Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the different types of woodpeckers! These fascinating birds are known for their distinctive drumming sounds and unique physical characteristics, such as their chisel-like bills and zygodactyl feet. With over 180 species of woodpeckers found all around the world, there’s no shortage of interesting facts and trivia to discover about these feathered creatures.

In the following sections, we will take a closer look at some of the most well-known woodpecker species, including their habitat, diet, behavior, and more. From the Downy Woodpecker to the rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker, we’ve got you covered!

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is the smallest woodpecker species in North America, measuring only 6-7 inches in length. It is identified by its black and white plumage, with a black back and wings, and a white belly. The male Downy Woodpecker has a distinctive patch of red feathers on the back of its head, while the female has a black patch in the same spot.

Downy Woodpeckers are found throughout much of North America, living in deciduous forests, orchards, and woodlands. They often feed on insects and larvae that are found inside tree bark, and will also eat seeds and nuts. These woodpeckers are known for their acrobatic abilities, as they can cling to tree trunks and branches while foraging. They often drum on tree trunks to communicate with other birds and mark their territory.

The Downy Woodpecker is a common sight in residential areas, where it can often be seen at suet feeders and birdhouses. This attractive bird is a favorite of many birdwatchers, appreciated for its small size, appealing appearance, and lively behavior.

Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) is a medium-sized woodpecker species found in North America. These birds are named for their “hairy” appearance, as their feathers resemble hair-like structures.

Hairy Woodpeckers are primarily black and white, with a white belly and black wings with white spots. They have a long, chisel-like bill that is used to excavate wood for nesting and feeding. Males have a red patch on the back of their head, while females have a black patch in the same location.

These woodpeckers are found throughout much of North America, from Alaska to Florida. They prefer mature deciduous and mixed forests, where they feed on insects, spiders, and other invertebrates found in dead wood. They also eat seeds and occasionally fruits and berries.

The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar in appearance to the smaller Downy Woodpecker, but can be distinguished by its larger size and longer bill.

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the largest and most distinctive woodpecker species in North America. It is known for its striking appearance, with a bright red crest on top of its head, a black body, and white stripes on its face and neck.

These birds can be found in mature forests across the United States and Canada, where they use their powerful bills to excavate large cavities in trees for nesting and feeding. They prefer to eat insects, particularly carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles, but will also feed on fruit and nuts.

Pileated Woodpeckers have a unique nesting behavior, typically choosing to excavate new cavities each year instead of reusing old ones. They are also known for their loud, distinctive calls, which can be heard echoing through the forest.

Pileated Woodpecker Behavior

These birds have a characteristic drumming behavior, which is used to establish territory and attract mates. They also use their drumming to communicate with other birds, with different rhythms and patterns conveying different messages.

FeedingPileated Woodpeckers use their long bills to excavate deep holes in trees in search of insects. They also eat fruit and nuts.
NestingPileated Woodpeckers create large cavities in trees for nesting, often near the tops of dead trees or snags. They typically excavate new cavities each year.
DrummingThese birds use loud drumming to establish territory, attract mates, and communicate with other birds. Different rhythms and patterns convey different messages.

Despite their large size and striking appearance, Pileated Woodpeckers can be difficult to spot in the wild due to their preference for dense forested areas. However, their distinctive calls and drumming can often give away their presence.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a striking bird with a bold, bright red head and neck, black and white wings, and a white belly. It can be found across much of the eastern United States and parts of Canada, typically in wooded areas with open space nearby.

These woodpeckers have a varied diet, including insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. They are known for their habit of storing food in tree crevices or other hiding places to eat later. Unfortunately, the Red-headed Woodpecker has experienced significant population declines in recent years due to habitat loss and pesticide use.

Fun fact: The Red-headed Woodpecker occasionally catches and eats small lizards or snakes, making it one of the few North American birds to prey on reptiles.

Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is a large, striking woodpecker. Unlike many of its relatives, it spends a lot of time on the ground, hunting for ants and other insects. Here are a few interesting facts about this unique bird:

  • The Northern Flicker has a distinctive appearance, with a brown back and spotted breast. The males have a black mustache stripe, while the females do not.
  • This woodpecker is found throughout much of North America, from Canada down to Central America.
  • During breeding season, the Northern Flicker can be heard making a loud, repeated “wicka-wicka-wicka” call. This call is often accompanied by drumming on trees or other hard surfaces.
  • The Northern Flicker is a migratory bird, spending winters in the southern United States and Mexico.
  • Unlike many other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are cavity nesters, but they do not create their own cavities. Instead, they use abandoned nest sites or natural tree cavities.

