9 Species of Woodpeckers in New York

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When one thinks of New York, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely the concrete jungle of New York City. However, this state has a lot more to it than just the big apple. It’s home to the Adirondack Mountains, Niagara Falls and Adirondack State Parks, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. Over 20 species of mammals and birds are found here including birds of prey, waterfowl, hummingbirds, and songbirds just to name a few. For this article we’re going to take a close look at the 9 species of Woodpeckers in New York and how to find them.

Species of Woodpeckers in New York 

The 9 Species of woodpecker in New York include; Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, American Three-toed Woodpeckers, and Black-backed Woodpeckers. Not all of these species are found year-round in New York, but they all occur regularly at certain times of the year. 

1. Pileated Woodpecker

image: Pixabay.com

Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in

Pileated Woodpeckers have a few key characteristics that make them easily identifiable. They are the largest woodpeckers in North America, with large, flaming-red crests at the tops of their heads and bold white stripes down the sides of their necks. These woodpeckers are often heard before they are seen, either drumming into trees with their long, chisel-like bills, or calling with their loud, high-pitched whinny.

Find Pileated Woodpeckers year-round in New York, in forests that have plenty of tall trees and downed, rotting logs. Unique, rectangular shaped holes in wood are a distinct give away for these birds, indicating that they may be in the area.

To get at carpenter ants and other insects, Pileated Woodpeckers will even go as far as tearing apart stumps and other large sections of dead wood. Look for them at all heights of the forest — often foraging at the base of trees. In addition to insects they also eat wild fruit, berries, and nuts. 


2. Red-Headed Woodpecker 

red-headed woodpecker
Image: Dave Menke, USFWS | pixino.com

Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan:  16.5 in

Red-headed Woodpeckers are primarily found in the south eastern and central portions of America, but breeding populations are found in New York during the spring and summer. They’re medium-sized birds with short tails, strong bills, and bright red heads. The rest of their striking coloration shows black on their upper parts with contrasting, bright white bellies and half black, half white wings.

These woodpeckers tend to occur in small colonies. They favor woodlands with clearings, the edges of forests, and other semi-open areas. Listen for deep tapping on trees, or for their sharp “wee-ah” calls to locate them. Red-headed Woodpeckers are one of the most omnivorous woodpeckers species. In addition to foraging in trees, they will eagerly take advantage of other food sources such as flying insects, wild fruits, nuts, seeds, and sometimes even small rodents and other birds’ eggs. 


3. Red-Bellied Woodpecker 

Image: Scottslm | pixabay.com

Length: 9.4 in 
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz 
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in

Though not very widespread in the state, there are some year-round populations of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in southern New York. They tend to be somewhat more common than Red-headed Woodpeckers, and are sometimes confused for this  species due to also having red markings on their heads. The rest of their plumage is pale overall, with bold, black and white barring on their backs.

Red-bellied woodpeckers are fairly common in woodlands, groves, and forests — especially those near bodies of water. They’re adaptable birds, too, and have been spotted in urban settings like parks and suburbs. Learning the rolling calls of these woodpeckers is one of the best ways to find them. During the spring and summer they call loudly and frequently, offering a good viewing opportunity. 


4. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker 

photo by: dfaulder | CC 2.0

Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in

Though they’re called “yellow-bellied,” Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers aren’t really all that yellow. They may have some yellowish markings on their pale undersides, but their plumage is mostly black and white, with bright red foreheads an white stripes down the sides of their necks.

They’re small, robin-sized woodpeckers with short bills and long wings. Sometimes they hold their feathers up to a point on the tops of their heads, giving them an alert expression. 

Breeding populations are found in New York during the spring and summer, in hardwood and coniferous forests. They’re particularly fond of aspens and will frequently nest in cavities in groves of these trees. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are known for drilling tiny, neatly spaced rows of sap wells. Look for these telltale signs next time you’re out birding, you might just be in Yellow-bellied Sapsucker territory. 


5. Downy Woodpecker

Image: Naturelady | pixabay.com

Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in

Downy Woodpeckers live year-round in New York, and are commonly found in a range of habitats including open woodlands, forest edges, urban parks, and even backyards. They’re opportunistic foragers — drilling into trees like most woodpeckers in addition to foraging in tall grass and weeds, and also backyard feeders.

