Woodpeckers are a fun group of birds to watch. Their unique adaptation to be able to drill into trees at high speed without injuring themselves is quite unique! In this article we’ll take a look at 10 species of woodpeckers in Idaho, and give a little information about where and when you might be able to spot them. At the end of the article we’ll also share a few tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
10 Species of Woodpeckers in Idaho
There are at least 17 species of woodpeckers that can be seen in North America. With 10 species that make their home here at least for part of the year, Idaho is a great place to find woodpeckers!
The 10 species of woodpeckers in Idaho are the American three-toed woodpecker, black-backed woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, Lewis’s woodpecker, Northern flicker, pileated woodpecker, red-naped sapsucker, white-headed woodpecker and Williamson’s sapsucker.
1. American Three-toed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
- Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in
Aside from a few other states in the west, Idaho is actually one of the few states that the American Three-toed Woodpecker can be found. They remain in the state year-round. Look for them in the wooded areas in the northern half of the state, such as Idaho Panhandle, Nez Perce Clearwater and Boise national forests. 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, or Zygodactyl 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.
Overall these woodpeckers are not common in the U.S. and are rarely seen at backyard feeders.
2. Black-backed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
- Length: 9.1 in
- Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
- Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
Black-backed woodpeckers are most often found in burned forests between roughly 1 to 8 years old. 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.
It is not known how these woodpeckers locate burned forests, but they will sometimes arrive just weeks after a fire. This species only has three toes, like the American three-toed woodpecker. They will also forage in un-burnt forests, following populations of bark beetles.
Find them any time of year in the forests of northern Idaho, especially where fires have occurred in recent years.
3. Downy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
- 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 Idaho 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 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.
The downy is the woodpecker species most likely to visit backyard bird feeders. They love suet but also eat a variety of seeds like sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts. You may even see them visiting your hummingbird feeder, where their small beak allows them access to the sugar water.
4. Hairy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates villosus
- Length: 7.1-10.2 in
- Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
You may be wondering if you’re looking at another downy woodpecker in this picture. The answer is no, but they sure do look alike. 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 woodpecker 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 Idaho 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.
5. Lewis’s Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
- Length: 10.2-11.0 in
- Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz
- Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in
Lewis’s woodpeckers may be seen in southeastern Idaho during spring and fall migration, but remain for the breeding season in the panhandle and along the western border of the state. They tend to stay in pine forests and forests that have been burned, but their populations are often unpredictable.
After breeding season they travel around looking for stores of acorns and nuts, so their fall-winter population often ends up in different locations year-to-year. They take these foods and store them in crevices to last them throughout the winter.
Unlike a lot of other woodpeckers, Lewis’s woodpeckers catch 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
- Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
- 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 brown face on a gray head.
Males have a red “mustache” that females do not. In Idaho you get the “red-shafted” variety, and they have bright red feathers on the underside of their wings and tail.
Northern Flickers can be found throughout Idaho all year, and will sometimes visit backyard suet feeders. If you have some leaf piles in the yard, you may see them digging around for bugs.
7. Pileated Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
- Length: 15.8-19.3 in
- Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
- Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
The pileated woodpecker is the largest of all woodpeckers in Idaho, as well as North America. They have a black body, black and white striped face and large red crest. Males have a red cheek stripe while females do not. Pileated woodpeckers are typically only see in the Idaho panhandle, but remain there year-round.
If you want to spot a pileated woodpecker, look in mature forests. They love old, dead trees that have rotting wood. Pileated woodpeckers will sometimes come to backyard feeders, although they are much less common visitors than other species and often are too large for all but the biggest suet feeder.
8. Red-naped Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
- 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. Neat rows of holes in a sap-producing tree is a good indicator that a sapsucker is in the area.
Look for them in Idaho early in the breeding season (mid-May), and early in the morning when they are most active. They remain in Idaho for the summer, then head south out of the state in the fall. You can find them almost anywhere, but they tend to be absent from the southwestern corner.
9. White-headed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates albolarvatus
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.9 in
White-headed woodpeckers are only found in isolated patches in the United States. They favor mountainous pine forests and aren’t typically found in woodlands without pines. In Idaho, they are typically only see in the west, especially in the Boise National Forest between Boise and New Meadows.
These woodpeckers love pine seeds and cones, so look for them in forests with lots of ponderosa, Jeffery, Coulter, and sugar pines. Rather than drill into trees, they prefer to pull and peel the bark. They’ll also flock to burned forests to take advantage of the insects there.
White-headed woodpeckers are about the same size of an American Robin, with mostly inky black plumage all over, except for their bright white heads and white stripes on their wings. Adult Males also have a vibrant red patch on their heads similar to other species of woodpeckers.
10. Williamson’s Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
- 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, Idaho being one of them. They are mainly found in the central part of the state, with the most sightings occurring in areas such as Ponderosa state park, Alturas Lake, and Redfish Lake. These sapsuckers only visit Idaho 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 mountainous forests. They roost in natural or excavated cavities and prefer nesting in a larger, older trees.
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.