Tennessee has over 400 species of birds that call the state home. With the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park dominating most of the eastern portion of the state, as well as the Mississippi River bordering it’s west — it’s no wonder that such as vast selection of birds are found here. As far as woodpeckers in Tennessee go, one will not disappointed. There are 7 species of woodpeckers that reside in Tennessee, with the majority of them being found year-round. Keep reading below to learn all about these woodpeckers, their behavior, and where to find them.
Species of Woodpeckers in Tennessee
Tennessee has a solid range of woodpecker species to observe. Out of all 7 species found here, only one species, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker isn’t found year-round.
The rest of the woodpeckers found at all times during the year are Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Hairy Woodpeckers.
1. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
The first bird on our list is the largest species of woodpecker in North America — not including the Ivory-bill Woodpecker whose status is basically extinct. The Pileated Woodpecker is big, bold, and beautiful, with highly contrasting black and white plumage and a striking, pointed crest at the top of it’s head.
They look mostly black when perched on a tree trunk with white stripes down the sides of their faces. When in flight, the bright white undersides of their wings are easily visible. These woodpeckers have long necks, bills, and wings to match their large, crow-like build.
Pileated Woodpeckers are found year-round in Tennessee. Their loud drumming as they excavate dead wood is often heard before they’re seen. Their foraging also leaves behind unique, rectangular-shaped holes in wood and offers a clue to their whereabouts. Find them in mixed forests of conifers and hardwood, in areas where there is an ample supply of rotting logs or fallen trees.
2. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
The name of the Red-bellied Woodpecker is misleading. In fact, the vivid, red tops of their smooth heads are more noticeable than their overall pale, peachy colored bellies. Their upper parts are mostly black with fine, white barring all over. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers in between the size of an American Robin and Crow.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are adaptable birds commonly found year-round in Tennessee, in a wide variety of habitats. They’re frequently found in swamps and woodlands near rivers as well as orchards, groves, and suburbs. Learning their distinct, rolling call is a great way of locating them — they are especially loud and call frequently in the spring and summer.
Look for them hitched on the sides of trees, along the main branches and at middle heights. They don’t drill and hammer into wood as much as other species, but rather peel the bark off to reach the bugs underneath.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Tennessee is home to the largest woodpecker species, as well as the smallest — the Downy Woodpecker. These tiny guys are year-round woodpeckers in Tennessee, and are common visitors to backyard feeders and gardens.
Their small size in between that of a sparrow and a robin allow them to forage in places that larger woodpeckers can’t reach, such as delicate branches and tall weed stalks and grasses. They’re also known to blend into groups of small songbirds when feeding, including chickadees and nuthatches.
Downy Woodpeckers have the same black and white coloration that many other species of woodpeckers share. Their uppers are primarily black and white checkered, and males have a red patch at the tops of their heads. Their bellies are a stark white, and there’s also a bold white stripe that runs down their back. Compared to other species, the bills of Downy Woodpeckers are noticeably smaller in proportion to their heads.
4. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Northern Flickers are one of the most interesting-looking species of woodpecker on this list. Unlike the majority of black and white colored woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are mostly a gray-brown with lots of dots and markings on their bellies and backs.
They’re large birds with smooth, rounded heads, long tails, and down-curved bills. When in flight, one can easily spot the bright white patch located on their rear. The undersides of their wings vary in color depending on which side of the country they’re in. Flickers in the east have yellow coloration, while those in the west have red.
Find Northern Flickers year-round in Tennessee, in open areas, forest edges, and in various other woodlands. Be sure to keep your eyes on the ground when looking for them, though. These woodpeckers spend more time in the dirt rather than perched on the sides of trees. There, they use their specially-shaped bills to dig for their main prey — ants.
5. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Unlike the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker really does live up to it’s name. These woodpeckers have shiny, red heads, bright, white bellies, and bold patches of black on their upperwings. They’re medium-sized woodpeckers with strong, pointed bills that help them bore into wood.
However, though they do quite a bit of hammering in order to forage, they also catch a lot of insects mid-air. These woodpeckers are also known to eat lots of fruit and nuts, going as far as to store extra rations away for the winter.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are found year-round in Tennessee, though they aren’t as common as other woodpeckers, such as the Red-bellied Woodpecker or Downy Woodpecker.
These are pretty active woodpeckers, and when they’re around their drumming and harsh calls are easily identifiable. They live in a wide range of woodlands with tall trees and open clearings. They also tend to be attracted to swamps and wetlands.
6. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
The appearance of the Hairy Woodpecker looks like a larger version of the tiny Downy Woodpecker. If it weren’t for the difference in size and bill shape, their plumage would seem nearly identical. Both birds share black and white plumage with lots of checkering on their upper-parts.
However, Hairy Woodpeckers have longer bills and tend to be less common due to their need for larger trees. For this reason they’re not as likely to appear in backyards or suburban areas as much as Downy Woodpeckers are
Hairy Woodpeckers are another year-round woodpecker in Tennessee. They’re found in all sorts of mature forests with tall trees, such as those with conifers, deciduous trees, and a mixture of the two. They’re also found in riverside groves and swamps, as well as forests that have recently been burned. Most of their diet consists of wood-boring insects and their larvae, so listen for their energetic drumming next time you’re out looking for them.
7. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
The final bird on our list is the only species of woodpecker that’s not found year-round in Tennessee. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is also the only type of sapsucker in the state. These birds like to drill into trees like other species of woodpeckers, but their goal isn’t to find insects.
Instead, they drill neat little rows of holes that allow tree sap to flow out. However, this doesn’t mean they won’t eat any insects also trapped inside. They also take advantage of the plant material freed up from excavating such as cambium.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers only have small, pale patches of yellow on their chests and undersides. Both males and females have red foreheads, but only males have red throats. The rest of their plumage is black and white, similar to other kinds of woodpeckers.
They tend to spend the breeding season in the north, in areas including New England and throughout most of Canada, but in the winter they’re commonly found throughout Tennessee. During the winter, they’re usually found in open woodlands as well as orchards and groves.
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.