If you ever hear repetitive drumming in the woods, there’s a good chance a woodpecker is nearby. These birds are recognized around the world for their behavior of hammering into trees with their specialized bills. They’re found all across America in a wide variety of woodlands and forests. In this article, we’re going to review the 8 species of woodpeckers in Wisconsin and the times of the year to find them.
Wisconsin is located in the north-central United States and is bordered by two Great Lakes, Superior and Michigan. It’s the 23rd largest state by total area and offers plenty of mixed forests in addition to other geographic areas. The diverse range of habits enables many species of woodpeckers to call Wisconsin home at all times of the year.
Species of Woodpeckers in Wisconsin
Out of all the species of Woodpeckers found in Wisconsin, there is only one that isn’t found year-round — the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. All of the other species; Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Pileated Woodpeckers can be spotted in the state during any season.
1. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Downy Woodpeckers are commonly found year-round in Wisconsin. They’re a small species of woodpeckers that are frequently found in woodlands, parks, and gardens. Compared to other woodpecker species, Downy Woodpeckers are among the most likely to visit feeders, so setting one up in your yard is a great way to attract them. They enjoy suet blocks and sunflower seeds and have also been spotted drinking out of hummingbird feeders.
Downy Woodpeckers have the same characteristics as other, larger woodpeckers — but on a much smaller scale. They feature blocky heads, familiar black and white plumage, and share the same straight-backed posture when perched on the sides of trees. However, their bills are shorter than most other species.
2. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Hairy Woodpeckers look like larger versions of Downy Woodpeckers, but with noticeably larger bills. They even possess the same black and white patterned plumage. Though Hairy Woodpeckers are pretty common and are found year-round in Wisconsin, they tend to occur less frequently than Downy Woodpeckers. They require taller trees in their habitat and aren’t as likely to visit parks and suburbs — though they will visit the occasional feeder.
They’re often found in forests and woodlands, near the main branches and trunks of big trees. Like most woodpeckers, they rely on wood-boring insects found underneath tree bark. Listen for their energetic hammering on wood or their sharp, “peek” call to locate them.
3. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Red-bellied woodpeckers are found year-round throughout most of Wisconsin. Their colors are pretty pale overall, but they do have bright red caps that stand out, as well as bold black barring on their backs. They do have a red patch on their belly, but it is not often visible. They’re often found in mixed woodlands and forest, along the main branches of trees and near the trunks.
These woodpeckers have a unique trait. They store extra rations in tree cavities and holes to last them throughout the winter. They’re one out of only four other North American woodpeckers that share this behavior. Another woodpecker found in Wisconsin that shares this behavior is the Red-headed Woodpecker.
4. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Red-headed woodpeckers are easily identifiable thanks to their vibrant, red heads, and bold black and white coloration on the rest of their bodies. However, their red heads can sometimes be hard to see in harsh sunlight. The drumming noise they make when tapping into trees is a great way to tell if one is nearby. These woodpeckers also have a distinct, harsh-sounding call that is easily recognizable.
Though they were once very abundant, their population has faced a steady decline. They only appear in Wisconsin during the breeding season in the spring and summer. Look for them in open woodlands, near dead timber, or flitting from tree perch to tree perch.
5. Black-Backed Woodpecker
Length: 9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
Black-backed Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers that are around the same size as Hairy Woodpeckers. They have powerful bills that are long for their frame, inky black plumage on their upperparts, and white underparts and face markings. Males also have a yellow crown patch. In northern portions of Wisconsin, Black-backed Woodpeckers are found year-round, though the majority of their range is in Canada.
These woodpeckers go hand in hand with burned forests, usually those that are about a year to eight years old. Burned forests offer unique foraging opportunities and plenty of insects. Black-backed woodpeckers blend in perfectly with charred wood as they perch, peeling away bark to reach larvae of wood-boring beetles.
6. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Northern Flickers stand apart from other woodpeckers due to their unique coloration. While many woodpecker species feature black and white patterned plumage, Northern Flickers are mostly a dull, gray-brown, with lots of dark spots and markings on their underparts. While in flight, the small white patches near their rears are visible.
Find them year-round in Wisconsin, in woodlands, and in the edges of forests. Be sure to keep your eyes down though, as Northern Flickers are often found sitting directly on the ground. Their bills are more curved than other woodpeckers and are used primarily for digging ants and bugs out of the earth rather than boring into trees.
7. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
Pileated Woodpeckers are year-round woodpeckers in Wisconsin with some easily identifiable characteristics. First off, they’re the largest species of woodpecker in North America, almost the size of a crow. Their size along with their bright white patches on their heads and chests and vibrant, red triangular crests make them visually striking. They also leave behind unique, large oval-shaped holes in trees that serve as good markers for telling if there is one in the area.
Their main prey is carpenter ants, which they hunt for in dead and rotting wood such as fallen logs in forests. Leaving dead trees or stumps on your property could be a possible lure for them. They’ve also been known to occasionally visit suet feeders.
8. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have black and white plumage similar to other types of woodpeckers, with red markings on the cap and yellow underparts. Males also sport red throat patches. These woodpeckers are only found in Wisconsin during the breeding season in the spring and summer, but they tend to appear pretty frequently. Look for them in young deciduous woodlands.
The best way to tell if you’re in their territory is to look for the distinct, neat rows of holes they leave behind in the bark of trees. They use these holes as sap wells to lap up the sap, and any insect prey inside. They tend to sit still on tree trunks for long periods while they’re feeding.
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.