Both male and female are mostly black, with a red crest. While the woodpecker is in flight, the white wing lining (the underside of the wing) is visible. A white stripe runs from above and behind the bill, across the face, down the neck, and under the wings, and connects with the white wing linings. Another white stripe runs from behind the eye to the red crest. The chin is white, and the bill is dark colored. 42 cm (16.5 in) in length. The drumming of this species is loud and slow.
The breeding season begins in mid-March, peaks in April, and extends to late-May. The male and female excavate a cavity in a snag approximately 4.5-24 m (15-80 feet) above the ground. The cavity is usually lined with wood chips. The female lays 3-5 (usually 4) eggs that both adults incubate for 15-18 days. The male incubates at night and the female during the day. The young are altricial and fledge 26-28 days after hatching.
The primary habitat of the Pileated Woodpecker is mature forests with available nesting snags. The diet includes insects, fruit, seed, and sometime tree sap. This species take prey by drilling or prying loose bark off trees and occasionally fallen logs. Once a tree is found that has high insect numbers, large amounts of the tree may be removed in search of prey. The holes it excavates to gather food can be very large and are usually oval shaped.
In the United States, the range covers most of the eastern half of the country and the northwestern states south to northern California. It is fairly common throughout the Southeast, except in southern Florida. In Georgia, breeding populations are lower in the central part of the state.
The Pileated Woodpecker requires large areas for its territory. Change of timber practices and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 helped increase the numbers of this bird. This bird is fairly common and is not Threatened or Endangered in the Southeast.
The species most similar to the Pileated Woodpecker is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a larger woodpecker which is thought to be extinct. Only the male Ivory-billed Woodpecker has a red crest, and both adults have a ivory-colored bill. While the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is in flight, a lot of white is visible on the flight feathers from above and from below. Also, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker lacks white on the chin and the small white eye stripe that extends from behind the eye to the crest.