerate decomposition of wood and nutrient recycling, and may help control bark beetle populations during pandemics (Bull and Jackson 2011). The species can tolerate less canopy cover during insect outbreaks provided dead trees and logs remain abundant and are not logged for salvage (Bull et al. 2007), and in suburban landscapes where the proportion of adjacent forest is high (Blewett and Marzluff 2005). Its primary prey species are carpenter ants (Camponotus species) and wood-boring beetle larvae, so healthy populations of Pileated Woodpecker require a network of older and diverse forest structures of different tree species, both healthy and unhealthy, downed wood and snags to support their prey base (Martin et al. 2006, Bull and Jackson 2011).

Wendy E. Easton

Recommended citation: Easton, W.E. 2015. Pileated Woodpecker in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. http://www.birdatlas.bc.ca/accounts/speciesaccount.jsp?sp=PIWO&lang=en [10 Dec 2018]

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