Despite its unique habits and appearance, the Northern Flicker is a fascinating and important member of the woodpecker family.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a medium-sized woodpecker found in North America. Despite its name, the red belly of this bird is not often visible, as it is usually covered by feathers.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is easily recognized by its striking black and white striped back, bright red head, and white belly with black spots. It has a sturdy, chisel-like bill, which it uses to excavate nest cavities and forage for insects and nuts.

This woodpecker species is found in a variety of wooded habitats, including forests, parks, and suburban areas. They are known for their loud, rolling “kwee-kwee-kwee” call, which can often be heard before the bird is seen.

Range and Behavior

The Red-bellied Woodpecker ranges from the eastern United States to central Mexico. They are primarily non-migratory and can be found year-round in many parts of their range.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are omnivores and have a diverse diet that includes insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. They use their strong bills to drill holes in trees and other surfaces to extract food.

These woodpeckers are cavity nesters, meaning they excavate their own nests in dead or dying trees. They also use nest boxes provided by humans. Mated pairs may reuse their nest cavities for multiple seasons.


Red-bellied Woodpeckers are known for their loud and distinctive calls. They have a variety of vocalizations, including a rolling “kwee-kwee-kwee” and a loud, nasal “yank-yank-yank” call.

Males and females have similar calls, but males may have slightly longer and more complex calls during breeding season.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a small to medium-sized woodpecker species that is easily recognizable by its distinctive plumage. Found mainly in the eastern regions of North America and parts of Canada, this bird has a yellowish-green belly, a black-and-white striped face, and a red cap on its head.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is known for its unusual feeding habits, as it drills deep holes into trees to obtain sap, which it then licks up with its brush-like tongue. At times, this bird may also consume insects and sap-sucking insects, such as aphids and ants.

This woodpecker species nests in tree cavities, which it excavates using its strong bill. During the breeding season, males can be heard making a series of high-pitched calls, while females emit a lower, harsher call. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is also known to migrate to the southern United States and Central America during the winter months.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, also known as the “Lord God Bird,” is one of the largest woodpecker species in the world. These birds were once found in the southeastern United States but were thought to be extinct until the early 2000s when there were some reported sightings in Arkansas and Florida.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s historic range stretched from Florida to Texas and up into Arkansas and Louisiana. These birds live in mature forests and require large, standing dead trees, also known as snags, for nesting sites. They are known for their distinctive calls, which have been described as sounding like “kent-kent-kent” or “tik-a-tik-a-tik.”

Current Status

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Due to habitat loss and degradation, as well as hunting and woodpecker collectors, the population has declined drastically over the years. The last confirmed sightings were in the 1940s. However, there have been some unverified sightings reported in recent years, providing hope that the species may still exist in some small populations.

Acorn Woodpecker

The Acorn Woodpecker is a fascinating species of woodpecker that is known for its unique nesting habits and foraging behavior. These birds are found in western North America, from southern Oregon to Panama, and can often be seen in oak woodlands and riparian forests.

One of the most distinctive features of the Acorn Woodpecker is its social behavior. These birds live in large groups, often with up to 15 individuals, and work together to excavate and maintain communal nest sites. These nesting sites, known as “granaries,” are used to store acorns and other nuts, which the birds will use as a food source during the winter months.

Acorn Woodpeckers are also known for their unique foraging behavior, which involves drilling holes in trees to create a “pantry” of acorns. These birds will often store hundreds or thousands of acorns in a single tree, and will protect their caches fiercely from other animals.

Acorn Woodpecker’s Vocals

The Acorn Woodpecker’s call is a distinctive series of nasal “waka-waka” notes, often given in a rapid-fire sequence. These birds are also known for their drumming, which they use to communicate with other members of their group and to establish territory.

If you’re lucky enough to spot an Acorn Woodpecker in the wild, be sure to stop and observe this fascinating bird in action!

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker found in western North America. Its plumage is unique among woodpeckers, featuring a mix of green, black, and reddish-pink on its head, neck, and breast.

This species is often found in open woodlands and coniferous forests, including pine and oak woodlands. Lewis’s Woodpecker has a distinct feeding pattern, relying heavily on flying insects, fruit, and nuts. It is also known to cache food throughout its territory.

In terms of behavior, Lewis’s Woodpecker is known for its distinctive flight pattern, which is more like that of a crow than a typical woodpecker. Its call is a soft, rolling churr, which can be heard from a distance.

Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers

Two of the more unusual woodpecker species are the Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers. These birds are very similar in appearance and can be difficult to distinguish from one another without careful observation.

