The state of Illinois is located in the midwestern portion of the United States, in the Great Lakes Region. It has the sixth largest population in the country as well as the 25th largest land area. The state has a unique range of habitats that provide homes to all kinds of birds and wildlife. Today, we’re going to focus our attention on the 7 species of woodpeckers in Illinois and where and when they can be found.
With Lake Michigan to it’s north, the Mississippi river, Ohio River, and Wabash River forming it’s borders, and many other rivers and streams running through it, there are plenty of wetlands in the state — and the interior of Illinois is mostly plains and farmlands, offering wide areas of open spaces, too. These habitats combined with woodlands and forests create numerous opportunities for woodpeckers to thrive.
Species of woodpeckers in Illinois – 7 species with pictures
There are 7 species of woodpeckers in Illinois that are either here year-round, or consistently during specific times of the year. If you want to see what other kinds of woodpeckers can be found in the United States and Canada, click here for a list of all the 17 woodpecker species in North America
Out of all 7 species of woodpeckers in the state, only one species isn’t found year round — the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. All others are found during all seasons in Illinois and include Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Pileated Woodpeckers.
1. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Red-headed Woodpeckers are found year-round in Illinois, though their populations have been on the decline. Like it’s name implies, the head of this bird is covered in striking red plumage. Their upper parts are mostly black, with a thick, white band across the wings. They’re medium sized woodpeckers with short, powerful bills that are perfect for hammering into wood. Red-headed Woodpeckers are found in a variety of habitats including groves, wetlands, and farm lands and orchards, but they tend to favor woodlands and forests with open understories and clearings.
These woodpeckers are good at planning ahead, and will store extra food away in tree crevices for future use. They eat a varied diet that consists of mostly insects in addition to fruit, berries, acorns, and beech nuts. They’ll even eat small rodents, earthworms, and the eggs and nestlings of other birds. Red-headed Woodpeckers have a distinct, harsh call that’s helpful for finding them, and they’re loud drumming as they forage is another key signal that one’s nearby.
2. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are commonly found year-round in Illinois. In fact, they’ve even extended their range north within the last few decades and their population may be slowly increasing. Their success may be due to their adaptable nature — they’re able to thrive in a range of habitats including swamps, groves, woodlands, forests, but also parks, suburbs, and other urban areas. They’re opportunistic feeders, and will eat large amounts of plant material in addition to insects. Some occasional items in their diet could be small reptiles and fish, and even other birds’ eggs.
Despite their name, the bellies of Red-bellied Woodpeckers tend to be pretty pale, and the red found on the backs of their heads is more vibrant. They’re medium-sized woodpeckers with black and white striped backs. Look for them perched on the sides of large trees and along major branches. They don’t drill as much as other woodpeckers, but rather peel and pick the bark off. Listen for their rolling call for better luck locating them, they tend to be loud during the spring and summer.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Downy Woodpeckers may be tiny, but their small size gives them a few advantages. They can forage in places larger woodpeckers can’t get to, like the stalks of tall weeds and plant galls. They also frequently join mixed flocks of other small birds, like nuthatches and chickadees. This provides better protection from predators and increased luck finding food. Downy Woodpeckers are also the most likely species of woodpecker to take advantage of backyard feeders, especially those that offer suet blocks.
These woodpeckers look like miniature versions of Hairy Woodpeckers, with black and white checkered plumage on their backs, and stark white bellies. Males also feature a tiny red cap on their heads. They’re year-round hummingbirds in Illinois and are very common and widespread. Hairy Woodpeckers tend to favor deciduous trees, but are typically found in most forests, woodlands, and river groves. They often visit backyards and other suburban areas.
4. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Hairy Woodpeckers look extremely similar to Downy Woodpeckers in appearance, except they are much larger, with longer bills, too. They have the same black and white coloration, with checkering on their backs. They’re found year-round in Illinois, often in the same areas as Downy Woodpeckers; woodlands, forests, and river groves. However, due to their larger size they require bigger trees than Downy Woodpeckers, and don’t appear in urban areas, parks, and suburbs as often either.
Hairy Woodpeckers are often spotted perched on the sides of tree trunks or large, main branches. These are prime spots for foraging, and these woodpeckers tend to be eager in their search — frequently inspecting and peeling off bark in hopes of finding insects such as wood-boring beetles or their larvae. They’re also known to forage on fallen logs or other rotting or dead wood, so check these places for luck in finding them.
5. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Northern Flickers are year-round residents in Illinois, where they are pretty widespread and common. However, their populations have been gradually decreasing, possibly due to nesting competition with invasive starlings. These large woodpeckers have a unique coloration compared to the others on this list.
Their bodies are covered with grey-brown plumage and they have plentiful, dark-colored polkadots and markings on their undersides. When in flight the vibrant splashes of color are visible on their underwings — yellow for birds in the east and red for the west. They also have a white rump patch that’s easily noticeable when they’re flying.
Northern Flickers are often found in woodlands that have plenty of open space and on the edges of forests. Keep your eyes pointed low when out looking for them, as they tend to forage on the ground, using their curved bill to dig for ants and beetles. They also perch on branches to eat berries and will sometimes catch insects in midair.
6. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
Pileated Woodpeckers are found year-round in Illinois, but they are pretty uncommon. Their numbers declined with the removal of eastern forests in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, if there is one in the area it shouldn’t be too hard to spot. At about the size of a crow, Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America, and their tall, vibrant red, crest located on the tops of their heads stands out even in crowded forests. Their loud whinnies make their presence known, as well as the deep drumming produced when they excavate wood.
Find these woodpeckers in large, dense forests and woodlands, especially deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests. They rely on fallen logs, and rotting and dead wood to forage for insects — primarily carpenter ants, which can take up to 60 percent of their diet. Like most woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers have predominately black and white plumage aside from their crests, with bright, white stripes running along the sides of their throats.
7. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
Non-breeding populations of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are found in the southern portion of Illinois during the winter, but it in the upper portion of the state you can catch them during migration. They travel north and cover most of Canada during breeding season in the spring and summer, but travel back south to overwinter in the southeastern United States and into Central America. Overall they’re widespread and common, though they no longer occupy some areas they previously used to nest in.
When out looking for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, be sure to keep your eyes out for rows of small, neatly spaced holes in wood. These holes are the tell-tale sign that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is nearby, as they drill these sap wells to release the sap inside. They also feed upon tree tissues such as cambium as well as insects and fruits and berries, especially in the winter. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have white bellies with some yellow tinges, red foreheads, and black and white upper-parts. Males also have red throats.
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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.