Woodpeckers are a fun group of birds to watch. Their unique adaptation to be able to drill into trees at high speed without injuring themselves is quite unique! In this article we’ll take a look at 7 species of woodpeckers in North Dakota, and give a little information about where and when you might be able to spot them. At the end of the article we’ll also share a few tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
7 Species of Woodpeckers in North Dakota
The 7 species of woodpeckers in North Dakota are the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, pileated woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker.
1. Downy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
- Length: 5.5-6.7 in
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
You can find these tiny woodpeckers everywhere throughout North Dakota all year. They are very common throughout almost all of the U.S. and are the smallest species of woodpeckers in North America.
The downy is only about the size of a sparrow, and can be identified by the white spots on their backs, and pure white chest and belly. Males have a red patch at the back of their head.
The downy is the woodpecker species most likely to visit backyard bird feeders. They love suet but also eat a variety of seeds like sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts. You may even see them visiting your hummingbird feeder, where their small beak allows them access to the sugar water.
2. Hairy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates villosus
- Length: 7.1-10.2 in
- Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
You may be wondering if you’re looking at another downy woodpecker in this picture. The answer is no, but they sure do look alike. Hairy woodpeckers often occur in the same areas as downy’s across the U.S. and cause plenty of confusion when you’re trying to identify which is which.
The hairy woodpecker is significantly larger, and has a longer beak relative to its body size than the downy. We have an article here that can help you learn how to tell them apart.
These two woodpeckers are very similar in all ways from habitat to diet. They can be found throughout North Dakota all year. The hairy woodpecker tends to be a little more shy of humans, and while they will visit backyard suet feeders, they aren’t as commonly seen as the downy.
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
These medium to large sized woodpeckers are quite common in backyards throughout the United States. In my opinion they are also among some of the most colorful birds in North America.
Flickers feed mainly on insects and unlike other woodpeckers, often like to find them on the ground rather than trees. Identify them by the black spots on their bellies, solid black bib, barred black and gray wings, and brown face on a gray head.
Males have a black “mustache” that females do not. In North Dakota you get the “yellow-shafted” variety, and they have bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings and tail. If you see a flicker that doesn’t quite look like the yellow-shafted variety, you may be seeing a hybrid of the yellow and red, which sometimes happens in the western half of North Dakota.
Northern Flickers can be found throughout North Dakota all year, and will sometimes visit backyard suet feeders. If you have some leaf piles in the yard, you may see them digging around for bugs.
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 the largest of all woodpeckers in North Dakota, as well as North America. They have a black body, black and white striped face and large red crest. Males have a red cheek stripe while females do not.
Pileated woodpeckers aren’t very common in North Dakota, and are usually only seen along the eastern edge of the state.
If you want to spot a pileated woodpecker, look in mature forests. They love old, dead trees that have rotting wood. Pileated woodpeckers will sometimes come to backyard feeders, although they are much less common visitors than other species and often are too large for all but the biggest suet feeder.
5. Red-headed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
- Length: 7.5-9.1 in
- Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
- Wingspan: 16.5 in
Red-headed woodpeckers travel to North Dakota to breed in the spring and summer months. They will then head back to the eastern U.S. during the winter.
The red-headed woodpecker is easily identified by its completely red/crimson head, and black and white color-blocked body. They will sometimes come to suet feeders, but are less common backyard visitors than some other types of woodpeckers. Aside from suet they will also eat various nuts and fruits.
They are one of only four species of woodpeckers that actively store their food in caches for later use, their favorite being acorns and beech nuts. These woodpeckers takes it a step further though, and will cover the food up with bark or wood to better camouflage their stash.
6. 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 is not very common in North Dakota. While they may be seen sporadically in the middle of the state, the best place to look for them would be the southeastern corner of the state.
These medium-sized woodpeckers are fairly common at feeders and in backyards in their range. Attract them with suet and larger sized nuts.
Though they are described as “red-bellied” you may first notice the bright red streak along the back of their heads, and their heavily barred black and white wings. They have a plain white breast with an area of pinkish-red lower down in their “belly” area which is often not visible.
Red-bellied woodpeckers can stick their tongue out almost 2 inches past their beak. With a barbed end and sticky spit, they can lash their tongue out to snatch insects from hard to reach places.
7. 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 breeds across the northeastern part of the U.S. and Canada, then winters in the southeast and Mexico. In North Dakota, you can spot them during spring and fall migration, and in the northeastern part of the state some will stay for the summer to breed.
At first glance they may resemble the downy woodpecker, but the they have a yellow-wash on their white feathers, and a red stripe across the top of their head. Males will also have a red throat.
They aren’t common at bird feeders since sap is their primary food source. They drill holes into maple, elm, aspen, and birch trees and collect sap with their long tongues. A row of small holes on a tree trunk is a tell-tale sign of their presence. Aside from sap they also will eat a variety of insects, some of which get trapped in the sticky sap near their wells.
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.