There are many different species of woodpeckers in North America, and you can find 7 them in Rhode Island. In this article we’ll take a look at each species and touch on where and when you might spot one, and if they visit backyard feeders. At the end of the article are a few tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
7 Species of Woodpeckers in Rhode Island
The 7 woodpeckers in Rhode Island are the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, pileated woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker and 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 Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island 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 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, red patch on the back of their necks, and barred black and gray wings. Males have a black “mustache”.
In Rhode Island you get the “yellow-shafted” variety, and they have bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings and tail.
Northern Flickers can be found throughout Rhode Island all year, and you can attract them to your yard with suet.
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 Rhode Island 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 may be seen throughout the state, but tend to be more common in the north and west.
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
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.
Rhode Island isn’t really part of the red-headed woodpeckers standard range, although they are sporadically seen in the state. They can pop up any time of year, so keep your eyes peeled for that red head and you may get lucky!
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 lives throughout Rhode Island year-round, as well as much of the eastern United States. These medium-sized woodpeckers are fairly common at feeders and in backyards. 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 can be found throughout Rhode Island during the winter months. In the spring, most will head further north 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.
Check out these great articles
- Best suet feeders to attract woodpeckers
- How to make your own suet
- Why do woodpeckers peck wood?
- Backyard birds in Rhode Island
How to Attract Woodpeckers
Those of us who love to watch backyard birds want to attract as many types as possible. While many songbirds are fairly easy to attract with birdseed, woodpeckers can be a little more difficult and enjoy more specific foods. Here are a few tips for what you can do to make your yard a more attractive place for woodpeckers to visit.
- Offer food they like – Many types of woodpeckers are brave enough to visit feeders. While some species will eat seeds and nuts, suet tends to be the best food for attracting woodpeckers. Be sure to get a suet feeder with a tail prop area that will help attract larger woodpecker species.
- 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 – Species such as the northern flicker and pileated woodpecker have been known to use nest boxes.
- 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.
For even more great tips, check this article on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard