Wild About Woodpeckers; 4 Common Backyard & Woodland Woodpeckers

Wild About Woodpeckers; 4 Common Backyard & Woodland Woodpeckers

I’m Wild about Woodpeckers! We currently have four different varieties of Woodpecker that frequent our yard and the woods behind our house. How many types of Woodpecker do you see in your yard? How much do you know about them?

Check out these amazing Woodpeckers…

 

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest by far, of the four woodpeckers we see in and around our yard, and in North America. The Ivory-Billed is the only woodpecker larger than the Pileated, however, it is thought to be extinct. In addition to their unmistakable size and bold black body, they have a large red crest on their head. Males sport a red mustache in addition to the crest. They measure in at a whopping 16-19 inches (41-48 cm), with a wingspan of 26-30 inches (66-76 cm). This is truly an amazing bird!

They feed mostly on Carpenter Ants and can usually be seen high up in a dead tree, but you’ll more than likely hear them before you see them. You may also spot them at ground level, feeding on insects from a fallen tree. We have now had four separate sightings of the Pileated Woodpecker and each time we see them, it’s like the first time all over again. We’ve only seen females so far, and are anxiously awaiting the sighting of a male.

Female Pileated Woodpecker looking for ants and other insects. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Female Pileated Woodpecker looking for ants and other insects. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Female Pileated Woodpecker high up in a tree. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Female Pileated Woodpecker high up in a tree. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is our second largest woodpecker, seen both in our yard as well as in the woods behind our house. This woodpecker is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands. They are commonly seen in woodlands, forest edges, open fields with trees, as well as suburbs and city parks. They are one of the few woodpecker species that migrate.

Like the Pileated, the Northern Flicker eats mainly ants and beetles. You can see them climbing vertically up trees in search of a meal, however, they prefer to feed on the ground, looking for ants and other insects in the dirt or cracks of a driveway. They are considered a mid-to-large-sized woodpecker, measuring 11–14 in (28–36 cm) long with a 17–21 in (42–54 cm) wingspan. This is quite a beautiful bird!

Spotted this Northern Flicker way up in a tree while searching for the Pileated. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Spotted this Northern Flicker way up in a tree while searching for the Pileated. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is another mid-sized woodpecker that we see quite often. They are commonly found throughout the eastern United States, most often seen in woodlands, suburbs and parks, as well as backyard bird feeders. They can be seen year-round as they do not migrate. Their main diet consists of insects found in trees, but also eat berries, fruits, nuts, tree sap, mice, and even small nesting birds. At bird-feeders, Red-Bellies love peanuts, suet, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn.

This pretty woodpecker measures 9 to 10 in (22.85 to 26.7 cm) long and has a wingspan of 15 to 18 in (38 to 46 cm). It’s hard to mistake this one with the black and white zebra barring on its back, along with the red on its head. Males have the red all the way from the top of the bill and down the back of their heads, while females only have red on the back of their heads. Its name is a little misleading, as there is only a hint of red on the belly.

A male Red-Bellied Woodpecker eating suet from our backyard feeder. (Photo-Karen Hance
A male Red-Bellied Woodpecker eating suet from our backyard feeder. (Photo-Karen Hance)

 

This juvenile Red-Bellied Woodpecker will get the red on its head once it's a bit older. (Photo- Karen Hance)
This juvenile Red-Bellied Woodpecker will get the red on its head once it’s a bit older. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Downy Woodpecker

Finally, the Downy Woodpecker is the smallest of our four woodpeckers, as well as in North America. It is commonly found at backyard feeders, enjoying both sunflower seed and suet. The Downy is a smaller version of its cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. Unless seen together, they are often confused. The Hairy is slightly larger and has a longer bill, in addition, it lacks the black spots on the outer tail that the Downy sports. Males and females look similar, however, males have a small red patch on the back of their heads. Downys almost always announce themselves as they arrive in your yard and at your feeders.

We had a particularly feisty Downy a few years ago. My boyfriend was grilling dinner outside when a Downy Woodpecker swooped in and tried to attack him. We’re guessing the grill was too close to the bird feeder and we had a hungry Downy on our hands. We have since moved the grill and haven’t had any more angry diners.

Female Downy Woodpecker on a suet feeder in our yard. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Female Downy Woodpecker on a suet feeder in our yard. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Male Downy Woodpecker on chimney of our house. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Male Downy Woodpecker on the chimney of our house. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Woodpecker Holes in Trees

Woodpeckers of all kinds have been known to peck holes in trees as well as houses in search of food and insects. Certain species of Woodpeckers, like the Acorn Woodpecker, actually make holes in trees and store acorns in these holes. Another variety of woodpecker, called Sapsuckers, make a row of holes around a tree to drain and drink the sap that flows from the holes. This sap also attracts insects, giving the birds an extra meal. Just because a woodpecker is feeding on your tree does not mean it is infected with insects.

