17 Woodpecker Species in the United States! (ID Guide)

What kinds of woodpeckers can you find in the United States?

types of woodpeckers in

 

Woodpeckers are one of my favorite birds to attract, and I look for them every day in our backyard. I love watching them eat suet from my feeders, or if I’m lucky, listening to them in the woods as they drum on trees. 🙂

 

No matter where you live in the United States, you are able to see a large number of woodpeckers hanging around. Most people are surprised at the wide variety of species that can be found near them.

 

In fact, 17 types of woodpeckers live across the United States!

 

Below you will learn more about each one AND how to identify them by sight OR sound. Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which woodpeckers live near you!

  • The range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!

 

Do you need help attracting woodpeckers to your backyard?

Check out this eBook I wrote, which is perfect for beginners!

  • Bird Feeding Secrets!

    • Answers to the 37 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Attracting Birds To YOUR Backyard

 

Please let me know which woodpecker species you have spotted before in the “Comments” section at the end! 🙂

 

Woodpeckers That Live in the United States (17)

 


#1. Downy Woodpecker

 

Downy Woodpeckers are one of the most common woodpeckers in the United States! You probably recognize them, as they are a familiar sight in most backyards.

 

These birds have a shorter bill and are relatively small compared to other species. Color-wise, they have white bellies, with a mostly black back that features streaks and spots of white. Male birds have a distinctive red spot on the back of their head, which females lack.

 

Downy Woodpecker Range Map

 

Downy Woodpeckers are found in many different habitats in the United States. Naturally, they are seen in deciduous woods that have a water source nearby. But these birds have adapted well to human development and are commonly observed in suburban backyards, parks, orchards, and cemeteries.

 

How do you attract Downy Woodpeckers to your feeders?

 

Luckily, this woodpecker species is easy to draw to your backyard. The best foods to use are suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts (including peanut butter). You may even spot them drinking sugar water from your hummingbird feeders! If you use suet products for attracting woodpeckers, make sure to use a specialized suet bird feeder.

 

Naturally, these birds eat many types of insects, such as beetle larvae, hidden beneath the barks of trees. Ants and caterpillars are also readily consumed, along with a mix of berries, grains, and acorns.

 

What sounds do Downy Woodpeckers make?

Press PLAY above to hear a Downy Woodpecker!

 

Once you know what to listen for, my guess is that you will start hearing Downy Woodpeckers everywhere you go. Their calls resemble a high-pitched whinnying sound that descends in pitch towards the end.

 

And if you’re really good, you can try to identify this species by the way they drum on trees, which they do when looking for a mate or establishing a territory. The drumming is so fast it almost sounds like one uninterrupted sound!

 


#2. Hairy Woodpecker

 

Appearance-wise, Hairy Woodpeckers have been compared to soldiers, as they have cleanly striped heads and an erect, straight-backed posture while on trees. Their bodies are black and white overall with a long, chisel-like bill. Male birds can be identified by a red patch at the back of their heads, which females lack.

 

Hairy Woodpecker Range Map

Hairy Woodpeckers are common in the United States in mature forests, suburban backyards, urban parks, swamps, orchards, and even cemeteries. Honestly, they can be found anywhere where there is an abundance of large trees around.

 

These woodpeckers are easily attracted to bird feeders!

 

Typically, I see them the most during winter when their primary food sources, which are insects, aren’t as plentiful, and their diet switches to mainly seeds. I have the best luck using suet and sunflower seeds in my backyard.

 

Hairy Woodpeckers can be a bit tricky to identify because they look almost identical to Downy Woodpeckers! These two birds are confusing to many people and present a problem when trying to figure out the correct species.

 

Here are the best ways to differentiate them:

 

Size:

  • Hairy’s are larger and measure 9 – 11 inches long, which is about the same size as an American Robin. A Downy is smaller and only measures 6 – 7 inches in length, which is slightly bigger than a House Sparrow.

 

Bill:

  • Looking at the size of their bills in relation to their head is my FAVORITE way to tell these woodpeckers apart. Downys have a tiny bill, which measures a bit less than half the length of their head, while Hairys have a bill that is almost the same size as their head.

 

Outer tail feathers:

  • If all else fails, then try to get a good look at their outer tail feathers. Hairys will be completely white, while Downys are spotted.

 

Lastly, listen for their two distinct sounds:

 

 

The most common call is a short, sharp “peek.This sound is similar to what a Downy Woodpecker makes, except it’s slightly lower in pitch. They also make a sharp rattling or whinny.

