Virginia is a state located on the south-eastern coast of America. The two main forces that shape Virginia’s geography and climate are the Chesapeake Bay, which borders it on the east, and the Appalachian Mountains. There’s a diverse variety of plant and animal life thriving in Virginia — including plenty of birds. There are 8 species of woodpeckers in Virginia, one of them also being rare and endangered.
Woodpeckers are famous for drilling into trees and foraging underneath the bark. They come in a range of different colors, though the most common palettes are black and white with striking red accents. Keep on reading to see all the kinds of woodpeckers in Virginia and the best places and times to find them.
Species of Woodpeckers in Virginia
Out of all 8 species of Woodpeckers in Virginia, 7 of them are found year-round. These species include; Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The only species that doesn’t breed here are Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
1. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
Length: 7.9-9.1 in
Weight: 1.5-1.8 oz
Wingspan: 14.2 in
There are small portions of Virginia where Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are found year-round, but finding them is quite rare. The species was listed as endangered in 1970 and has vanished from many of the habitats they once occupied due to logging. The best chance of seeing one is to visit a protected wildlife refuge or national forest, where their nests are usually marked and easily located.
Their territory is frequently marked by flowing sap located near their nesting and roosting cavities. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers require mature pine forests and are often found in areas with minimal understory growth, avoiding areas with dense, crowded vegetation. This precise type of habitat was naturally formed by wildfires caused by lightning storms, and hardly occurs now.
These woodpeckers are small, robin-sized birds with small, straight bills. Their plumage is primarily white and black with lots of barring on the back. They also sport a large, white patch on their cheeks. The term “cockade” refers to an ornament worn on a hat. In this case it’s the males tiny, hardly noticeable red streak on the upper edge of their cheek.
2. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Hairy Woodpeckers are fairly common in Virginia, where they’re found year-round. They prefer to occupy mature forests, but they also live in open woodlands and parks and suburbs. Recently burned forests are a good place to look as well, since these woodpeckers like to take advantage of the foraging opportunities. They use their long, strong bills to excavate bark and dead wood, trying to reach the wood-boring insects inside. Hairy Woodpeckers are known to visit backyard suet feeders as well.
These woodpeckers look like large versions of Downy Woodpeckers and feature bold black and white checkered plumage and a large white patch along the length of their backs. Male also have a red patch on the backs of their heads that’s common in many other woodpecker species.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Though Downy woodpeckers are commonly found year-round in Virginia, spotting them can be challenging due to their tiny size. These are the smallest woodpeckers in North America and are in between the size of a sparrow and a robin. They have mostly black and white plumage, like many other woodpeckers, and males feature a small red patch on their caps. In fact, they look like miniature versions of Hairy Woodpeckers, but with much shorter bills compared to the rest of their bodies.
Downy Woodpeckers take advantage of many types of habitats including gardens, clearings, forest edges, and woodlands. They forage in tall grasses and weeds in addition to trees, and are extremely likely to visit feeders — especially suet feeders. Like the rest of their features, even their voices are scaled down. Listen for their distinct, high-pitched “pik” noise and descending whinny.
4. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Northern Flickers are commonly found in Virginia year-round. They’re large woodpeckers in between the size of a crow and a robin. Unlike most of the other woodpecker species found in Virginia, Northern Flickers have pale brown plumage all over, with an array of dark markings on their undersides. They have slim heads, long tails, and a slightly downward curved bill. While birds in the west have red colored undersides on their tails and wings, birds in Virginia and the rest of the east have yellow. At one point, these different colored birds were even considered different species.
Northern Flickers stand apart from other woodpeckers in Virginia because of their preference for foraging on the ground rather than on the sides of trees. When they do perch on trees, it’s usually upright on branches rather than on the side of the trunk. Though they don’t tend to use feeders, they’ve been spotted in backyards with trees and in birdbaths.
5. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
The large size, bold white stripes, and colorful red crest of the Pileated Woodpecker make it easy to spot. These are the largest woodpeckers in American, about the size of a crow. They feature They’re year-round woodpeckers in Virginia and are mostly found in old forests that have plenty of dead wood and fallen logs. Though it doesn’t happen regularly, these birds have also been spotted at backyard suet feeders.
Listen for their loud drumming and look for their unique rectangular-shaped holes left behind in trees and wood. They sometimes drill so deep, looking for carpenter ants and other bugs, that they cause small trees break in half. However, many other creatures and other birds rely on the excavations of Pileated Woodpeckers for shelter.
6. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Red-headed Woodpeckers are boldly colored birds, with bright white bellies and patches on their otherwise black wings, and, of course, vibrant, crimson-red heads. They’re medium sized, around the size of Hairy Woodpeckers with large round heads and short tails. Their bills are slightly short, but powerful. Though they forage for food by hammering wood like other woodpeckers, they’re also adept at catching insects midair.
These woodpeckers are year-round in Virginia, mostly in semi-open country and in forests with spacious understories. They’re also attracted to wetlands and pine savannahs. To ensure they have rations to help them through the winter, they store extra food away in crevices in trees.
7. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers have pale, peachy underparts, black and white striped backs, and bright-red heads and napes. They’re found year-round in Virginia in various woodlands, groves, and forests, especially those near water. These woodpeckers are very adaptable too, and are known to visit backyard feeders and other suburban areas. Even their diet is diverse — they forage trees for insects as well as consume berries, nuts, and seeds. They also store extra food away for future use like Red-headed Woodpeckers.
They have a distinct rolling call that’s easy to identify them by. In the spring and summer they call frequently and loudly. In the winter place suet blocks and peanuts in feeders to attract them if you live near wooded areas. Leaving any dead wood in your yard is another good way to entice them to visit.
8. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
Non-breeding populations of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are only found in Virginia during the winter. Otherwise, they breed and occupy northern territories mainly in Canada. They are pretty common and tend to reside in young deciduous forests.
Rows of tiny, neatly spaced holes in trees are an indicator of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. They’re often found nearby these sapwells, tending to them, lapping up sap, and eating the cambium of the tree too. Hummingbirds will also take advantage of a sapsucker’s work, drinking the sap when they come across it. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are also found sitting on the tips of tree branches, catching insects. Listening for their mew-like calls, in addition to their drumming, is another great way to spot them. Be sure to keep your eyes open though, when these woodpeckers call they tend to sit very still on the sides of trees.
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How to attract woodpeckers
For many of us, attracting woodpeckers to our feeders or yards is something we love. They aren’t 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.