Pileated Woodpecker Meaning And Symbolism -The Ultimate Guide

The pileated woodpecker is a large, loud, and magnificent bird. It makes its presence known, even when hidden, and it has strong symbolism for us. From the striking black and white to the shock of red on the crest, with the clear calls and drumming beat on the trees, pileated woodpeckers impact us, and there is much we can learn.

Pileated woodpeckers symbolize perseverance, ongoing energy, confidence, and hard work. They dance between earth and the spirit realm and represent caring and nurturing through hardship. Their hammering is likened to our heartbeats and the beating of the universal heartbeat of all living beings.

If you have been lucky enough to witness a pileated woodpecker in the woods, your jaw may have dropped at the sheer size of this bird.

Everything about their presence makes you stop and take note, and this is a large part of their meaning and symbolism for us.

Journey into the woods with us as we uncover the ultimate guide to pileated woodpecker meaning and symbolism.

Pileated Woodpecker Meaning And Symbolism

The Pileated woodpecker is a mighty bird that prefers the edges of forests. They are related to a likely extinct species called the ivorybill woodpecker. It is said that our ancestors would gasp in awe when an ivorybill flew overhead, often exclaiming phrases like, “Lord God” or “My God.”

Although slightly smaller than its white-billed cousin, the pileated woodpecker evokes a similar response when sighted in the forest.

The pileated woodpecker is around the size of a large crow, with a wingspan of around thirty inches.

When one flies overhead, it seems to blot out the sun for a moment, forcing you to take notice and be completely present in the exact moment.

Many of the physical attributes and behaviors of the pileated woodpecker add to its majesty and the symbolism and meaning we can draw from it.

Let us look at a few of the characteristics that are clear and discern their meaning.

The Size Of The Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is a relatively large bird with a strong beak. With outstretched wings, it measures around thirty inches across, about the size of a large crow.

When it flies above you, it creates a large shadow, forcing you to look up and marvel at its grandeur.

Even with its size, the pileated woodpecker can stay hidden when it chooses. You will likely hear it before seeing it in the woods.  

The size of the pileated woodpecker lends significance to us. When we feel small or insignificant, this mighty bird reminds us that we have a significant presence in this world. We may walk unnoticed at times, but when we begin to soar and succeed, we will substantially impact those around us.

The pileated woodpecker reminds us to stand tall and take our place in this world. We all have value to add, and it is time to use yours, whether others see you or not.

The Colors Of The Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is mainly black with white stripes. It has a shock of red on its crest, giving it the name “pileated.” (Pileated means to have a crest covering the top of the head)

The contrast between black and white symbolizes balance and the fight between good and evil. Black typically represents evil, mystery, the unknown, and magic. White usually symbolizes good, purity, cleanliness, and openness.

Having both black and white, the pileated woodpecker shows us that balance is possible. We should strive to understand the good and evil in ourselves and in others if we are to have meaningful and authentic relationships.

This bird reminds us to explore mystery and magic and what we can see before us. The white stripes on the pileated woodpecker are a reminder to act in love and seek goodness and purity.

Red symbolizes passion. 

Whether passion presents itself as love, war, anger, lust, life, health, or strong religious or spiritual beliefs depends on you as an individual and your specific situation.

When we see the red crest of the pileated woodpecker, we are immediately brought into the moment. A flash of red can sometimes be the only reminder we need to reignite our passions and live with energy and meaning.

As a combination of colors, red, black, and white hold their own significant meaning. As infants, we are first drawn to the shades of black and white. Red symbolizes life since it is the color of blood.  

When we encounter the colors red, white, and black, it can be a message to consider our past lives, childhood, or past experiences to better understand our current situations. The color combination can also mean it is time to better understand your inner child to live a full life of passion and purpose.

In nature, red, black, and white are considered dangerous colors. Could it be that you are being warned of a dangerous, unhealthy, or unbalanced aspect of your life by seeing a pileated woodpecker with these colors?

The Call Of The Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker has a few noticeable calls. Their short, long, interactional, and flight calls are all similar yet display a range of communication that can be understood by avid watchers. They are generally high-pitched and loud.

Juvenile pileated woodpeckers have similar calls to their parents, though they are noticeably raspier (and adorable).

Walking in the woods, we can become immersed in our thoughts, taking us away from the experiences and wonder around us. Hearing a pileated woodpecker nearby signals that we should live in the present moment and pay attention to our surroundings.

Just like a walk in the woods, walking through our lives can become somewhat distanced from the present moment. Worries and concerns about life’s issues, hopes, dreams for the future, or even outside influences can pull our focus away from the present.


The call of the pileated woodpecker is a reminder to live in the moment and fully experience our lives.

The pileated woodpecker is often heard before it is seen. This unique characteristic holds meaning in itself. You hold space in the world, and what you have to say matters. Do not be afraid to make yourself heard and understood when the time is right.

The pileated woodpecker is loud and unapologetic. State your case with confidence and know that the right people will appreciate what you have to say.

