Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs Pileated Woodpecker: What are the Differences?

Pileated woodpecker ( Hylatomus pileatus ) looking for food on Vancouver island , Canada.

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: February 2, 2023

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What bird did you see on that tree? Could it be the ivory-billed woodpecker, regarded as extinct in 2004, or its close look-alike, the pileated woodpecker? According to recent findings, the ivory-billed woodpecker, initially declared extinct, was sighted recently.

Read on to find out the differences between the ivory-billed woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker. 

Comparing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker and a Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker differs from the ivory-billed woodpecker in size.
Ivory-billed woodpeckerPileated woodpecker
SizeWeight: 0.99-1.26 lbs
Length: 19-21 inches
Weight: 0.55 to 0.77 lbs
Length: 16 to 19 inches
MorphologyHead with a pointed sharp beak, a body, and clawed digitsHead with a pointed sharp beak, a body, and clawed digits
HabitatForests and wooded areasForests and wooded areas
Social behaviorLive in groups, non-migratory, lives with a mate for a yearLive in groups, non-migratory, lives with a mate throughout its lifetime.
Wingspan31 inches26-30 inches
Lifespan20 years12 years
ColorRed, black, white.Grey, red.

The Key Differences Between an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and a Pileated Woodpecker

The visible differences between the ivory-billed woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker are in their looks. The ivory-billed woodpecker has a shorter ivory-colored bill than the pileated woodpecker, whose bill is more silvery or dark.

The chest of the male ivory-billed woodpecker is red, while the mustache of the pileated woodpecker is red. Moreover, the ivory-billed woodpecker has strides of white on its feathers, while the pileated woodpecker has no such appearance.

Other differences between the ivory-billed woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker include size, wingspan, lifespan, and color. Let’s address them one at a time.

Ivory-Billed woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Size

Ivory billed wood pecker

The ivory-billed woodpecker can weigh up to 1.26 lbs.

The two birds have similar lengths and weights, so differentiating them may be complicated. The ivory-billed woodpecker weighs between 0.99 to 1.25 lbs and measures between 19 to 21 inches in length. The pileated woodpecker follows closely behind, weighing between 0.55 to 0.77 lbs and measuring between 16 to 19 inches in length. 

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Morphology

The ivory-billed woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker belong to the same family. They both have heads with pointed sharp beaks joined to the body by the neck. Their feet are regular bird feet with claws that they mostly use to scratch trees and hold onto branches.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Habitat

Male Pileated Woodpecker in Flight

Pileated woodpeckers are native to forests with lots of trees, just like ivory-billed woodpeckers.

The ivory-billed woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker share a lot in common, and interestingly, their habitat falls under the same category. Both birds are native to forests with lots of trees, and this means that one can likely find both birds in wooded parks across America and Canada. These birds are known to build their nest in trees by drilling in with their beaks. They, however, do this on dead trees or dying parts of living trees, as these areas are softer and easier to drill into.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Social Behavior

Again, ivory-billed and pileated woodpeckers do not fail to show their similarities even regarding their social behavior. Both birds share similarities in social behavior as they live in groups and are not hostile to their kind. It’s not abnormal to see these birds building their nests in trees. For example, the ivory-billed woodpeckers can have 11 birds feeding off one tree simultaneously. While things can happen in unity for most of the season, a little bit of territorial behavior is exhibited by both species during the mating seasons. The males of both bird species often establish their territory and keep other males away, but this could get a little serious for the pileated woodpecker during mating seasons.

The primary difference in the behavior of the ivory-billed woodpecker and pileated woodpecker is their mating behavior. While the ivory-billed woodpecker stays with their mate for just a year, the pileated woodpecker is monogamous and stays with one partner throughout its lifetime.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Diet

Close up of male Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers are omnivores that primarily eat carpenter ants.

Both birds are omnivorous and depend on plant and animal nutrition to survive. The ivory-billed woodpecker mainly feeds on the large beetle larvae of the longhorn, jewel, and click beetle families. They also feed on fruits and nuts like hickory, pecan, magnolia, poison ivy, grapes, persimmons, hackberries, and acorns.

Similarly, the pileated woodpecker feeds on insects but considers the carpenter ant its favorite meal. It also feeds on other ant species and wood-boring beetle larvae and insects, including flies, spruce budworms, caterpillars, cockroaches, and grasshoppers. Like the ivory-billed woodpecker, they also feed on wild fruits and nuts, including greenbrier, hackberry, sassafras, blackberries, sumac berries, poison ivy, holly, dogwood, persimmon, and elderberry.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Predators

Although these birds are omnivores, they are not birds of prey and, as a result, fall to the lower part of the food chain. The ivory-billed woodpecker is prey to animals like the raccoons, snakes, owls, crows, and hawks. Similarly, the pileated woodpecker is, unfortunately, a sumptuous meal to many predators like the American martens, weasels, squirrels, rat snakes, gray foxes, cooper’s hawks, northern goshawks, red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, bald eagles,  golden eagles, and barred owls.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker: Danger To Humans

These two birds do not pose any serious threat to human existence. They could even be said to help preserve the ecosystem as they help clear up dead parts of trees. However, people who live close to forests and wooded areas might have constant visits from these birds, and your roof and building could be in for a bit of drilling if it’s made from wood. They would consider such a space as deadwood and get to work immediately, and this could be terrible for your building if it goes on for a long while. 

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