ileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers are commonly seen in the Cedar River Watershed.

Two woodpecker species, the pileated (Dryocopus pileatus) and the three-toed (Picoides tridactylus), are listed as species of concern in the HCP. Neither is federally listed, but the pileated woodpecker a Washington State candidate species.

Pileated woodpeckers are considered a keystone species in Pacific Northwest forests because they have a significant impact on the ecosystem. They are our largest native woodpecker and create cavities in both snags and living trees. They excavate new nest cavities each year, and often make several starts before finishing a cavity. Because of their large size, they target tall trees and snags with large diameters. They create cavities with wide openings that are often high on the tree bole. Pileated woodpeckers are usually associated with old-growth forests because of their need for large snags and trees.

Over 20 native species of secondary cavity users nest or roost in cavities or openings excavated by pileated woodpeckers. These include several species of ducks, owls, bats, and squirrels. Pileateds provide the majority of cavities used by larger animals such as the fisher and American marten. Pileated woodpeckers also provide foraging opportunities for many species because they excavate deep into both sapwood and heartwood, areas that other species are unable to reach. These excavations expose existing insects as well as providing access for future infestations of fungus and insects.

Three-toed woodpeckers are associated with montane conifer wetlands, montane mixed conifer forests, and subalpine habitat. They are rarely found below the subalpine fir zone, at about 3,500 feet above sea level. They are uncommon and occur in a patchy population distribution. They use snags more frequently than live trees, and in Europe and eastern Canada are associated with old-growth forest and large volumes of snags. In the Pacific Northwest they are often associated with forests having high densities of snags, such as recently burned forest or areas infested with bark beetles.


Our long-term goal, over the next 50 to 100 years, is to maintain existing woodpecker habitat, as well as enhance habitat for woodpeckers in the watershed. Our specific objectives include:

  1. Protect and maintain all existing old-growth forest habitat
  2. Enhance woodpecker habitat by accelerating the development of old-growth forest characteristics in young second-growth plantation forests


What are we doing for woodpeckers?

Both upland and riparian forest habitat enhancement projects should facilitate development of the large trees and snags pileated woodpeckers need for roosting and nesting more rapidly than would passive restoration alone. In addition, habitat enhancement projects that create snags will provide immediate habitat for all native woodpeckers.

Upland Forest Habitat Restoration
Upland forest habitat enhancement projects are designed as active restoration projects to accelerate old-growth forest conditions in second-growth forest generated after clearcut logging. One restoration technique, variable density thinning, provides more growing space for remaining trees. This should facilitate development of the large trees, and eventually snags, used for nesting and roosting more rapidly than would passive restoration alone. Snag creation will immediately enhance woodpecker habitat. View more on our upland forest habitat restoration program..

Aquatic and Riparian Habitat Restoration
Riparian habitat enhancement projects include planting conifer trees such as Sitka spruce and western red cedar in areas with few or no conifers, releasing existing conifers in areas where they are being suppressed by dense overstory alder trees, and thinning in dense conifer stands. All of these techniques should accelerate development of the large conifer trees used by pileated woodpeckers for nesting and roosting. View more information on our aquatic and riparian habitat restoration program.

Protect All Watershed Habitats
Management of the watershed serves to avoid or minimize adverse effects of major events such as fire, spills of toxic materials, invasive species, and excessive human disturbance. Protecting the forest from fire will likely provide the most benefit for pileated woodpeckers. This protection helps to maintain all existing old-growth forest and through passive restoration allows second-growth forest to develop the large trees and snags needed for roosting and breeding. View more information on habitat protection.