Woodpeckers are a family of birds that have uniquely adapted when it comes to finding food. All members of this group have a strong, reinforced skull that protects their brain from drilling into trees with their specialized beak. They do this in search of food as well as to create holes for nesting and communicate with other members of their species. They also possess a long, barbed, and usually sticky tongue that’s used to grip and pull insects into their waiting mouth. These unique birds are found all over the country, but in this article we’ll focus on the species of woodpeckers in New Hampshire.
8 species of woodpeckers in New Hampshire
The 8 species of woodpeckers in New Hampshire are the Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Black-backed Woodpecker, and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Less common in the state are the Red-headed Woodpecker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker whom don’t technically have a range in the state of New Hampshire, but are often spotted there nonetheless.
1. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
Height: 5.5-7.1 inches
Weight: 0.74-0.99 ounces
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest of woodpeckers in New Hampshire. It’s found throughout the state, and has adapted relatively well to human presence. It gets its name from the soft texture on its back, which is how it’s earned the affectionate nickname “Downy”.
They have a distinctive black and white striping pattern with strong bars of light and dark on the wings and a broad white stripe down their back. The males and females have slightly different patterns, with the males having a bright red dot at the nape of the neck.
It spends the majority of its time clinging to the trunks and branches of trees. Like most woodpeckers, they have specialized feet, called zygodactyl feet, that have two toes facing forwards and two facing backwards. These feet allow them to cling to the side of a tree when in search of insects.
Their smaller size also comes in handy when foraging for various nuts and berries, 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
Height: 9-9.5 inches
Weight: 0.74-0.99 ounces
At first glance, the Hairy Woodpecker heavily resembles the Downy, as both have similar patterns of black and white stripes with a red dot on the nape, but they’re two separate species! It certainly doesn’t help that they occupy similar areas throughout New Hampshire, but there are a few key differences between the two species.
The Hairy Woodpecker has all-white tail feathers and a larger beak, making it a unique challenge for new bird watchers. It’s most commonly found in more mature forests with older tree growth, consuming mostly insects but supplementing plant matter in their diet as well.
This woodpecker coexists well with other species of the family, and actually uses them to its advantage. They’ve been known to follow the loud drumming of Pileated Woodpeckers in search of easy food. When the Pileated Woodpecker leaves, the Hairy Woodpecker will investigate the deep holes left behind and snag any insects that may have been missed.
They’ll also follow along the routes of Sapsuckers in search for more easily accessible food. It’s believed that they have a sweet tooth, as they’ve been seen pecking at the sap left behind by the Sapsucker as well as being known for boring holes in sugar cane in search of the sweet juice.
3. Northern Flicker
Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
Height: 7-15 inches
Weight: 4.2 ounces
The Northern Flicker can be found throughout New Hampshire, although mainly during the breeding season only in Northern New Hampshire. In the summer these birds head further south for the winter.
They’re most often found on lawns searching for ants. When flying, you can see a flash of yellow from their underwings. It lives primarily in many built-up areas, making it also a common sight at bird feeders and local favorites.
This woodpecker primarily eats insects such as ants and grubs, but will commonly consume seeds and berries when they’re available. If you happen to see a bird walking vertically up a tree trunk, it’s most likely to be a Northern Flicker.
Along with the zygodactyl feet that allow it to grip, it also has stiff, pointed tail feathers that protrude at just the right angle to serve as a balance prop. It’s also one of only 3 woodpecker species that migrates.
4. Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
Height: 16-19 inches
Weight: 8.8-14 ounces
The Pileated Woodpecker has a loud, raucous call that’s been described as nearly prehistoric, and can be heard miles away. Despite the noise, this bird is shy and not often seen despite being almost instantly identifiable with a bright red crest. They’re relatively rare to see in New Hampshire, though they are found throughout the state.
If you have one of these woodpeckers in your lawn, you’ll most likely know it. This bird is most known for the large, rectangular holes left behind in the trees as it searches for its favorite food – carpenter ants.