 


#3. Northern Flicker

Range Map

 

Northern Flickers are wonderfully handsome birds and relatively common in the United States. They are about the size of an American Robin and feature a black bib and spotted belly.

 

Depending on your location, these woodpeckers appear different. There are two distinct variations you should watch for:

 

Yellow-shafted:

This sub-species is mostly found in the eastern half of North America. These birds are characterized by red on the back of their head and yellow feathers on their underwing and tail that are visible in flight. Males also have a mustache stripe, which females lack.

 

Red-shafted:

This variety is found in the west. To correctly identify, look for a red mustache stripe, which is found on both sexes. Also, when they are in flight, you can clearly see red-orange feathers on their underwing and tail. Red-shafted Northern Flickers also have a mostly gray face with a brown crown, whereas the Yellow-shafted variety has a brown face and gray crown.

 

And here is the most confusing part:

 

Where these two varieties of Northern Flickers overlap, they breed with each other! Not surprisingly, these hybrids have a mixture of both features.

 

To find a Northern Flicker, you should look on the ground!

 

These birds are unique and don’t act like typical woodpeckers. They spend a lot of their time searching for ants and beetles on the forest floor by digging through the dirt! They hammer away at the soil just like other woodpeckers drill into trees.

 

Watch a Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) visiting my feeding station!

 

In the winter, their diet switches to include fruits and berries, which is when it’s possible to see them at bird feeders. They don’t visit often, but you may see them nibbling on suet, peanuts, or sunflower seeds. To attract Northern Flickers, you may have better luck installing an appropriately sized nestbox or ensuring your backyard has many native plants, which attract insect species.

 

Northern Flickers are fairly easy to identify by sound!

Lastly, Northern Flickers emit a loud ringing call that sounds like a piercing “wicka-wicka-wicka.”

 

They also make a one-note contact call (“peah”).

 


#4. Pileated Woodpecker

 

There are no other woodpecker species that will make you stop in your tracks quite like a Pileated Woodpecker. These birds are HUGE, and adults can be up to 19 inches (48 cm) long and have a wingspan of 30 inches (99 cm)! For reference, this is about the size of a crow.

 

In addition to their large size, these birds are mostly black but with white stripes on their face and neck. Look for a large triangle red crest on the top of their heads. Males have a red stripe on their cheek, where the stripe is black on females.

 

Pileated Woodpecker Range Map

 

Pileated Woodpeckers are common in the United States in large, mature forests with lots of dead and fallen trees. They rely on rotting wood consisting of ants, wood-boring beetles, and termites to find food. Although they will supplement their diet with fruits and nuts.

 

Press PLAY below to hear a Pileated Woodpecker!

These birds are quite vocal, and you should have no problem hearing one. Listen for a loud “cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk,” which rises and falls in pitch and volume. Just to warn you, Northern Flickers sound incredibly similar!

 

You can also identify a Pileated Woodpecker by its drumming, which consists of 10 – 30 taps delivered in less than a second. Drumming is used year-round by both sexes to defend or establish territory, attract mates, or to warn of intruders.

 

Pileated Woodpeckers will visit suet feeders!

 

Yes, it’s possible to attract these stunning birds to your backyard. They are most often seen dining on suet. But just a warning, I have been trying to draw a Pileated to my feeders for years without luck. 🙂 

 


#5. Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are one of my FAVORITE birds to see at my feeders. I think they are absolutely gorgeous with their black and white barred backs.

 

This woodpecker’s name can be confusing since their bellies don’t actually contain much red coloring, other than an indistinct red wash.

 

Most of the red on these birds is on their head. In fact, the red coloring is actually the only way to tell males and females apart! Males have a bright red plumage that extends from their beaks to the back of their necks, while females only have red on the back of their necks.

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker Range Map

 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common to see visiting feeders in the United States!

 

I see them almost daily in my backyard. They love eating peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet (which is especially popular during the winter months).

Click PLAY to watch a Red-bellied Woodpecker eating suet and peanuts.

 

Interestingly, it has been determined that these woodpeckers are one of the most dominant birds on backyard feeders. They rarely back down from any other bird. I can attest to this fact, as I commonly see them fending off numerous starlings at a time by aggressively trying to stab these invasive birds with their beak!

 

Press PLAY below to hear a Red-bellied Woodpecker!

Another great way to find this woodpecker is to learn its calls! It’s quite common to hear them in forests and wooded suburbs and parks. Listen for a rolling “churr-churr-churr.”

