These year-round residents are Minnesota’s biggest woodpeckers and may be the largest remaining in North America.

What They Eat

Insects, fruits and nuts. Carpenter ants are a favorite, captured deep inside their tunnels with their long tongues.

Where They Live

You are most likely to see a pileated in thick forest near a river or lake. Look up high in tall trees, especially dead ones.

What They Do

Pileated woodpeckers cling to the sides of trees and knock. They’re either drumming to announce territory, building nests for their young, or drilling holes several feet long in search of food.

How They’re Doing

Pileated woodpeckers are currently doing just fine.


Where in the World

North America


Temperate Forest/Taiga

Conservation Status


Animal Facts

Body length: 17 in.
Wingspan: 26-30 in.
Average # of eggs: lays 4 white eggs in tree cavity  
Group name
: descent

Taxonomic Category


Where at the Zoo

Medtronic Minnesota Trail

  • A woodpecker’s pointy tongue stretches three times longer than its bill and contains tiny, rear-facing barbs. The barbs prevent insects from escaping when the woodpecker retracts its tongue from the tree.
  • Both male and female pileated woodpeckers sport a red crest on top of their head. The male has a red “mustache” and the female’s is black.
  • Because of the large holes they make, Pileated woodpeckers can sometimes cause a small tree to break in half.

Care at the Zoo

Bird exhibits at the zoo are set up to mimic the same habitat the individuals would have in the wild. Woodpeckers hammer out holes in trees not only to look for food, but also to build nests. In order to satisfy their natural instinct to chisel away at tree trunks with their beaks, the zoo’s exhibit team built an artificial nest cavity in one of the trees in their exhibit. To keep the birds challenged, the entrance to the nest cavity can be blocked with pieces of wood or filled with woodchips to give them more to excavate.

In addition to enrichment provided by the zookeepers, the birds in our Minnesota Trail outdoor aviary are frequently visited by wild birds. This includes several pileated woodpeckers that make their home on zoo grounds. They often “visit” our woodpeckers and can be seen on the other side of the exhibit looking in.

Unlike the their wild visitors, zoo birds have the option of escaping the elements. They can take advantage of the heat lamps in their aviary or they can go indoors. Even when given a choice, the birds generally prefer to remain outside and use exhibit trees and shrubs for cover.