In this article we’re talking about the woodpecker species found in the state of Maine. After looking at pictures and learning some interesting facts about each species, you’ll quickly discover their differences as well as their similarities.
The 8 most common species of woodpeckers in Maine are the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and the Black-backed Woodpecker.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these unique species.
1. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most common of woodpeckers in Maine, as it can be found nearly anywhere trees are present. It’s named for the soft texture on its back, and they’re often affectionately called “downies” by locals.
They have a very distinctive black and white striping pattern down the center of their back with broad horizontal bars on their wings. Males and females have slightly different patterns, as the males also have a bright red dot on the backs of their heads.
This woodpecker spends most of its time clinging to the trunks and branches of trees. Like most woodpeckers, they’ve evolved zygodactyl feet, meaning they have two toes that face forwards and two toes that face back, unlike most species of bird that have three forward and one back.
This allows them to cling to the tree better in search of insects. Their smaller size comes in handy when foraging, as they’re able to crawl all the way out to the tips of smaller branches that other woodpeckers are too heavy to access.
2. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides villosus
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
The Hairy Woodpecker resembles the Downy Woodpecker with its black and white stripe and red dot, as well as also being seen throughout Maine, but they’re two distinctive species! The hairy’s beak is larger than the Downy’s, and has all-white outer tail feathers as well.
It’s less common than the Downy as well, preferring mature forests with old tree growth. It mostly consumes insects, but will include plant matter in its diet as well.
This woodpecker is known for occasionally following the sounds of Pileated Woodpeckers within the same region in search of easy food. As the Pileated moves on, the Hairy Woodpecker will investigate the deep holes and take any insects that may have been missed.
They’ll also follow the routes of Sapsuckers, as they’ve been known to drink sap leaking from the wells left in the bark. It’s believed they have a taste for sweet things, as they’ve also been seen pecking into sugar cane for the juice.
3. Northern Flicker
Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
The Northern Flicker is the only woodpecker in Maine with gray-brown plumage rather than the traditional black and white. When in flight, its wings have been known to flash yellow from underneath. It lives primarily in woodlands, wetlands, and many built-up areas, making it a common sight at bird feeders throughout the state.
This bird eats insects and other invertebrates, but will also commonly consume seeds and berries when they’re available. This is the most common species to see vertically walking up a tree trunk.
This is thanks to its zygodactyl feet, and it also has stiff, pointed tail feathers that protrude at just the right angle to serve as a balance prop. The Northern Flicker has a breeding range in Maine, so look for them in the Spring when they’re most active.
There are two varieties of northern flickers in the United States, the red-shafted in the West and the yellow-shafted in the east. They look very similar apart from a couple of features, the latter is what Maine has.
4. 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 most likely the species people think of when you say “woodpecker”. This crow-sized bird has a bright red crest and a striking black body with white patches on the wings, making it a treat to see no matter how common!
It’s obvious when you have a Pileated Woodpecker nearby. As the largest woodpeckers in Maine and in North America, they leave distinctive rectangular holes in the trees it excavates in search of carpenter ants – their primary source of food.
Unlike the common misconception that they hammer into live trees in search of insects, this woodpecker much prefers dead and softer wood when searching for ant nests, going so far as to tear apart stumps and big sections of fallen logs. This woodpecker also has a distinctive drumming sound that slows down, speeds up, and slows down again.
It can be found in the conifer forests of Maine, but has slowly been moving in closer to parks and woodlots around the edges of large cities as humans have been encroaching on its habitat. Thankfully, its numbers are gradually increasing, although it’s still threatened by the clearing of forests and the use of pesticides.
5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be seen throughout Maine during the breeding season only. It’s considered to be one of the more vocal woodpeckers, as it can become incredibly noisy in the spring with cat-like calls and staccato drumming.
The Sapsucker, as the name suggests, drills tiny holes in tree bark in neatly spaced rows, and then returns to them periodically to eat the sap that oozes out. This sap also serves as an attractor for many insect species such as ants for them to eat. They do still glean insects from tree trunks in a more “woodpecker” fashion, but aren’t restricted to it.
6. 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
In the most Northwestern parts of Maine, you may come across a Three-toed Woodpecker. They aren’t very common, and their small size and inconspicuous nature don’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.
7. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
- Length: 9.4 in
- Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
The red-bellied woodpecker, traditionally a resident of much of the eastern United States, has recently begun to make its presence known in southern Maine, marking a notable expansion of its range. These medium-sized woodpeckers, increasingly common at feeders and in backyards within this new territory, are attracted to suet and larger-sized nuts.
While named for the subtle pinkish-red wash on their lower belly—a feature that is often not visible—their most striking characteristics are the vivid red streak along the back of their heads and the bold, barred black and white pattern on their wings.
Equipped with a tongue that can extend nearly 2 inches beyond their beak, red-bellied woodpeckers have a barbed end and sticky saliva, enabling them to skillfully snatch insects from hard-to-reach places.
8. 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 are found mostly in Northern Maine. These woodpeckers are usually the dominate species in places where both species of woodpeckers occur and will often drive away American Three-toed Woodpeckers from their territories.
Black-backed 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.
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Jesse has been feeding birds in his backyard and bird watching across the country for years. He loves learning about the different species and sharing his knowledge and experiences on this website.