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 8 species of woodpeckers in Utah, 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.
8 Species of Woodpeckers in Utah
There are at least 17 species of woodpeckers that can be seen in North America. With 8 species that make their home here at least for part of the year, Utah is a great place to find woodpeckers! For some of the more rare species, the best places to see them are the national forests that stretch in a vertical line through the center of the state.
The 8 species of woodpeckers in Utah are the American three-toed woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, Lewis’s woodpecker, Northern flicker, red-naped sapsucker, and Williamson’s sapsucker.
1. American Three-toed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
- Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in
Aside from a few other states in the west, Utah is actually one of the few states that the American three-toed woodpecker can be found. They remain in the state year-round. Look for them in the national forests that run through the center of the state, but most are found in the northeastern corner. Some good spots for sightings are Big Cottonwood Canyon and the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
They prefer damaged, old growth forests with lots of dead or even burned trees where they can extract insect larvae and mine for bugs easily.
The majority of woodpeckers have 4 toes, or Zygodactyl toes. However as the name suggests, these woodpeckers have just 3 toes. It is believed that the three-toed woodpecker is able to lean back further and strike a more powerful blow to its target because of the leverage having just 3 toes affords it.
2. 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 Utah 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.
3. 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 Utah 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.
4. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates scalaris
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in
- Weight: 0.7-1.7 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0 in
Look for ladder-backed woodpeckers in the pinyon-juniper woodlands found in the far southwestern corner of the state. Try Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area. They aren’t commonly seen at suet feeders, as they eat mostly insects in the wild. You can try to attract them with mealworms, peanut butter, and black oil sunflower seeds.
The long, horizontal white stripes on their back appear as rungs of a ladder. Their white belly has small black spots. Males have a long red stripe that runs across the top of their head, while females have a black stripe.
The ladder-backed woodpecker commonly nests in dead trees, so if you want to attract a pair leave those dead trees in your yard alone. They were once known as “cactus woodpeckers” because they often prefer living in deserts and thorn forests where cacti are present.
5. Lewis’s Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
- Length: 10.2-11.0 in
- Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz
- Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in
Lewis’s woodpeckers may be seen throughout Utah during spring and fall migration. They stick around for the summer breeding season, or sometimes year round, along the border in the northeast, southeast and southwest.
Lewis’s tend to stay in pine forests and forests that have been burned, but their populations are often unpredictable.
After breeding season they travel around looking for stores of acorns and nuts, so their fall-winter population often ends up in different locations year-to-year. They take these foods and store them in crevices to last them throughout the winter.
Unlike a lot of other woodpeckers, Lewis’s woodpeckers catch insects in midair. They have broad, rounded wings that gives their flight a graceful, crow-like quality.
Their coloration is also unique considering most woodpeckers have black and white bodies. Lewis’s are quite colorful, with a pink belly, red patch on the face, and a dark, iridescent green on their back and wings.
6. 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 red “mustache” that females do not. In Utah you get the “red-shafted” variety, and they have bright red feathers on the underside of their wings and tail.
Northern Flickers can be found throughout Utah 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.
7. Red-naped Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
- Length: 7.5-8.3 in
- Weight: 1.1-2.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.1-16.9 in
Red-naped sapsuckers are very closely related to yellow-bellied sapsuckers and were even thought to be the same species until 1983, when researchers discovered they were in fact two different species. Both males and females have a red forehead, while males have a fully red throat and females have a white throat with red “necklace”.
Like other sapsuckers, they drink sap from trees like aspen, birch, or pine, but also feed on insects. Neat rows of holes in a sap-producing tree is a good indicator that a sapsucker is in the area.
Look for them in Utah early in the breeding season (mid-May), and early in the morning when they are most active. They remain in Utah for the summer, then head south out of the state in the fall. Although there may be a population in the southwest corner that remains all year.
8. Williamson’s Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
- Length: 8.3-9.8 in
- Weight: 1.6-1.9 oz
- Wingspan: 17 inches
Williamson’s sapsuckers are only found in a handful of midwestern states, Utah being one of them. They are mainly found in the heavily forested parts of the state. These sapsuckers only visit Utah during the breeding season, then head further south for the winter.
They feed primarily on the sap of coniferous trees, extracting it by drilling sap-wells. Males and females look very different. Males have black backs with bright yellow bellies and a touch of red on the chin. Females have brown heads with black and white striped bodies.
Uncommon in backyards, Williamson’s sapsuckers are primarily found in mountainous forests. They roost in natural or excavated cavities and prefer nesting in a larger, older trees.
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.