In addition to finding a meal, woodpeckers make holes in dead trees to roost and raise their young. The next time you’re about to cut down that dead tree in your backyard, consider leaving it alone. It just might become the next home to some woodpeckers or other birds (such as nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, owls and even squirrels).

The type and size of the hole can give you clues as to which woodpecker made the hole. Large holes are usually made by large woodpeckers and small holes by smaller ones. Pileated woodpeckers make large, deep, rectangular holes in search of insects, sometimes a foot or more in height. Take a closer look at the trees in your yard and neighborhood- do you see any holes? What bird made them? You just might find a nest or some new birds that you’ve never noticed before. Trees are beautiful and do so much for us, from producing oxygen to blocking wind, creating shade, housing birds and squirrels, bearing fruit and they are a great source of lumber for houses and projects of all kinds. Do yourself and wildlife a favor and plant a tree this spring! You will reap the benefits for many years to come.

Large woodpecker holes in a tree in the woods behind our house, most likely made by the Pileated Woodpecker. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Large woodpecker holes in a tree in the woods behind our house, most likely made by the Pileated Woodpecker. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Round woodpecker hole in a tree behind our house, more than likely made by a Northern Flicker or Red-Bellied woodpecker. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Round woodpecker hole in a tree behind our house, more than likely made by a Northern Flicker or Red-Bellied woodpecker. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

Closeup of a small rectangular hole made by a Pileated woodpecker in a dead tree stump. (Photo- Karen Hance)
Closeup of a small rectangular hole made by a Pileated woodpecker in a dead tree stump. (Photo- Karen Hance)

 

If you’d like to read more about the different varieties of woodpecker, these are a few books that I would recommend (they can all be purchased on Amazon along with many other interesting and educational books):

Click photo to get more information about this book on Amazon.
Click photo to get more information about this book on Amazon.

This comprehensive and authoritative guide to the natural history, ecology, and conservation of North America’s 23 woodpecker species goes far beyond identification. It explores their unique anatomy and their fascinating and often comical behaviors; it covers each species’ North American conservation status, and it showcases over 250 stunning photographs of woodpeckers in their natural habitats, plus easy-to-read figures and range maps. This reference guide is an essential addition to every birder’s library.

 

Click photo to get more information about this book on Amazon.
Click photo to get more information about this book on Amazon.

Let’s Learn About… Woodpeckers – Amazing Pictures and Facts about Woodpeckers
Have your children ever wondered EXACTLY why woodpeckers peck?
There are so many awesome things to learn about woodpeckers. What do they eat? How do they climb trees? In this book, you’ll find answers to these questions and many more in simple, fun language. Each fact is accompanied by incredible pictures to keep even the youngest child fascinated.

 

Click photo to get more information about this book on Amazon.
Click photo to get more information about this book on Amazon.

Facts About The Downy Woodpecker: A Picture Book For Kids.
This educational book presents facts along with beautiful color photographs and carefully chosen words to teach children about the Downy Woodpecker.
Packed with facts about Downy Woodpecker, your children or grandchildren will enjoy learning from start to finish while they read this book. Learn many interesting facts and see some beautiful woodpecker pictures as the woodpeckers are seen in their natural habitat. The gorgeous photographs will keep your child engaged from beginning to end.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post and I’d love to hear about the woodpeckers you see in your yard or neighborhood. Leave me a comment and tell me about them. Share this with a bird-loving friend and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Have a safe and happy new year and Happy Birding! ~Karen

 

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4 Replies to “Wild About Woodpeckers; 4 Common Backyard & Woodland Woodpeckers”

  1. Hi Karen

    Thanks for the primer on Woodpeckers. I’ve not seen any in my yard, but I discovered some on my hike. Next week, I will be taking my binoculars along with me so I can get a closer look. I’m hoping I will be able to identify which species they are based on your post. Your photos are beautiful.

    Thanks
    Laura

    PS I believe I’ve also spotted a pair of Kestrels. Again, I need to bring my binoculars along to get a closer look.

    1. I’m glad my post helped. We are going to Florida in July so I’m hoping to add the Red-Headed Woodpecker to my list after that. Thanks for visiting and keep me posted if you see them.

  2. We love the woodpeckers! We feed the birds right outside our living room window. In the winter our woodpeckers eat from our sunflower seed feeder, but not any other time. They showed up last week!

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