What kinds of woodpeckers can you find in the United States?
No matter where you live in the United States, you can see a large variety of woodpeckers. Most people are surprised at the wide variety of species that can be found near them.
17 types of woodpeckers that live in the United States!
Below you will learn more about each and how to identify them by sight OR sound. Pay attention to the range maps to see which woodpeckers live near you!
- *RELATED: Watch the LIVE bird feeder and animal cameras in MY backyard* (You may get lucky and see a woodpecker feeding on my cams RIGHT NOW!)
#1. Downy Woodpecker
- Dryobates pubescens
- Relatively small and has a small bill compared to other woodpecker 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 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 and are found in many different habitats. Naturally, they are seen in deciduous woods with a nearby water source. But these birds have adapted well to human development and are commonly observed in suburban backyards, parks, orchards, and cemeteries.
Downy Woodpecker Range Map
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!
- RELATED: 6 Proven Ways to Attract Woodpeckers
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 how 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!
Press PLAY above to hear a Downy Woodpecker!
#2. Hairy Woodpecker
- Dryobates villosus
- Their bodies are black and white overall with a long, chisel-like beak.
- Male birds can be identified by a red patch at the back of their heads, which females lack.
Hairy Woodpeckers are common in the United States in mature forests, suburban backyards, urban parks, swamps, orchards, and even cemeteries. But, honestly, they can be found anywhere with an abundance of large trees.
Appearance-wise, Hairy Woodpeckers have been compared to soldiers, as they have cleanly striped heads and an erect, straight-backed posture while on trees. Typically, I see them the most during winter when their primary food source, insects, isn’t as plentiful. I have the best luck attracting them using suet and sunflower seeds in my backyard.
Hairy Woodpecker Range Map
Hairy Woodpeckers can be 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 THREE best ways to differentiate these two woodpeckers:
- Hairy’s are larger and measure 9 – 11 inches (23-29 cm) long, about the same size as an American Robin. A Downy is smaller and only measures 6 – 7 inches (15-18 cm) in length, slightly bigger than a House Sparrow.
- 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 length as their head.
Outer tail feathers:
- If all else fails, try to get a good look at their outer tail feathers. Hairys will be completely white, while Downys are spotted.
Lastly, you can listen for a Hairy Woodpecker:
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, which you can hear by pressing PLAY below.
#3. Northern Flicker
- Colaptes auratus
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. But, depending on your location, these woodpeckers appear different. There are two distinct variations you should watch for:
Variation #1: 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 BLACK mustache stripe, which females lack.
Variation #2: 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.
Northern Flicker Range Map
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 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.
Northern Flickers are fairly easy to identify by sound! Listen for a loud ringing call that sounds like a piercing “wicka-wicka-wicka.”
#4. Pileated Woodpecker
- Dryocopus pileatus
- 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 cheeks, whereas the stripe is black on females.
No other woodpecker species in the United States make you stop in your tracks like a Pileated Woodpecker. These birds are HUGE; adults can be up to 19 inches (48 cm) long and have a wingspan of 30 inches (76 cm). For reference, this is about the size of a crow.
Pileated Woodpecker Range Map
Pileated Woodpeckers are found in the United States in large, mature forests with many 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. And if you’re lucky, it’s possible to see them in your yard visiting suet feeders!
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!
#5. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Melanerpes carolinus
- Males have a bright red plumage that extends from their bills to the back of their necks, while females only have red on the back of their necks.
- The undersides are a mixture of white and tan.
- Their backs are a black and white barred pattern.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are one of my FAVORITE birds to see at bird feeders. I think they are gorgeous with their black and white barred backs. But their name can be confusing since their bellies don’t actually contain much red coloring other than an indistinct red wash.
Red-bellied Woodpecker Range Map
Interestingly, it has been determined that Red-bellied Woodpeckers are one of the most dominant birds at 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 bill!
Like most other woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a long tongue that can extend nearly two inches past their bill!
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!
Another great way to find this woodpecker is to learn its calls! It’s common to hear them in forests, wooded suburbs, and parks. Listen for a rolling “churr-churr-churr.” PRESS PLAY BELOW:
#6. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Sphyrapicus varius
- Black and white backside and a large white shoulder patch.
- Look for their distinctive red crown and black and white striped face. Males have a red throat, while females are white!
- As the name suggests, most individuals have a yellowish-white belly.
This migratory woodpecker is found in the eastern United States in young deciduous forests. They need habitats with many growing trees, which are perfect for creating productive sap wells. Their favorites seem to be maples and birches, although Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been documented drilling into over 1,000 different tree species.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Range Map
As the name suggests, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers rely heavily on tree sap as a high-energy food. These birds drill holes into living trees, neatly organized into rows. 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!
The most common sound these birds make is a nasally, cat-like “meow,” which is typically repeated.