 

Like most other woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a long tongue that can extend nearly two inches past its beak!

The tongue’s end is sticky and barbed, which helps them grab insects from deep crevices within trees. To fit this long tongue inside their head, it wraps up and around the back of their head!

 


#6. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have a black and white backside and a large white shoulder patch. Look for their distinctive red crown and black and white striped face. As the name suggests, most individuals have a yellowish-white belly.

 

The only way to tell males and females apart is by the color of their throat. Males have a red throat, while females are white!

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Range Map

 

This migratory woodpecker is found in the eastern United States in young deciduous forests. They need habitats that feature lots of growing trees, which are perfect for creating productive sap wells. While Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been documented drilling into over 1,000 different tree species, their favorites seem to be maples and birches.

 

Why are sap wells important to these woodpeckers?

 

As the name suggests, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers rely heavily on tree sap as a high energy food. These birds drill holes, which are neatly organized into rows (see picture above), into living trees. These holes become sap wells, which slowly leak sap that is eagerly eaten.

 

Sap wells are even important to hummingbirds! Some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds time their migration north each spring to correlate with Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. The sugary sap ensures that hummingbirds have a food source since not many flowers are blooming yet!

 

Press PLAY below to hear a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!

The most common sound these birds make is a nasally, cat-like “meow,” which is typically repeated often.

 


#7. Red-headed Woodpecker

 

This bird gets my vote for the best-looking woodpecker in the United States!

 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are characterized by a large red head and a bill that is larger than most other species. Their back is entirely black, except for white wing patches, which contrasts against the pure white belly. Because of their bold patterning, these birds are sometimes called the “flying checkerboard.” 🙂

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Range Map

 

Unfortunately, populations of Red-headed Woodpeckers have declined in the United States by over 70% in the past 50 years!

 

The main culprit is habitat loss due to the destruction of giant beech forests, which produce beechnuts, one of their favorite foods. Simultaneously, almost every American Chestnut tree in the country was destroyed due to a fungal disease called chestnut blight.

 

 

And for aesthetic reasons, most people cut down dead trees, which these woodpeckers rely upon for nesting cavities.

 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are one of the only woodpecker species known to store food. They will hide nuts, seeds, or insects under bark, in fence posts, or even wedged under roof shingles. Incredibly, they will even store LIVE crickets by shoving them in a crevice so tightly they can’t escape!

 

Press PLAY below to hear a Red-headed Woodpecker!

If you happen to find yourself in the correct habitat of these birds, then make sure to listen for them! Their most common call is a shrill “tchur,” which sounds similar to a Red-bellied Woodpecker, except it’s a bit more higher-pitched and doesn’t roll as much.

 


#8. Red-cockaded Woodpecker

 

Interestingly, even though the name suggests otherwise, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers don’t have much red plumage on their body! Only the males have an extremely tiny, almost invisible red spot located behind their eyes. In addition to white cheeks, the rest of the body features black and white bars, stripes, and spots.

 

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Range Map

 

Although once widespread, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are now hard to find in the United States. They were even added to the Endangered Species list in 1970.

 

The problem for these birds is they are habitat specialists, as they have a strong preference for living in Longleaf Pine forests. Unfortunately, this type of tree has been extensively logged throughout most of the southeast and replaced with other pine species.

 

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are very vocal!

The best-known sound is an alarm call, which sounds like a raspy “sklit.” A rattling noise is also given when in flight.

 

These birds have an interesting way of deterring rat snakes, which climb trees and prey on young woodpeckers inside the nest cavity. Sap wells are drilled near the nest’s entrance, which leaks sap down the tree and makes it hard for the snakes to ascend!

 


#9. Lewis’s Woodpecker

 

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are incredibly unique when it comes to woodpeckers.

 

For example, here are a few attributes that these birds possess:

 

  • Lewis’s Woodpeckers look different and are bulkier than other species of woodpecker. Both males and females have a green back, pink body, gray collar, and a red face patch! I think it looks like Christmas decided to make a woodpecker! 🙂

 

  • It’s extremely rare to ever find these birds drilling into a tree looking for wood boring insects. Instead, they catch insects in midair by waiting patiently from a perch, similar to flycatchers.

 

  • Lastly, Lewis’s Woodpeckers fly using slow, deep wingbeats and frequently glide, which very much resembles how a crow flies. Most other woodpecker species have more of a bounding flight pattern.

 

Lewis’s Woodpecker Range Map

 

These nomadic woodpeckers are found in the western United States in open ponderosa pine forests, recently burned areas, oak woodlands, orchards, and pinyon-juniper woods.

