Woodpeckers in Alaska (7 Species)

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Alaska is the largest U.S. state and is home to a huge population of wildlife and birds. Among this diverse wildlife includes several species of woodpeckers. In this article we’re going to learn about the 7 species of woodpeckers in Alaska. 

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We’ll have a look at each of these species so that you can identify them as well as learn a few fun facts. 

Species of Woodpeckers of Washington State 

The 7 species of woodpeckers found in Alaska are the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

1. Downy Woodpecker 

Image: pixabay.com

Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in

The first woodpecker on our list is also the smallest. The Downy Woodpecker is a widespread species of woodpecker found year-round across most of the lower 48 states and Canada. Downy Woodpeckers also found year-round in Southern Alaska, though not common in the northern half of Alaska.

They’re found in a wide range of habitats including open woodlands, forests, orchards, groves, and suburban areas. In fact, it’s a regular visitor to backyard gardens, feeders, and even residential parks. Its small size allows it to forage in places where larger woodpeckers can’t reach, such as tall weed stems and grasses. 

Downy Woodpeckers have predominately black and white colorations very similar to Hairy Woodpeckers. They have white undersides and black uppers with white checkering and a bold white stripe that runs down the back.

Males also sport a tiny red patch on the tops of their heads. Their silhouettes resemble that of a larger woodpecker, with straight backs as they perch on tree trunks and straight, drill-like bills. However, the bills of Downy Woodpeckers tend to be smaller in proportion than other species. 


2. Hairy Woodpecker

Image: JackBulmer | pixabay.com

Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in 

Hairy Woodpeckers look nearly identical to Downy Woodpeckers in plumage coloration. They have mostly black and white plumage with the same white stripe running along their backs. However, Hairy Woodpeckers are larger and possess a longer bill.

Compared to other smaller sized woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers do a lot of drilling and excavating in order to feed on wood-boring insects and larvae. Listen for their drumming and look for them perched on tree trunks and on the main limbs of trees. 

Field guides can point out the specific characteristics to distinguish hard to separate birds, such as the Downy (left) and Hairy (right) Woodpecker.

Like the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpeckers are found year-round in parts of central and southern Alaska. Since they are larger than Downy Woodpeckers, they rely on larger and taller trees and are generally found in more mature forests and open woodlands.

They are less likely to be found in suburbs and backyards, though they will occasionally take advantage of a feeder, especially those stocked with suet

Here are some great suet feeders to attract woodpeckers to your yard. 

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3. Northern Flicker 

Image: Menke Dave, USFWS | pixnio.com

Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in

Out of all the woodpeckers found in Alaska, Northern Flickers really stand out as far as coloration. Unlike most species that feature primarily black and white plumages, Northern Flickers are instead brown all over, with lots of patterning on their undersides and wings.

They’re large woodpeckers in between the size of an American Robin and Crow, with smooth, rounded heads and long, tapered tails. There are two distinct types of Northern Flickers as well — Northern Flickers in the east have bright yellow patches under their wings, but birds in the west, including Alaska, have red. 

Northern Flickers are only found in some parts of Central Alaska in the breeding season. Here they occupy forests and woodlands that also offer open grounds for foraging. While most woodpeckers hang out on trees to forage, Northern Flickers are often spotted directly on the ground, using their slightly down-curved bills to dig for ants. 


4. American Three-Toed Woodpecker

image: Ron Knight | Flickr | CC 2.0

Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in

American three-toed Woodpeckers are found all year in much of Alaska, though not as common towards the coast. Their small size and inconspicuous nature doesn’t make them very easy to find. American Three-toed Woodpeckers often spend a long time perched on a single tree, either sitting very still or flaking off the bark.

Unlike most woodpeckers, these woodpecker don’t rely on drilling or excavating wood and instead peel the bark off with their bills.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are about the size of an American Robin, in between the size of a Downy and Hairy Woodpecker. Their bills are fairly short, but are strong and sturdy to help them pick off bark. They’re mostly black and white, with fine black barring on their white undersides. Males have a dull yellow patch on their foreheads. 


5. Black-Backed Woodpecker

Image: Kurt Bauschardt | CC BY-SA 2.0 | flickr

Length: 9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz 
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in

Black-backed Woodpeckers are similar to American Three-toed Woodpeckers. The northern part of their year-round range extends well into Alaska. Black-backed Woodpeckers aren’t very common, but they do tend to be more noticeable than American Three-toed Woodpeckers.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are usually the dominate species in places where both species of woodpeckers occur. They often drive away American Three-toed Woodpeckers from their territories.

These woodpeckers are medium-sized birds, around the same size as a Hairy Woodpecker. Their coloration is close to the American Three-toed Woodpecker’s, but with less barring on the back and wings. The solid black plumage on their backs helps them blend into charred trees in forests where wildfires had occurred.

Black-backed Woodpeckers flock to these burned areas to feast on the larvae of wood-boring beetles and other insects, and will occupy these territories for years. 


6. Red-Breasted Sapsucker 

image: Mike’s Birds | Flickr | CC 2.0

Length: 7.9-8.7 in
Weight: 1.9-2.2 oz
Wingspan: 14.6-16.0 in

Red-breasted Sapsuckers are only found in far southern Alaska, in the panhandle. They mostly reside in coniferous forests, but in the winter they extend their habitats to other trees, too.

For a long time Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Red-naped Sapsuckers were believed to belong to the same species, so not much information has been studied about the differences in behavior. 

Red-breasted Sapsuckers are medium sized woodpeckers with sold red heads and red chests. The rest of their bodies are covered in black and white plumage. They forage the same way other sapsuckers do, by drilling small sap wells into trees in order to lap up the tree sap as it flows. 


7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 

Length: 7.1-8.7 in  
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz 
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker migrates north into Canada, and a little bit into Alaska, to breed each year. So look for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the spring and summer in Alaska when they’re pairing up to mate and nest.

They aren’t common at bird feeders and do in fact eat sap as their primary food source. They drill holes into maple, elm, aspen, and birch trees and collect sap with their long tongues. Aside from sap they also will eat a variety of insects.


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How to attract woodpeckers 

For many of us, attracting woodpeckers to our feeders or yards is something we love. They are quite as commonly seen as chickadees, titmice, or cardinals and add a bit of excitement. However they are harder to spot and also harder to attract. Here are some tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.

  • Offer food they like – Many types of woodpeckers are known for visiting bird feeders. Consider putting up a suet feeder as well as offering black sunflower seed. Be sure to get a suet feeder with a tail prop area that will help attract larger woodpeckers.
  • Leave dead trees alone – Woodpeckers love dead and dying trees that are easy to bore holes in and have plenty of insect larvae for them to eat.
  • Put up nest boxes – Many species of woodpeckers will use nest boxes. Pileated woodpeckers have a history of using nesting boxes from May to July.
  • Plant native fruit bearing plants and trees – Woodpeckers may sometimes relish fruits and berries such as dogwood, serviceberry, tupelo, mountain ash, strawberry, cherry, grapes, bayberry, holly, blueberries, apples, mulberry, brambles, and elderberries.
  • Don’t forget the water – Woodpeckers will use bird baths like any other birds so have a water source available, preferably with a water mover or solar fountain to help attract them. Solar fountains with batteries tend to work the best so that the fountain doesn’t stop every time the sun goes behind a cloud.

For even more great tips, check this article on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard

About Jesse

Jesse enjoys bird watching and feeding birds in his backyard, learning about the different species, and sharing his knowledge and experiences.