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8 Species of Woodpeckers in Utah (with Photos)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 01-30-2024

Utah, known for its varied landscapes, is a haven for nature lovers. Its terrain ranges from red-rock deserts to mountain forests, creating diverse habitats for wildlife. This setting supports a variety of species, making Utah an interesting place for observing birds and other wildlife. 

There are at a variety of woodpeckers that can be seen in North America, and 8 of those species make their home in Utah. For a few 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.  

This article will take a look at these 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

Utah’s woodpecker species 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. Keep reading to learn more about them and see some pictures to help you identify them. 

*Keep in mind… flickers and sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family!

1. American Three-toed Woodpecker

three toed woodpecker on tree trunk
American Three-toed Woodpecker | image by Ron Knight via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • 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.   

American Three-toed Woodpecker | image by GlacierNPS via Flickr | Public Domain

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 

downy woodpecker on suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker on suet feeder | image by: birdfeederhub
  • 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. 

Downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker | image by NPS | N. Lewis via Flickr

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

Image credit: birdfeederhub
  • 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 wrote an article that can help you learn how to tell them apart in a variety of ways. 

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

ladder backed woodpecker male clinging to wood fence post
Ladder-backed Woodpecker | image by Bettina Arrigoni via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • 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. 

Image: Circe Denyer |

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 

lewis's woodpecker perched on dead branch
Lewis’s Woodpecker | image by Channel City Camera Club via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • 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. 

image by seabamirum via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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 

Image: Richard Griffin/ flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • 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.

split screen comparison of yellow shafted and red shafted flicker
Two Northern Flicker Varieties

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 

Red-naped sapsucker | Image:
  • 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”. 

red naped sapsuckers
Red-naped Sapsuckers (males) | image by NPS / Tim Rains via Flickr

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

williamson's sapsucker
Williamson’s Sapsucker | photo by Yellowstone National Park via Flickr
  • 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.

Williamsons sapsucker
Williamson’s Sapsucker (male) | image by Peter Hart via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

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.