 

Press PLAY below to hear a Lewis’s Woodpecker!

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are more silent than other woodpecker species. But during the mating season, you may hear a harsh “churr” call given by the male, which is repeated several times in a row.

 


#10. Red-naped Sapsucker

 

These birds are smaller woodpeckers, with black bodies and a white vertical stripe down the wing, and a red crown. Male birds have a red throat and red nape (back of the neck). Females also have a red throat, but there is also a small white patch just under the bill, and their nape can be white or red.

 

Red-naped Sapsucker Range Map

 

Red-naped Sapsuckers are commonly found near aspen, birch, and willow trees. Look for their presence by examining these trees for tiny holes that have been drilled.

 

To slurp up sap, these migratory woodpeckers have a specialized tongue. Believe it or not, they have stiff hairs on the ends, which helps drink the sap more effectively. The sap wells they create are important to them, and they spend much of their time defending them from other birds.

 

The most common sound you will hear is a harsh, repeated “waah.”

Some people think they sound like a small child crying. You can also listen for their drumming, which is relatively slow and irregular.

 

Red-naped Sapsuckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Red-breasted Sapsuckers used to be lumped together as the same species. But in 1983, researchers determined that they needed to be separated into individual species.

 

But where territories overlap among these three species, they will breed with each other. So if you ever have trouble differentiating between sapsucker species, please know you may be looking at a hybrid!

 


#11. Williamson’s Sapsucker

 

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are common woodpeckers found in the western United States. These birds are typically found in extensive, mature coniferous forests.

 

Males and females look entirely different!

 

This attribute is rare in woodpeckers, where both sexes typically appear similar. In fact, when these birds were first discovered, it took scientists a long time to even realize they were the same species!

 

  • Males: Their bodies are mostly black with large white wing patches. Faces have two distinctive white stripes running horizontally. Bellies are yellow, and the throat displays a small red patch.

 

  • Females: Horizontal black and white barring decorate their backs. Heads are brown. On their chest, look for a black breast patch.

 

Williamson’s Sapsuckers Range Map

 

Like all sapsucker species, these birds rely heavily on tree sap for food. Shallow holes are drilled into trees, called sap wells, which allow the sugary liquid to flow. Williamson’s Sapsuckers ONLY eat sap from conifer trees, leaving deciduous trees alone.

 

When it comes to woodpeckers, these birds make a unique sound. Their nasally, descending calls (“chyahh”) sound more like a raptor!

 


#12. American Three-toed Woodpecker

 

Both sexes have black and white barring around and across their bodies. Males have a yellow crown on the top of their head, whereas females have a black crown with white spots and streaks.

 

In the United States, you will find American Three-toed Woodpeckers living among conifer trees. Specifically, these birds are found in disturbed areas, such as coniferous forests that have been damaged by fires, wind storms, or floods. This is because these places have lots of dead trees and limbs, which attract beetle larvae that these woodpeckers feast on!

 

American Three-toed Woodpeckers have a distinctive foraging style.

 

They chip at dead or dying trees until pieces of bark break off, which gives them access to the insects (and sometimes sap) beneath. A good indication that these birds are in the area is if you can find a tree with patches with dark outer bark and lighter inner bark.

 

In-flight, you may also hear a descending rattle, which is similar in sound to a kingfisher. Their typical call is a soft, squeaking “mew” or “pik.” 

 

American Three-toed Woodpecker Range Map

 

One interesting fact about this bird is that it breeds farther north than ANY other woodpecker in North America!

 


#13. Black-backed Woodpecker

 

Finding a Black-backed Woodpecker in easy! All you need to do is find forests that have been burned within the last eight years!

 

These woodpeckers are specialists and locate recently burned areas just weeks after the fire blazes through. These birds feast on the wood-boring beetles that start infesting the dead trees. The feasting is so good that Black-backed Woodpeckers will stay in these areas anywhere from five to eight years after the initial burn.

 

Black-backed Woodpecker Range Map

 

You can find these birds living in coniferous forests of northern North America and the western mountains.

 

These woodpeckers are relatively easy to identify since, as the name suggests, they have a completely solid black back. Males have a distinctive yellow patch on the top of their head, which females lack.

 

Their call sounds like a hard or sharp “kyiik” or “pik.”

 


#14. Ladder-backed Woodpecker

 

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers have a black and white barred back and wings, with a grayish body that includes black spots. They are relatively small and about the same size as a Downy Woodpecker (I think they look similar). Males have a red-crown, which females lack.

