Woodpeckers are some of my favorite birds. The sound of one of these birds softly tapping away from some hidden part of the forest on a quiet day is instantly recognizable. There are 22 woodpecker species found in the United States. In this guide, I’ll briefly introduce all of them to you.
To make life a little easier, I’ve categorized the woodpeckers of North America into a few important groups to help you learn to identify them more easily. These groups are:
- Common woodpeckers
- Western woodpeckers
- The Flickers
- The Sapsuckers
- The Pileated woodpecker
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Table of Contents
- Types Of Woodpeckers: Here Are 22 Species Of Woodpeckers
- Common Woodpeckers
- Eastern Woodpeckers
- Western woodpeckers
- Southern woodpeckers
- The Pileated Woodpecker
- Final Thoughts
Types Of Woodpeckers: Here Are 22 Species Of Woodpeckers
Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers
To kick off our list, I thought I’d start with two common woodpeckers that many folks are lucky enough to have visit the suet feeders in their back yards. Both species are found throughout most of the United States.
These are both small woodpecker species with black backs and whitish underparts. Both of these classic American woodpeckers have a small red patch of plumage on the backs of their heads. The Downy woodpecker is the smaller of the two species and has a much shorter bill.
The Eastern parts of the USA are home to a number of great woodpecker species. Although there are many more types of woodpeckers that occur here, the 3 woodpeckers included in this category can only be seen in this part of the world. These 3 species are:
The Red-headed Woodpecker is a boldly marked black and white woodpecker with a bright crimson head and neck. These beautiful birds are found in a variety of woodland and forest areas in the eastern and central parts of the United States
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a very common woodpecker that is found throughout the eastern and central states in all sorts of different wooded habitats. These birds can often be seen in suburban and urban areas. Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a black and white speckled back, light grayish undersides, and a red-colored nape. In male birds, this red marking extends over the top of the head and to the base of the bill.
This small woodpecker has the classic combination of a mostly black back with white barring and whitish underparts with black speckles. The head is capped in black and there is a small red spot behind the eye. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are only found in the southeast and most of their distribution lies within the states of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
The western half of North America has the biggest diversity of different kinds of woodpeckers on the continent. So if you’re looking to add a few new species to your life list, head west!
Top species to look for:
Lewis’s woodpecker is quite a large woodpecker that can be spotted in ponderosa pine forests in particular. These birds have a reddish belly and an iridescent black-green back, with a red face. They take their name from their original collection during the historic Lewis and Clark expedition.
The Acorn Woodpecker is a great-looking bird that occurs in oak forested areas along the west coast and down into the American southwest. These medium-sized woodpeckers have pure black backs, with finely streaked underparts, a red cap on the top of their heads, and a bright white ring around their eyes.
The White-headed Woodpecker is another species that favors ponderosa pines in the extreme western areas of the United States. This type of woodpecker is almost all black, apart from white wing patches and a white head. The male birds also have a small patch of red feathers on the back of their heads.
Other western woodpeckers:
- American three-toed Woodpecker
- Black-backed Woodpecker
- Gila Woodpecker
- Nutall’s Woodpecker
Caption: Golden-fronted Woodpecker
There are many different types of woodpeckers that can be seen in the southern states. There are 3 species that can only be seen here.
Top southern woodpecker to look for:
The Golden-fronted Woodpecker is a medium-sized species that can be found in the Southern states of Texas and Oklahoma. These birds look a lot like their close relatives, the Gila Woodpecker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker, except they have a golden yellow patch of plumage on the back of their heads and another on the forehead. Males also have a red patch on the tops of their heads.
Other southern woodpeckers:
- Ladder-backed woodpecker
- Arizona Woodpecker
There are two species of flickers found in the United States, the Northern Flicker, and the Gilded Flicker. The Northern Flicker is found pretty much throughout the continental United States, whereas the Gilded Flicker can only be spotted way down in the American southwest in the States of California and Arizona where this woodpecker breeds in the saguaro cactus.
Flickers are fairly large woodpeckers that are unusual in that they forage mostly on the ground, feeding on ants and beetles. Both species look very similar to one another with the main difference being the cinnamon brown top to the head in the Gilded Flicker differing from the Gray cap of the Northern Flicker.
Sapsuckers are small woodpeckers that get their name from their habit of feeding on the sap of trees and other plants. These birds know which plants to drill into at which time of the year and this not only ensures a constant supply of their favorite food but also attracts insects that want to share the meal.
The insects that are attracted to the sap tend to get stuck in the sticky substance and become a welcome addition to the sapsucker’s diet. Pretty smart birds these Sapsuckers. There are 4 different species of sapsucker in the United States.
Top sapsucker to look out for:
The Red-breasted sapsucker looks a lot like the other 3 species in the group but with one big difference, it has a blood-red head and chest. These are smallish woodpeckers that, like the other sapsuckers, use their bills to create holes in the trunks of trees to access the flowing sap. Red-breasted Sapsuckers look somewhat similar to the red-headed woodpecker but are much less crisply marked and only occur on the west coast of the United States.
The other species of sapsucker found in the United States are:
- Williamson’s sapsucker
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker
- Red-naped sapsucker
The Pileated Woodpecker
Being the largest and most impressive woodpecker in the United States, the Pileated Woodpecker is instantly recognizable at about twice the size of the next largest species. These birds can be seen throughout much of the eastern states as well as in the northwest.
Pileated Woodpeckers construct their own nest holes in dead trees and these holes are often used by other animals like owls for nesting when the woodpeckers move out. These woodpeckers feed mostly on ants although they will also eat other types of insects as well as some nuts and wild fruit.
Do woodpeckers eat from bird feeders?
Although they aren’t the most common visitors to bird feeders, these birds do enjoy suet from suet feeders and mealworms from platform feeders, and it’s also a good idea to offer a woodpecker bird seed like sunflower seeds and peanuts from a peanut feeder.
How do I attract woodpeckers to my garden?
The most effective way to attract different types of woodpeckers to your yard is to offer them fresh water and the kinds of foods they like in a safe and quiet environment.
Where do you hang a woodpecker feeder?
One great place to hang your bird feeder is from a tree, preferably quite close to the trunk, but unfortunately, this often creates problems with squirrels. If you don’t have any large trees, or you are finding that squirrels are a problem, the best place to hang your bird feeders is from a specially designed bird feeder pole or station.
What do woodpeckers eat?
In the wild, the different types of woodpeckers eat quite a lot of different things including insects, nuts, fruits and berries, acorns, tree sap, seeds, and sometimes even birds eggs and small mice. In your backyard bird feeder, woodpeckers will feed on suet and mealworms, as well as some kinds of birdseed like sunflower seeds and peanuts.
With 22 different types of woodpeckers to look out for, the United States is a great place to be if you like seeing woodpeckers as much as I do. These interesting birds are great fun to watch as they climb around the trunks of trees, often running up and down vertical faces and even clinging upside-down. Happy bird watching!