How to Attract Pileated Woodpeckers With Suet on the Side of a Tree

Large pileated woodpeckers appreciate a hearty suet snack.
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Do you want to attract Pileated Woodpeckers to your backyard? Suet cages for birds are one way of inviting Pileated Woodpeckers to your neighborhood. For a Pileated Woodpecker, suet is like an all-you-can-eat buffet, providing easy calories and valuable nutrition that these large birds don't have to forage for. If you live near a wooded area, putting suet on the side of a tree is a good way to bring these busy, colorful birds to your backyard – especially during the winter, when there are fewer food sources available.

Pileated Woodpecker Facts

Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest members of the woodpecker family in North America, according to Birds & Blooms. The scientific name for this crow-sized species is ​Dryocopus pileatus​. The species name, ​pileatus​, means "capped," which refers to the red crest on the top of Pileated Woodpeckers' heads.

With a black and white body about 16 to 19 1/2 inches long, Pileated Woodpeckers have long, sharp, black bills to hammer for insects in tree bark, notes Male Pileated Woodpeckers have a white line over their eyes, a bright red crest and a red streak on the sides of their cheeks.

Their range includes most of Canada, the eastern United States and some parts of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. They tend to live in forests, wooded suburbs and backyards. Once a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers has established its territory, it will stay there together and defend the area all year long, as these birds mate for life.

Diet of Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers use their long, strong bills to pull bark off of dead trees, pecking holes into the wood to look for insects. Their main food source is carpenter ants, which they collect with their sticky, barbed tongues. You can tell if Pileated Woodpeckers have been working on a dead tree by the distinctive rectangular holes they leave behind – these cavities can be more than a foot long, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Along with carpenter ants, Pileated Woodpeckers also eat other types of ants and insects, including beetle larvae, termites, caterpillars, cockroaches and grasshoppers. Fruits and nuts – like acorns, blackberries, sumac berries, poison ivy, dogwood and elderberry – add some variety to the diet of Pileated Woodpeckers.

These birds spend most of their time searching for ants in dead or dying trees, and often nest in cavities that they create in ​snags​, which are dead trees that are still standing. Leaving trees like this in your backyard can help to attract Pileated Woodpeckers to your neighborhood, and putting up a nest box can increase the chances of bringing a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers to your yard, too.

Suet Cages for Birds

The main prey of Pileated Woodpeckers is carpenter ants, but who can resist a free meal? Especially in the winter, when many insects are dormant and the days are cold and windy, it can be hard for birds to find enough food. Overwintering birds like Pileated Woodpeckers will appreciate a suet cage on a tree during the harsh days of January and February.

Other birds – like chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and smaller woodpeckers – will also be attracted to a suet cage in the winter, notes NC Cooperative Extension. Providing a heated birdbath in your yard will make it even more likely for birds to visit during cold days.

You'll know if you have Pileated Woodpeckers in your neighborhood because you'll hear the loud whacking sound their bills make as they hammer into dead trees. Also, having Pileated Woodpeckers around can help attract other types of birds, who may come to forage in the holes that the large woodpeckers make. Large, vocal birds that make a variety of calling, drumming and hammering noises, Pileated Woodpeckers will be easy to see and hear when they are in your backyard.

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