 

The small size of these woodpeckers allows them to be incredibly agile. This skill is required as they navigate the sharp spines and thorns of many of the plants they forage on.

 

Ladder-backed Woodpecker Range Map

 

Look for Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in the southwestern United States in places that don’t contain too many trees. I know that sounds funny for a woodpecker, but this species is found in arid habitats such as deserts, desert scrubs, thorn forests, and pinyon-juniper forests.

 

Listen for a clear, high-pitched “pik” call, which is often repeated and used to stay in contact with each other. These birds also give a harsh rattle call, which sounds similar to other small woodpecker species.

 


#15. Red-breasted Sapsucker

 

Red-breasted Sapsuckers are found in the western United States in coniferous forests, typically at lower elevations. Look for a medium-sized bird with a red-head and breast and a white spot in front of the eye. Large white patches appear on the wings, and both males and females look the same.

 

Red-breasted Sapsucker Range Map

 

As the name suggests, sapsuckers drill wells into trees to eat the sugary liquid that leaks out. Their favorite trees to use are willows and birches. In addition to sap, these woodpeckers also eat insects and some fruits.

 

Interestingly, Rufous Hummingbirds tend to follow Red-breasted Sapsuckers around. These tiny birds enjoy feeding on the sap that the sapsuckers get flowing and are even known to nest near the sap wells.

 

Their call is a harsh, slurred “whee-ur” or “mew.

 


#16. Acorn Woodpecker

 

Acorn Woodpeckers are typically easy to find in the western United States. You just need to find and take a walk in a forest that has LOTS of oak trees and look for a bird that sort of resembles a clown!

 

Acorn Woodpecker Range Map

 

These woodpeckers rely on acorns as one of their primary food sources (hence the name), along with insects. They have an interesting way of storing these acorns, as they put each nut into individually drilled holes in “storage” trees.

 

 

These trees, which are also called granaries, can house up to 50,000 nuts that the woodpeckers use for food when needed! The acorns are shoved so tightly into each space that other animals have a hard time getting them out. And amazingly, all of these tiny holes don’t kill the tree!

 

But if you have a house with wood siding, and these woodpeckers have discovered it, you may have a hard time getting rid of them. 🙂

 

Acorn Woodpeckers also have incredibly fascinating and complex social lives. For example, they live in family groups that contain up to twelve individuals. These groups cooperate in many aspects, including raising young, finding food, and guarding the food stored in their granaries. 

 

These birds make very distinctive sounds, so make sure to listen for Acorn Woodpeckers in the western United States if you find yourself hiking in an oak forest. Calls resemble “waka-waka-waka.”

 


#17. White-headed Woodpecker

 

When it comes to woodpecker species found in the United States, this species is unique!

 

First, the White-headed Woodpecker has a truly distinctive appearance. Almost the bird’s entire body is covered in black feathers, except for its bold white head! One look and you know how it got its name. Males have a small red patch on the back of their heads, which females lack.

 

White-headed Woodpecker Range Map

 

Second, these woodpeckers require a very specific habitat.

 

Look for them in mountainous old-growth pine forests in the western United States, especially ones with open canopies and LOTS of pine cones.

 

Why pine cones?

 

 

White-headed Woodpeckers LOVE to eat pine seeds. They obtain their favorite food by prying and hammering against pine cones until they have gotten their reward. These birds also eat insects during warmer months, such as ants, beetles, and termites, like normal woodpeckers.

 

And if you live within their range, make sure to put out a suet feeder, as they will visit backyards that offer a consistent food source.

 

White-head Woodpeckers have a call that sounds like a sharp “pee-dink” or “pee-dee-dee-dink.” But it’s not often heard, as these birds are mostly silent.

 


Which woodpecker species have you seen before in the United States?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

2 responses to “17 Woodpecker Species in the United States! (ID Guide)”

  1. Fantastic Blog on woodpeckers!! Probably one of the best I have seen. Well done. I have liked it to my site http://www.thebirdblogger.com/downy-woodpecker—ladner-harbour-park-bc.html and to my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheBirdBlogger. Tremendous work.

  2. David U. says:

    After seeing lots of red bellied woodpeckers in my yard, I put up a house that I made for them. In a couple of days there was a woodpecker in the house and I was happy until later in the day a starling was in the house throwing out the dried cypress mulch I filled it up with. I am trying to figure out how to make the house available for woodpeckers only.

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