How to Pronounce Pileated

March 7, 2015 7 By Audrey

Speaking of pronunciation, this one blew my mind.

Pileated Woodpecker. Is it pronounced PIE-lee-ay-tid? Or PILL-ee-ay-did? I’ve always pronounced it PILL-ee-ay-ted, unaware there was even a debate. I’m a rule-follower, plus I like pie, so I’m considering switching. Sources imply PIE-lee-ay-tid is correct (and more common), but “Pill-ee-ay-did” is also acceptable. Probably how regional accents are accepted.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes both ˈpī-lē-ˌā-təd and ˈpi- as options. The audio link agrees with PIE-lee-ay-did. (Listen here). The definition of pileated is having a crest covering the pileum (top of the head of a bird from the bill to the nape).

Latin for Bird Lovers reads: Pileata, -us, pil-ee-AH-ta/tusFrom the Latin Pileatus, capped.

My favorite description of the name origin is from a Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation article: “The Pileated Woodpecker’s scientific name is Dryocopus pileatus, which means ‘crested tree-hitter‘.

10,000 Birds goes further: pileated refurring to the pileum is from the Latin term pileus, meaning “cap”. “I believe it is generally accepted that in ancient Rome, the word was spoken with a long ‘i’ like pie. However, in the 21st century, we reserve the right to veer from the old ways, especially when it feels right.”  -Mike Bergin.

In the hilariously titled Dr. Language Person’s Guide to Bird Name Pronunciations by Kevin McGowan at Cornell, he assures the beginner birder the English language is an art form that changes over time and to be unafraid of ridicule from more experienced birders. He also explains accepted pronunciation of difficult bird names including pileated woodpecker:

“PILEATED (Woodpecker) – PIE-lee-ay-tid, PILL-ee-ay-tid (having a pileus or cap). This and the next two are commonly pronounced as the two alternate versions listed from the dictionary. If it bothers you when people say it differently than you do, lighten up. They’re just birds, for goodness sakes, and THEY don’t care what you call them.”  


What are you calling me?

What are you calling me?   Photo credit: Kathleen Fosselman

And finally, from an English pronunciation aid:


Is anyone in the mood for pie? I think I vote a complete makeover to the “Crested Tree Hitter”. 😉

Tw-EE-ts and CH-uR-ps,