There are many different species of woodpeckers in North America, and you can potentially find 11 of those woodpeckers in Colorado. In this article we’ll take a look at each species and touch on where and when you might spot one in Colorado. At the end of the article, we also give you a few tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
11 Species of Woodpeckers in Colorado
The 11 species of woodpeckers in Colorado are the American three-toed woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, Lewis’s woodpecker, Northern flicker, red-headed woodpecker, red-naped sapsucker, Williamson’s sapsucker, and more rarely the acorn woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecker.
1. American Three-toed Woodpecker
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in
These woodpeckers are much more common in Canada. Aside from a few other states in the west, Colorado is actually one of the few states that the American three-toed woodpecker can be found.
Look for them in mountainous areas and the national forests through the middle of the state. They prefer damaged, old growth forests with lots of dead or even burned trees where they can extract insect larvae and mine for bugs easily.
The majority of woodpeckers have 4 toes. However as the name suggests, these woodpeckers have just 3 toes. It is believed that the three-toed woodpecker is able to lean back further and strike a more powerful blow to its target because of the leverage having just 3 toes affords it.
2. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
You can find these tiny woodpeckers everywhere throughout Colorado all year. They are very common throughout almost all of the U.S. and are the smallest species of woodpeckers in North America. The downy is the woodpecker species most likely to visit backyard bird feeders.
Downy Woodpeckers love suet but also eat a variety of seeds like sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts. They’re only about the size of a sparrow and can be identified by the white spots on their backs, and pure white chest and belly. Males have a red patch at the back of their head.
3. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
You may be thinking that this woodpecker looks an awful lot like the downy. Hairy woodpeckers often occur in the same areas as downy’s across the U.S. and cause plenty of confusion when you’re trying to identify which is which.
The hairy is significantly larger, and has a longer beak relative to its body size than the downy. We have an article here that can help you learn how to tell them apart.
These two woodpeckers are very similar in all ways from habitat to diet. They can be found throughout Colorado all year. The hairy woodpecker tends to be a little more shy of humans, and while they will visit backyard suet feeders, they aren’t as commonly seen as the downy.
4. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 0.7-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 13.0 in
Look for ladder-backed woodpeckers in the pinyon-juniper woodlands found in the southeastern corner of Colorado. They aren’t commonly seen at suet feeders, as they eat mostly insects in the wild. You can try to attract them with mealworms, peanut butter, and black oil sunflower seeds when offered.
The long, horizontal white stripes on their back appear as rungs of a ladder. Their white belly has small black spots. Males have a long red stripe that runs across the top of their head, while females have a black stripe.
The ladder-backed woodpecker commonly nests in dead trees, so if you want to attract a pair leave those dead trees in your yard alone. They were once known as “cactus woodpeckers” because they often prefer living in deserts and thorn forests where cacti are present.
5. Lewis’s Woodpecker
Length: 10.2-11.0 in
Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz
Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in
Lewis’s woodpeckers are most often seen in central and southwestern parts of Colorado. They tend to stay in pine forests and forests that have been burned, but their populations are often unpredictable. Especially after breeding season when they travel around looking for stores of acorns and nuts. They take these foods and store them in crevices to last them throughout the winter.
Unlike a lot of other woodpeckers, Lewis’s Woodpeckers mostly feed by catching insects in midair. They have broad, rounded wings that gives their flight a graceful, crow-like quality.
Their coloration is also unique considering most woodpeckers have black and white bodies. Lewis’s are quite colorful, with a pink belly, red patch on the face, and a dark, iridescent green on their back and wings.
6. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
These medium to large sized woodpeckers are quite common in backyards throughout the United States. In my opinion they are also among some of the most colorful birds in North America.
Flickers feed mainly on insects and unlike other woodpeckers, often like to find them on the ground rather than trees. Identify them by the black spots on their bellies, solid black bib, barred black and gray wings, and light brown and gray head. Males will have a “mustache” while females do not.
There are two color varieties in the U.S., the “yellow-shafted” and the “red-shafted” and Colorado has both! The main difference is the color underneath the wings and tail, and the color of the mustache on the males. You may even seen something that looks like a combination of both, as they sometimes interbreed and form a hybrid.
Northern flickers are common throughout Colorado all year, and may visit backyard feeders for suet.
7. Red-headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Colorado is along the far western edge of the red-headed woodpeckers range. They tend to only be seen in the eastern half of the state, during the spring and summer. In winter, most most out of the state and head further east.
The red-headed woodpecker is easily identified by its completely red/crimson head, and black and white color-blocked body. They will sometimes come to suet feeders, but are less common backyard visitors than some other types of woodpeckers. Aside from suet they will also eat various nuts and fruits.
Red-headed woodpeckers can be quite aggressive and it’s not uncommon for them to take over nests by knocking eggs out or even puncturing them to kill the young. They are one of only four species of woodpeckers that actively store their food in caches for later use, their favorite being acorns and beech nuts. These woodpeckers takes it a step further though, and will cover the food up with bark or wood to better camouflage their stash.
8. Red-naped Sapsucker
Length: 7.5-8.3 in
Weight: 1.1-2.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.1-16.9 in
Red-naped sapsuckers are very closely related to yellow-bellied sapsuckers and were even thought to be the same species until 1983 when researchers discovered they were in fact two different species. Both males and females have a red forehead, while males have a fully red throat and females have a white throat with red “necklace”.
Like other sapsuckers, they drink sap from trees like aspen, birch, or pine, but also feed on insects. Look for them in western and central Colorado early in the breeding season (mid-May), and early in the morning when they are most active. They remain in Colorado through the summer, but then head out of the state and spend winters further south.
Neat rows of holes in a sap-producing tree are a good indicator that a sapsucker is in the area.
9. Williamson’s Sapsucker
Length: 8.3-9.8 in
Weight: 1.6-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 17 inches
Williamson’s Sapsuckers are only found in a handful of midwestern states, Colorado being one of them. They are mainly found in the central and southwestern part of the state. These sapsuckers only visit Colorado during the breeding season, then head further south for the winter.
They feed primarily on the sap of coniferous trees, extracting it by drilling sap-wells. Males and females look very different. Males have black backs with bright yellow bellies and a touch of red on the chin. Females have brown heads with black and white striped bodies.
Uncommon in backyards, Williamson’s sapsuckers are primarily found in the mountainous forests. They roost in natural or excavated cavities and prefer nesting in a larger, older trees.
Rare Woodpeckers in Colorado
10. Acorn Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.3-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.8-16.9 in
Acorn Woodpeckers have a very limited range in North America, and Colorado is not considered to be part of their normal range. However, they have been spotted in the state over a dozen times. So sometimes they do stray from their homes in Arizona and New Mexico and venture further north, but it would be considered rare.
They’re known for drilling holes in trees called granaries and storing nuts in theme, as many as 50,000 nuts in some cases. They jam them into these holes so tightly that other animals are unable to remove them. They are obviously storing this food for a later date when food is more scarce. They’ll also fiercely guard these food caches from anything that tries to steal from them.
11. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Colorado is not considered to be part of the red-bellied woodpecker’s range, as they are a bird of the eastern United States. However a small population will travel into eastern Colorado from Kansas from time to time.
These medium-sized woodpeckers are fairly common at feeders, and will eat suet as well as peanuts. As their name suggests, they do have a pink colored belly, but it is often hard to see.
How to attract woodpeckersFor 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.