The Drumming Of The Pileated Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are immaculately designed to beat their beaks on hard bark. They perform this activity to get access to insects for their food. They also dig holes in tree trunks to create cozy nests for their young.

The drumming sound of the pileated woodpecker symbolizes drums and the beating of our hearts. We all have a heartbeat. It beats out our life story from inside the womb and radiates through our lives as the pulse of our existence and expression.

If you believe in animism, you understand that all living things are beings. It is this concept that allows us to find beautiful symbolism in the drumming of the woodpecker.

Since all creatures with hearts have drumming inside of them, it is beautiful to know that even creatures without hearts have a drumming pulse of life. The drumming of life is part of what connects us with all living beings, and the pileated woodpecker is a stunning reminder of this.

Native Americans believe that the woodpecker represents a journey to the spirit realm. It is a symbol of prophets and messengers, who are often misunderstood.

Just as prophets must keep explaining their messages, so must you persevere with your work on this planet until you are understood, or your destiny is fulfilled.

Woodpeckers find their sustenance within hard trees. Trees can be likened to your inner self. The drumming of the pileated woodpecker is a reminder to keep searching within yourself to find your truth.

Only through the hard work of learning about ourselves can we live an authentic life and be nourished from within.

For some, the sound of the pileated woodpecker drumming is frustrating. Even this frustration can carry a message for you.

Since woodpeckers are considered a symbol of messengers and prophets, the frustrating drumming sound can mean that there is a lesson you have yet to learn. Try to meditate on your life and use intuition to ascertain if anything is trying to get through to you.

Pileated Woodpecker Family Life

Pileated woodpeckers mate for life. They return to the same trees or similar spots year after year to continue their dance with instinct and nurturing.

These loyal birds dig perfectly shaped holes in tree trunks to serve as cozy nests for their young. They work tirelessly, hammering into the bark and discarding the unwanted wood chips below.

When the young hatch, both parents source food for them. The hatchlings are as loud and confident as their parents and soon take flight, almost effortlessly, joining their parents in the forest sky.

From the family life of the pileated woodpecker, we can learn that loyalty and family are essential. Caring for the young or those in our care can bring great rewards as we watch them take flight after our help.

There is beauty in following our natural instincts and observing tradition. Just as the woodpecker returns each year, we should also take solace and joy in following our own traditions and activities that bring joy and benefit to our tribe.

Just as the pileated woodpecker pecks at the bark and discards unnecessary wood chips, so can we discard aspects of our lives that are no longer required. By letting go of what no longer serves us, we free ourselves up to experience the present and future right in front of us.

From youth, pileated woodpeckers are confident in their communication and their abilities. Let us learn from these outgoing birds to make ourselves known and celebrate our unique abilities and skills.

Pileated Woodpecker Meaning Across Cultures

Throughout history and across cultures, pileated woodpeckers have made an impact and have brought us messages. Let us look at a few better-known cultures and their view on these magnificent birds.

Pileated Woodpeckers And Celtic Culture

The Celts believed that woodpeckers symbolize paying attention to your intuition. They saw woodpeckers as having excellent warning systems for danger and thought this was a good message for us.

The Celtic people noted that woodpeckers symbolize being in touch with your roots and being happy in any situation.  For the Celts, woodpeckers also represent bloodshed, knowledge, and skill development, especially with communication.

Pileated Woodpeckers And Ancient Roman Culture

The ancient Romans associated the woodpecker with Mars.

A famous woodpecker, Picus, was associated with Mars and became a minor god in Italy. He was associated with agriculture and was responsible for fertilizing the soil.

From this, we can learn that woodpeckers have always been considered majestic and powerful, linked to the gods or the spirit realm.

Pileated Woodpeckers And Native American Culture

For Native American people, the pileated woodpecker symbolizes traveling to the spirit realm. Those with pileated woodpecker tattoos are thought to possess powers of creativity, wisdom, and individuality.

Native American people believe seeing a pileated woodpecker in dreams can bring you fertility and productivity. Fertility can be related to family, new projects, ideas, or work being birthed.

For Native American people, the pileated woodpecker is seen as a symbol of prophets or messengers. 

They are thought to have a specific link between the earthly and spiritual realms.


The mighty pileated woodpecker, with its striking colors, foreboding size, and confident call, can bring much wisdom and understanding to us in our lives.

The pileated woodpecker seems to take up space, communicate, and unapologetically gather food. Indeed, we can learn from this way of life and operate similarly.

Pileated woodpeckers are loyal, determined, and persistent. They work hard to survive and seem to take enjoyment from any situation. They care for their family and nurture those closest to them.

These birds symbolize the balance between light and dark, bringing passion to life in all they do.

Perhaps we can learn more about living unapologetically, being our true selves, and walking with confidence from them, than from anything else.

Work hard, communicate clearly and fly high, spreading your wings while others gasp in awe.







Donald Bergeson

I have always been fascinated by the skill, strength, and beauty of birds.They help in maintaining a balance of ecological environment. At Best Bird Guide, I share all of my experiences and discoveries that I have got so far and inspire more devoted fans.

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