#7. Red-headed Woodpecker
- Melanerpes erythrocephalus
- A large red head and a bill larger than most other woodpecker species.
- Their back is entirely black, except for white wing patches, which contrasts against the pure white belly.
This bird gets my vote for the best-looking woodpecker in the United States! Because of their bold patterning, these birds are sometimes called the “flying checkerboard.” 🙂
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. In addition, and for aesthetic reasons, most people cut down dead trees, which these woodpeckers rely upon for nesting cavities.
Red-headed Woodpecker Range Map
Red-headed Woodpeckers are one of the only woodpecker species known to store food. They will hide nuts, seeds, or insects under bark, 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!
If you happen to find yourself in the correct habitat, make sure to listen for one! 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
- Dryobates borealis
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 behind their eyes. In addition to white cheeks, the rest of the body features black and white bars, stripes, and spots.
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.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Range Map
The problem for these birds is that they are habitat specialists, as they strongly prefer 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.
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!
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. LISTEN BELOW!
#9. Lewis’s Woodpecker
- Melanerpes lewis
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 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 resembles how a crow flies. Most other woodpecker species have more of a bounding flight pattern.
Lewis’s Woodpecker Range Map
Look for these nomadic woodpeckers in the western United States in open ponderosa pine forests, recently burned areas, oak woodlands, orchards, and pinyon-juniper woods.
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, repeated several times in a row. LISTEN BELOW!
#10. Red-naped Sapsucker
- Sphyrapicus nuchalis
- Smaller woodpeckers with black bodies, 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 Sapsuckers are commonly found in the United States near aspen, birch, and willow trees. Look for their presence by examining these trees for tiny holes that have been drilled for sap.
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 a lot of time defending them from other birds.
Red-naped Sapsucker Range Map
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, these species will breed with each other. So if you ever have trouble differentiating between sapsucker species, please know you may be looking at a hybrid!
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.
#11. Williamson’s Sapsucker
- Sphyrapicus thyroideus
- 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. The head is brown. On their chest, look for a black breast patch.
Williamson’s Sapsuckers are common woodpeckers found in the western United States. These birds are typically found in extensive, mature coniferous forests.
These woodpeckers are unique because 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!
Williamson’s Sapsuckers Range Map
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
- Picoides dorsalis
- Both sexes have black and white barring around and across their bodies.
- Males have a yellow crown on the top of their heads, whereas females have a black crown with white spots and streaks.
In the United States, American Three-toed Woodpeckers live 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. These places have lots of dead trees and limbs, which attract beetle larvae that these woodpeckers feast on!
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!
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 of 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.”
#13. Black-backed Woodpecker
- Picoides arcticus
- These woodpeckers are relatively easy to identify since they have a solid black back.
- Males have a distinctive yellow patch on the top of their heads, which females lack.
Finding a Black-backed Woodpecker is easy! All you need to do is find forests that have been burned within the last eight years!
These woodpeckers are habitat 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 from five to eight years after the initial burn.
Black-backed Woodpecker Range Map
Their call sounds like a hard or sharp “kyiik” or “pik.”
#14. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
- Dryobates scalaris
- 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 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers allows them to be incredibly agile. This skill is required as they navigate the sharp spines and thorns of the many 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
- Sphyrapicus ruber
- Look for a medium-sized bird with a red head, red breast, and a white spot in front of the eye.
- Large white patches appear on the wings.
- Both males and females look the same.
Red-breasted Sapsuckers are found in the western United States in coniferous forests, typically at lower elevations.
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.
Red-breasted Sapsucker Range Map
Interestingly, Rufous Hummingbirds tend to follow Red-breasted Sapsuckers around. These tiny birds enjoy feeding on the sap the sapsuckers get flowing and are even known to nest near the wells.
Their call is a harsh, slurred “whee-ur” or “mew.“
#16. Acorn Woodpecker
- Melanerpes formicivorus
Acorn Woodpeckers are typically easy to find in the western United States.
You just need to find and take a walk in a forest with LOTS of oak trees and look for a bird that resembles a clown!
These woodpeckers rely on acorns as one of their primary food sources (hence the name). They have an interesting way of storing these acorns, as they put each nut into individually drilled holes in “storage” trees.
These trees, 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 difficulty 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 Woodpecker Range Map
Acorn Woodpeckers also have incredibly fascinating and complex social lives. For example, they live in family groups of 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 if you find yourself hiking in an oak forest. Calls resemble “waka-waka-waka.”
#17. White-headed Woodpecker
- Dryobates albolarvatus
When it comes to woodpeckers found in the United States, this species is unique!
First, the White-headed Woodpecker has a truly distinctive appearance. 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.
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 types of woodpeckers have you seen before in the United States?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds near you, check out these guides!