Woodpeckers are a unique type of bird. They belong to the family, Picidae, and they’re easily recognized by their habit of hammering into the sides of trees for insects and larvae. There are many species of woodpeckers that are dispersed throughout North America, but today we’re going to focus on the 7 species of woodpeckers in Pennsylvania.
The vast amounts of geographic areas of Pennsylvania offer plenty of options for woodpeckers and other birds to call home. With Lake Erie to the northwest, the Appalachian Mountains running through its middle, and large tracts of wetlands and forests strewn across the state, there are numerous opportunities to spot colorful and interesting woodpeckers. Keep reading to learn about the best places and times to observe them.
Species of Woodpeckers in Pennsylvania
With the exception of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, all of the following species of woodpeckers are found year-round in Pennsylvania; Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Hairy Woodpeckers.
1. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Though Red-headed Woodpeckers were once abundant throughout the eastern United States, their numbers have drastically declined and they’re no longer so common. However, they’re still found year-round in Pennsylvania. These woodpeckers have vibrant, red heads, black patches on their shoulders and backs, and bright white underparts. Their colorful plumage makes them easily identifiable, as well as the drumming noise they make when hammering trees for food.
Unlike other woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers also hunt for insects in the air and consume other foods like beech nuts and acorns. They’ll even store extra rations in tree cavities and holes to last them throughout the winter. They’re one out of only four other North American woodpeckers that share this behavior.
2. Red-Bellied WoodPecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Look for Red-bellied Woodpeckers in various woodlands and forests, including those of both young and old hardwood deciduous trees and pines. They’re found year-round in Pennsylvania and their numbers may be slowly increasing. This could be due to their adaptability in different environments and climates, in addition to their opportunistic, omnivorous diet. Like the Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpeckers also store food to carry them through winter.
Despite their name, their coloration is actually quite pale for the most part — though the red on the caps of their heads definitely stands out. Their backs are boldly striped with black and white, and patches of white are visible near their wingtips during flight.
3. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
The coloration of Northern Flickers is much different than the usual black and whites found on other species such as Red-headed or Hairy Woodpeckers. They’re greyish brown overall with black dots, bars, and crescents patterning their chests and undersides. In the west birds will feature red feathers on their tail feathers, while birds in Pennsylvania, and the rest of the east, have yellow.
While most woodpeckers are typically spotted perched in trees, tapping into the bark — Northern Flickers are often found sitting right on the ground, where they use their bill to dig for ants and beetles. However, like other woodpeckers they also eat tree insects in addition to nuts and berries. They’re year-round woodpeckers in Pennsylvania and occupy most woodlands, especially those that feature open fields and spaces. Listen for a ringing call to tell if one is nearby.
4. 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 species of woodpeckers in North America. They have the same silhouette as larger woodpeckers; blocky heads and straight posture when perched on the sides of trees — but with proportionately smaller, chisel-like bills. Like many other woodpeckers, Downy woodpeckers feature mainly black and white coloration, with a tiny speck of bright red on the caps of their heads. They live in a variety of habitats including forests, woodlands, open spaces, and residential areas, and are pretty common and widespread throughout the region.
Their small size enables them to forage in tall weeds and grasses as well as trees. They consume a large amount of plant material, nuts, and berries, and are the most likely species of woodpecker to visit backyard feeders. Downy woodpeckers are found year- round in Pennsylvania, so offering suet blocks, sunflower seeds, or peanuts is a great way to increase your chances of spotting them.
5. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker in North America — about the size of an American Crow. They feature bright red, triangular crests at the tops of their heads, and black and white plumage throughout the rest of their bodies. During flight, the large white patches on undersides of their wings are clearly visible.
They’re found year-round in Pennsylvania, favoring mature forests of deciduous and coniferous trees, though they live in young forests too. They require dead and rotting wood, such as downed trees and logs, to scavenge for carpenter ants and other bugs. Look for their distinct rectangular-shaped holes to tell if they’re in the area. Their unique holes also provide shelter for other creatures including bats and owls.
6. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Hairy Woodpeckers are easily mistaken for smaller Downy Woodpeckers. They both share very similar black and white plumage, but Hairy Woodpeckers are about a third larger, with longer bills about the same length as their heads. Both woodpeckers often appear in the same areas, though Hairy Woodpeckers require larger trees and tend to be less common in frequency. However, Hairy Woodpeckers are still found year-round in Pennsylvania.
While Downy Woodpeckers have a larger variety of foraging options, Hairy Woodpeckers take advantage of their longer, stronger bills to drill into trees to find insects — their primary food source. Listen for their tapping and sharp “peek” calls to better locate them in most forests and woodlands.
7. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
If you happen across neatly spaced holes drilled into trees on your next nature walk, you might be close to a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. These woodpeckers use their pointed bills to bore into trees, then they use their brush-tipped tongues to lap up the sap that was trapped inside. Other birds, like hummingbirds and even bats take advantage of these holes and visit to also feed on the sap. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers aren’t very picky either — they’ve been documented to have drilled holes in over 1,000 species of trees, but birches and maples seem to be their favorite.
Though they migrate south for the winter, they’re usually pretty common in Pennsylvania during breeding season in the spring and summer. Listen for their call, a “mew” sound, and keep your eyes peeled for a still bird with black and white facial stripes and a red patch on its head.
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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.