In fact, Downy Woodpeckers are among the most likely woodpecker species to visit feeders. These birds are the smallest woodpecker species in North America. In the winter they meet up with other flocks of small birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches to stick out the cold in larger numbers. 

These woodpeckers are often confused for Hairy Woodpeckers, since their black and white coloration is nearly identical. However, Downy Woodpeckers are much smaller, with proportionately shorter bills. They also have black spots on their white tail feathers, which the Hairy Woodpecker lacks. Listening for the high-pitched “pik” of the Downy Woodpecker is another way to tell them apart. 

Field guides can point out the field marks to distinguish hard to tell apart birds, such as the Downy (left) and Hairy (right) Woodpecker.

6. Hairy Woodpecker 

Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in

The Hairy Woodpecker is the larger look-alike to the Downy Woodpecker. The main differences between these two birds are their size and bill length, with the Hairy Woodpecker’s bill being significantly longer. Hairy Woodpeckers tend to stick to trees for foraging and are frequently seen perched on the sides of trees or around the trunks. They require taller trees and more forested areas than Downy Woodpeckers, and are less likely to appear at backyard feeders — though they will visit on occasion. 

Hairy on left – Downy on right. (Image: Luke Schobert | Unsplash.com)

Hairy Woodpeckers are also found year-round in New York. They take advantage of the holes left by larger Pileated Woodpeckers, scoping them out for any insects left behind. They’ll also visit holes created by sapsuckers to finish off any remaining sap. These woodpeckers rely on wood-boring insects, and excavate a lot compared to other woodpeckers of the same size.


7. Northern Flicker 

Image: pixabay.com

Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in

Throughout most of New York Northern Flickers are found year-round. However, at the very northern tip of the state, they may only occur during the breeding season. Northern Flickers stand out from the other species of black and white woodpeckers in New York due to the gray-brown plumage that covers most of their bodies. They also have plenty of dark markings on their undersides as well as brightly colored tail feathers — yellow for birds in the east and red for those in the west. 

Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers with slim, round heads. Unlike most woodpeckers, they’re often spotted on the ground where they forage for ants and other insects with their long, slightly curved bills. When they do spend time in trees, it’s often perched vertically on branches rather than on the sides of trees.


8. American Three-toed Woodpecker

image: Ron Knight | Flickr | CC 2.0

Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in

Although their range extends throughout the majority of Canada, scarce sightings of American Three-toed Woodpeckers may occur in northern portions of New York. They’re more frequent in disturbed, coniferous forests, such as those that were recently burned, or that have been infested with bark beetles. These woodpeckers forage by peeling and flaking the bark off of trees rather than by drilling like other woodpeckers. 

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are small birds, larger than Downy Woodpeckers but smaller than Hairy Woodpeckers. They have short, yet strong, bills and primarily black and white plumage throughout their bodies.

Their white underparts show fine black barring. These woodpeckers are often overlooked, as they tend to perch very still on the sides of trees for long periods at a time. 


9. Black-backed Woodpecker 

Photo Credit: Mike Laycock, National Park Service | CC 2.0

Length: 9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in

Black-backed Woodpeckers look remarkably similar to American Three-toed Woodpeckers. They both have primarily white and black plumage with barring on their undersides. Both species of woodpeckers also like to forage in burnt and damaged forests, flaking the bark off of dead trees.

However, Black-backed Woodpeckers tend to be louder and more noticeable than American Three-toed Woodpeckers. In areas that are occupied by both birds, Black-backed Woodpeckers are usually the dominate species, sometimes driving American Three-toed Woodpeckers out of the territory. 

Like American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers aren’t commonly found in New York. Year-round populations of these woodpeckers reside largely in Canada. However, they sometimes appear in northern portions of the state in the winter, when random irruptions of Black-backed Woodpeckers flock further south of their typical range. 


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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.

For even more great tips, check this article on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard

About Talia

Talia enjoys learning and writing about birds and other types of animals, then sharing her knowledge.