There are over 300 species of woodpeckers in the world, about 22 of which are found in the United States. Of those 22 species I’ve found that there are 7 species of woodpeckers in Kentucky. Of these 7 species, several are year-round residents to Kentucky while others just live there part time.
The 7 species of woodpeckers found in Kentucky are the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
In this article we’re going to talk about all 7 of these species of woodpeckers in Kentucky. For each species we’ll have a picture to help you identify it, a bit about its size, a brief description with some fun facts, as well as where and how they can be found in the state of Kentucky.
(The Red-cockaded Woodpecker unfortunately did not make this list of woodpeckers in Kentucky, since they were extirpated from the state in the early 2000s.)
Be sure to read to the end where we’ll talk about how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
Woodpeckers in state
1. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest of all woodpeckers in North America and can be found in Kentucky all year throughout the whole state. They are very common at feeders and easily attracted with suet, peanuts, mixed seed, or black sunflower seed. Whenever I put up a new feeder in my yard Downys are always among the first to visit it along with chickadees and titmice. They do not migrate and are also very common in the winter time.
Aside from being frequent visitors at bird feeders they also will hammer away at trees looking for insect larvae or feed on berries and acorns. It is not unusual to catch a Downy Woodpecker drinking nectar from a hummingbird feeder. Downy Woodpeckers prefer nesting in dead trees or dead branches on live trees.
2. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Next up is the Hairy Woodpecker, who looks strikingly similar to the Downy. They can be downright difficult to tell apart except fro the larger size of the Hairy. See the image below that shows them side by side. The Downy is on the left and the Hairy is on the right. The Downy shot is a bit closer up so the size difference is hard to gauge, but the Hairy Woodpecker is noticeably larger and has a longer beak.
The Hairy Woodpecker is also a year-round resident to Kentucky and the majority of the United States. They are very commonly seen at bird feeders and eat all of the same things as their little brother the Downy. It’s quite possible you’ve seen them both and just assumed they were the same species. Here’s an article we wrote that goes into a bit more detail on the differences between a Hairy and Downy Woodpecker.
3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common throughout Kentucky year round. They are significantly larger than Downy Woodpeckers and very similar in size to Hairy Woodpeckers. They can also be seen frequenting bird feeders, especially suet feeders.
At first glance you notice their red heads but resist the temptation to call the Red-headed Woodpeckers, once you scroll down to the next woodpecker in Kentucky you’ll see the difference. Red-bellied Woodpeckers do have a red stomach but it is more of a pale red but is often unnoticeable when they are up against a tree or feeder. Instead look for their black and white barred wings and red mohawk down their neck to identify them.
4. Red-headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Red-headed Woodpeckers are less common at bird feeders than the first 3 on this list of woodpeckers in Kentucky, but they are found throughout the state all year long. They can sometimes be seen visiting bird feeders and then darting to a tree where they will stash the tasty treats in holes or bark for another day. Red-headed Woodpeckers are a real treat to see, I spoke to one person who had been building their life list for 55+ years, lived in this woodpeckers range, and had only seen one once in recent years. They’re quite elusive in most cases.
Red-headed Woodpeckers feed mostly on insects like beetles, seeds, and berries. They are also considered to be among the most skilled flycatchers when it comes to woodpeckers and will commonly store live insects that they catch in tree bark for later. You can recognize them by their bright red heads with black and white bodies, they are quite unmistakable. Their population has been on the decline for sometime and they are becoming more and more rare to see in some places.
5. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
Pileated Woodpeckers are year-round residents to all of Kentucky, but less common at suet feeders than other species like the Downy. They are the largest species of woodpeckers in Kentucky as well as North America. Like other woodpeckers they readily eat at suet feeders when offered, but as I mentioned they can be quite elusive and hard to attract. This bird is one that I am still trying to attract to my yard and have yet to see one at my new house.
They like dead and dying trees if you have any on your property and you can even attract a pair if you put up a nest box. They prefer large trees in mature forests for nesting and are capable of drilling massive holes in them. Their primary food is carpenter ants but also eat beetle larvae, termites, other insects, fruits and nuts.
6. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Northern Flickers are very colorful birds found throughout Kentucky that frequent backyards. While they do occasionally visit feeders, they mostly eat ants from the ground by picking through leaves and dirt and snatching them with their long tongues. Aside from the ants they will eat other invertebrates as well as berries, sunflower seeds, and thistle.
Even though they find their food on the ground, they do drum on trees often as a form of communication. They prefer nesting in old and rotting trees like most other woodpeckers. Northern Flickers are identified by their spotted underbellies, black bibs, red on the back of their necks, and yellow on their tails. They are fairly large in size, noticeably bigger than a Hairy Woodpecker, but much smaller than a Pileated Woodpecker.
7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers aren’t regulars at bird feeders but will sometimes show up at a suet feeder. They are more likely to be seen in tree branches while looking for insects or harvesting sap. Sapsuckers will drill holes into birch and maple trees, stick their bills in, and use their long tongues to take in as much sap as they can.
These woodpeckers are about the size of an American Robin and have a non-breeding population in Kentucky. So your best chance to spot one would be in the winter before they migrate north to breed. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are mostly black with light under bodies, yellow and black chests, and red feathers above and below their beaks.
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.