Physical Characteristics

The Three-toed Woodpecker is a small bird, measuring around 8.5 inches in length. It is mostly black with white markings on its head and back. As its name suggests, it has only three toes instead of the usual four. The Black-backed Woodpecker is slightly larger, measuring around 9.5 inches in length. It is mostly black with a distinctive white patch on its back. Its toes are also reduced to three.

Habitat Preferences

Both species are found in boreal forests, primarily in Canada and Alaska. The Three-toed Woodpecker prefers mature spruce and fir forests, while the Black-backed Woodpecker is often found in burned or recently disturbed forests.

SpeciesPreferred Habitat
Three-toed WoodpeckerMature spruce and fir forests
Black-backed WoodpeckerBurned or recently disturbed forests

Feeding Behavior

Both species feed on insects that inhabit dead or dying trees. The Three-toed Woodpecker is known to feed on wood-boring beetles and ants, while the Black-backed Woodpecker feeds primarily on wood-boring beetles.

Conservation Status

The Three-toed Woodpecker is considered to be of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the Black-backed Woodpecker is considered to be a species of special concern in the United States due to its dependence on recently disturbed habitats.

SpeciesConservation Status
Three-toed WoodpeckerLeast Concern
Black-backed WoodpeckerSpecial Concern

Other Lesser-Known Woodpeckers

While many people are familiar with the most common types of woodpeckers, such as the Downy, Hairy, and Pileated, there are a number of lesser-known species that are just as fascinating. Here are brief descriptions of a few of these rare woodpeckers:

Woodpecker SpeciesDescription
Red-cockaded WoodpeckerThis small woodpecker is found in the southeastern United States and is known for its unique nesting habits. It excavates nesting cavities in living pine trees, which requires a lot of effort and skill. Unfortunately, habitat loss has caused this woodpecker’s population to decline significantly.
Ladder-backed WoodpeckerThis species is found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. It is named for the distinctive ladder-like pattern on its back. Unlike most woodpeckers, the Ladder-backed primarily feeds on insects found on the ground instead of in trees.
Red-breasted SapsuckerThis woodpecker is found in western North America and is known for its feeding habits. It drills wells in trees to extract sap, which it drinks and eats. The Red-breasted Sapsucker’s sap wells attract other animals, such as hummingbirds, which also feed on the sap.

These are just a few examples of the many unique woodpeckers that exist. Each species has its own special characteristics and behaviors that make it fascinating to observe.

Woodpeckers’ Role in Ecosystems

Woodpeckers play a crucial role in maintaining the health and diversity of forest ecosystems. By excavating nest cavities in trees, woodpeckers create habitats for a range of other animals, including small mammals, birds, and insects. They also help to control insect populations by feeding on wood-boring insects like beetles and termites, which can cause significant damage to trees.

Furthermore, woodpeckers have a profound impact on the structure of forests themselves. As they forage for food on trees, they create small holes and pits on the bark. These holes provide opportunities for other organisms to colonize the tree, helping to increase biodiversity in the area. In addition, the drumming and vocalizations of woodpeckers are important in establishing and maintaining territory boundaries, which can reduce competition between individuals and enhance reproductive success.

The Importance of Dead Trees

One of the most crucial roles that woodpeckers play in ecosystems is in the decomposition of dead trees. Dead trees, also known as snags, provide critical habitat for a wide range of organisms, from insects to birds and small mammals. Woodpeckers play an important role in the decomposition process by excavating holes in snags, which can speed up the process of decay and release nutrients back into the soil.

While some forest managers may view dead trees as unsightly and a potential hazard, they are actually a vital component of healthy forest ecosystems. By protecting and preserving dead trees, we can help to ensure the continued health and diversity of our forested landscapes.

Frequently Asked Questions about Woodpeckers

If you’re curious about woodpeckers, you’re not alone! Here are some commonly asked questions about these fascinating birds:

How long do woodpeckers live?

Woodpeckers can live up to 10 years in the wild, though many don’t survive that long due to predation or habitat loss.

What do woodpeckers eat?

Woodpeckers primarily feed on insects, but they also eat nuts, seeds, and fruit.

Do woodpeckers damage trees?

While woodpeckers do create holes in trees, they generally do not cause significant damage. In fact, their excavation can actually benefit the tree by removing diseased or decaying wood.

How do woodpeckers communicate?

Woodpeckers use a variety of vocalizations, including calls, drumming, and tapping. They also communicate visually through body language, such as displaying their crest feathers.

Do woodpeckers migrate?

Some woodpecker species do migrate, while others are year-round residents in their habitat.

Can woodpeckers be attracted to bird feeders?

Yes, certain woodpecker species, such as the Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, will visit bird feeders that are stocked with suet or other high-protein foods.

Hopefully, these FAQs have helped answer some of your questions about woodpeckers!

Categorized in: