It is truly a challenge to attract a pileated woodpecker to a feeder.  I have been feeding birds for more than a half a century and have never fed a morsel of food to a pileated woodpecker.   However, pileated woodpeckers do visit backyard bird feeders.  According to data collected in Project FeederWatch, less than a quarter of the people that feed birds in the Southeast host pileated woodpeckers.

            Personally, I can count on one hand the number of people that have told me they have been able to attract our largest woodpecker to their feeders.  However, several years ago Leon and Julie Neel told me that pileated woodpeckers visited a  homemade suet feeder outside their home near Thomasville.  This feeder was truly unique and beautiful.  The feeder was a large cypress knee.  Suet was packed into a number of large holes drilled around the knee.  This feeder was both functional and beautiful.

            If you want to meet the challenge of trying to attract a pileated woodpecker to your feeders, there are a few facts you need to know.  First,

The pileated woodpecker was not considered a feeder bird until the 1950s.  Since that time, pileated woodpeckers have visited feeders more frequently.

            If a pileated woodpecker begins visiting your feeder, it will typically be extremely cautious.  However, its trepidation will somewhat diminish with time.

            Initially, only one bird will visit a feeder.  However, don’t be surprised if the bird’s mate visits later.  The reason for this is the members of  a  pair of pileated woodpeckers maintain a bond with one another throughout the entire year.  In addition, they occupy  the same territory throughout all seasons.  However, they are more tolerant of other pileated woodpeckers that might enter their territory during the winter.

            The best food to use to attract pileated woodpeckers is suet.  You can use either plain or peanut butter suet. 

            Suet should be offered in a large feeder.  Large feeders attached to the trunk of a tree work well.  Suet can also be smeared into the bark of  a tree.  Some folks have been successful in attracting  the birds to large log suet feeders suspended on  poles.  Others smear a layer of suet between two slabs of wood, which are attached to a tree.

            If you are going to try to meet the pileated woodpecker challenge this winter, go into it with realistic expectations.  Chances are you will not be successful.  However, if are patient, you just may be rewarded with the rare opportunity of being able to see pileated woodpeckers on a regular basis. 


  1. This summer I was fortunate enough to watch a male Pileated teach his offspring how to feed at our suet feeder. One of the young birds was a regular visitor for several months. We still him occasionally,.

    • Julia,

      Wow! What an experience. I have never read or heard of anyone having such a wonderful experience — you were so lucky.

      I would love to know what type of feeder the birds visited and whether or not the feeder was placed on a tree.

    • Read your “attracting Pileated Woodpeckers to a feeder is a challenge”
      Amazingly after feeding birds for fifty plus years we have a pair of Pileated woodpeckers visiting our feeder every day. Yes they love suet, we leave a big block of suet now placed in our hanging feed tray connected to our feeder that has all sorts of seeds to feed the other birds.
      Your description is very accurate, very shy at first but now showing up quite often every day. Minnesota

  2. When I lived in Cashiers NC I had a large old oak snag in my backyard…I drilled lots of large holes in the tree and filled them with high energy suet…I would have 3 or 4 Pileated on the tree at the same time…worked well until the bears started showing up

    • Anonymous,

      Most folks wouid feel lucky to attract just one. What a great idea. I can fully ujderstand why you had to stop feeding the woodpeckers. I will have to share you experience in my programs.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your wonderful story.


  3. We live in the Northeast Ohio area and have Pileated woodpeckers visit our two large feeders with suet baskets attached to the sides. I was even able to capture a picture of one hanging in the window feeder which only has a premium seed mixture and a few meal worms for wrens and bluebirds. This species is so interesting to watch and hear. They make a lot of loud chirps going from tree to tree while scoping out the feeder area before flying in to top of feeder, always watchful, and backing down to suet. We laugh watching a parent teach a young pileated how to access the suet. Birds are miracles and its a blessing to be able to watch nature at it’s best.

    • Chris,

      You are so fortunate to be able to enjoy seeing pileated woodpeckers around your yard on a regular basis. Sadly, I don’t know of anybody in the Peach State that can match what your are seeing.

      Thanks for sharing your sightings with me.


  4. Today I saw my first pileated! My friend made a log feeder and drilled 4 holes at the top. Brought it outside to test it and the pileated showed up! She came back about 4 more times after the first visit.

  5. I’ll add that we have had success attracting Pileateds to our feeders. We use 3 large red “Audubon” hopper feeders with suet holders on each side, hung high up in our maple trees. They have also regularly come up to our clear plastic window feeders in my office window around 8 a.m. In past years we have had up to six pileateds come to our yard at one time, although this year their populations seems to have diminished. I wonder if this is because the Emerald Ash Borers have moved on from our area so the birds have moved with them? Our favorite suet is “Royal Wing woodpecker suet” from Tractor Supply. Our yard is next to a large county park with lots of old trees. And we have three snags in our yard which they seem to like, too. We are located in southern Ohio.

  6. We have a father pileated that’s been to our peanut feeder twice in 2 days now, with his baby. The dad clings onto the peanut feeder and pounds his beak into the peanuts in the feeder. Then he flies over to the tree from which the feeder is hanging and feeds the baby. We also have hairy and downy woodpeckers who love the peanuts. Sometimes I put up suet, too and it goes fast. Chickadees also love the peanuts and suet and black oiled sunflower seeds. We live in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

  7. We have a large red-headed Pileated Woodpecker on our 24 inch wire mesh feeder full of black sunflower seeds. He comes often at this point and I sometimes think he breaks so many seeds that I feel bad for the other smaller birds. He stays as long as he wants, left alone to feed. The feeder’s full but many seeds are merely shells after he’s been there! This is in Central Kentucky.

  8. Mo. I have a Pileated woodpecker that’s been around ,on suet,for several weeks now.Believe he might be staying.Unbelievable beautiful bird and so big

  9. Interesting! I have a suet feeder hanging with my seed feeder. I have had pileateds come and feed on the suet for several years. Usually there are two, but just in the past few days, a third has appeared! They were just now on my deck rail, in the nearby trees and on the suet feeder. When they are around, the suet disappears quickly! I love seeing them. They are truly majestic and I recognize their call.

    • Karen,

      I am envious of the fact that you attracted not one but multiple pileated woodpeckers to your feeders. I don’t know anybody in my neck of this woods that can say that have had that kind of success.


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