Pileated Woodpeckers are actually the largest of the woodpeckers in New Hampshire, as well as in all of North America. The holes they create also provide a great source of food for many birds, not just those of its species. It has a distinctive drumming sound that attracts those other birds, like the Hairy Woodpecker, that slows down, speeds up, and then slows down again.
Unlike the common misconception that this bird drills into live trees, it actually prefers to hammer into dead and decaying logs with softer bark in search of termites and ants. This species has slowly been moving in closer to parks and woodlots around the edges of large cities as humans have encroached on their territory.
Even though they’re somewhat scarce in New Hampshire, their numbers are on the rise and there are more and more sightings each year.
5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Weight: 1.6 ounces
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker used to be prominent in the area, but human deforestation and use of pesticides has caused their numbers to dwindle. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers having a breeding range in the state of New Hampshire, so look for them in the Spring and Summer.
It’s a relatively loud and noisy woodpecker, with cat-like calls and staccato drumming they perform on tree trunks.
As the name suggests, the Sapsucker will drill small holes in the tree bark, usually in neatly spaced rows, and allow the sap to drip out. It will return periodically to these sap wells to peck at the sweet sap, and this also serves as an attractor for multiple insect species such as ants.
They’ll still glean insects from the tree trunk in a more traditional woodpecker fashion – drilling and pulling out insects with a sticky tongue – but they aren’t restricted to it.
6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
Height: 9-10.5 inches
Weight: 2.2 ounces
The Red-bellied Woodpecker used to be abundant throughout the northeast, but has dwindled since the clearing of forests in the 1860s. They’re often spotted in New Hampshire, but don’t technically have a range in the state according to allaboutbirds.org. Their name is a slight misnomer, as it’s only during the breeding season that it possesses a reddish blush on its belly.
The rest of the year, it remains gray. The true most prominent patch of red year-round on this bird is on its head and nape. They make a wide variety of sounds, including trills, chuckles, and steady drumming on trees to communicate.
Like most woodpeckers, this bird has a tongue with a barbed tip that’s covered in sticky spit that’s specially adapted to slipping into crevices made in tree bark in search of food. Males actually have a longer and wider-tipped tongue than the females, presumably because this would provide an advantage to coupled pairs.
Each individual would be able to forage in slightly different places within their territory, which in turn maximizes how much food they can gather. Eventually, this leads to stronger chicks that will also display this dimorphism.
7. Red-headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Height: 7.5-9.8 inches
Weight: 2-3.4 ounces
Much like the Red-bellied Woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker isn’t technically a resident in New Hampshire. However, they are often spotted there since they are found in neighboring states during the breeding season.
The adults have striking red heads that they develop after adolescence. Before this plumage comes in, the immature juveniles have brown heads and are much more dull and camouflaged.
This woodpecker has a slightly different method for catching food. While it does still drill for insects, it also has the ability to catch insects mid-flight and will store food in cracks and crevices. They’ve even been known to wedge live grasshoppers into these sections, keeping them stored away for a later meal and occasionally covering them with bark or leaves. They’re boldly patterned, easily identifiable, and very active.
Open pine plantations, tree rows in agricultural areas, and standing timber in beaver swamps and other wetlands all attract Red-headed Woodpeckers. They’re fiercely defensive of this territory once they move in, even removing the eggs of other species from nests and going so far as to puncture duck eggs.
Because of this action, the Red-headed Woodpecker was used as the Cherokee Indian war symbol for centuries.
8. Black-Backed Woodpecker
Length: 9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
Black-backed Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers that are around the same size as Hairy Woodpeckers. They have powerful bills that are long for their frame, inky black plumage on their upper-parts, and white underparts and face markings.
Males also have a yellow crown patch. In far Northern New Hampshire as well as into Maine, Black-backed Woodpeckers are found year-round. Though the majority of their population resides in Canada.
These woodpeckers go hand in hand with burned forests, usually those that are about a year to eight years old. Burned forests offer unique foraging opportunities and plenty of insects. Black-backed woodpeckers blend in perfectly with charred wood as they perch, peeling away bark to reach larvae of wood-boring beetles.