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23 Woodpeckers in North America (Photos)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 04-18-2024

There are many varieties of woodpeckers all across North America. While there are common characteristics the birds of the woodpecker family share, each species can be quite unique! They range from small to large and plain to colorful. Some live in forests while others live in the desert. A versatile family of birds, and one of my personal favorites!

Woodpeckers are known for their powerful beaks, long tongues, sometimes flashy colors, and their excellent climbing skills. There are over 200 types of woodpeckers in the world and 23 species in North America. It’s those North American woodpeckers that we’ll be looking at in this article. Some are quite common, others are more rare, and one is likely extinct.

In the below list of North American woodpeckers we’ll look at pictures, species information, how to identify them, and give you some interesting facts about each one. We hope you enjoy our article and find the species you’re looking for!

1. Red-headed Woodpecker

red headed woodpecker perched
red-headed woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Size: 7-9 inches
  • Location: Eastern half of the US although much less common in New England.
  • Nesting: 4-7 eggs, inside cavities in dead trees or dead branches.

Adults have a bright crimson head, black back, large white wing patches and a white belly. These large patches of solid color are unlike most woodpeckers, who have more intricate patterns.

Red-headed woodpeckers eat wood-boring insects and nuts which they are known to cache in the fall. Unlike many woodpeckers they spend time perching and flying out to catch insects in-flight.

They have even been found storing insects like grasshoppers in cracks of wood and under roof shingles! They prefer open woodlands, pine plantations, standing wood in beaver swamps, river bottoms, orchards, and swamps.

Red-headed woodpecker drumming
Red-head woodpecker drumming | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Red-headed woodpeckers are often aggressive towards other woodpeckers or any birds that approach their nest. These woodpeckers are very territorial and will attack other birds and even remove other birds eggs from nearby nests. Unfortunately, they are in decline in many areas especially the Northeastern U.S.

They face the same challenge as many birds in terms of competition for nesting holes. But this species in particular makes their nests solely in dead trees, a habitat which is quickly declining. Dead or dying trees are often removed from land for firewood, to reduce fire hazard, discourage certain blight insects or simply for aesthetics.


2. Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker tree right
pileated woodpecker on the side of a tree
  • Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Size: 16-19 inches (the largest North American woodpecker)
  • Location: Eastern half of the U.S., across most of Canada, northern half of west coast.
  • Nesting: 3-8 eggs laid in cavities excavated from dead trunks or limbs of live trees. Cavity is lined with wood chips.

Pileated woodpeckers are mostly black with a red crest and black and white stripped face They also have a white stripe down the neck, and white wing linings. Males have a red “mustache.” These woodpeckers live in mature forests with large trees, but can sometimes be spotted in backyards. They feed on ants and other wood-boring insects, along with some berries.

Image: MikeDobe | pixabay.com

These huge woodpeckers can excavate holes up to seven inches across. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing one go to work on a tree it is quite a sight with a spray of wood chips flying out like a stump grinder.

large woodpecker hole
likely a pileated hole

Sometimes they dig their holes so deep into the tree that they accidentally can snap small trees in half. They prefer mature woods with old large trees.

Much of their habitat was lost in the early 18th and 19th century when logging took down most of the mature forests and forests were cleared to become farms. As farmlands began to decline and forests returned, the Pileated have made a comeback and seem to be adapting to younger forests and trees.


3. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker | Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Size: 8.5 – 10 inches
  • Location: Eastern half of the U.S. into southern New England.
  • Nesting: 3-8 eggs, laid in a cavity of dead trunk, tree limb or even utility poles.

Red-bellied woodpeckers can be identified by their barred and speckled black and white back, along with their light breast. They have a slightly reddish belly which gives them their name, although unless they are in the right position you’ll be hard pressed to see it!

They have a dark-red hood that extends from the beak down the neck in males, and only at the nape of the neck in females. People will often see the reddish heads on this species and confuse them with the actual red-headed woodpecker. 

Their diets consists primarily of insects, fruits and seeds which they can be seen eating at many backyard feeders. Red-bellied live in open woodlands, farmlands, orchards, shade trees and parks. They do well in suburbs, and prefer deciduous trees.

They can stick out their tongue up to two inches past the tip of their beak! It is long and also quite sharp, with a hard barb at the tip which they can use to spear grasshoppers and beetles. They have even been known to use this tongue to puncture oranges and lap out the pulp.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers will readily visit a variety of different bird feeders like suet and seed feeders, especially in the winter months. We’ve also seen them at hummingbird feeders sipping on nectar many times. 


4. Downy Woodpecker

downy woodpecker on suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker on suet feeder | image by: birdfeederhub
  • Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
  • Size: 6-7 inches the smallest of the North American woodpeckers.
  • Location: Across the majority of the U.S. and Canada
  • Nesting: 3-7 eggs laid in cavity or even birdhouse.

The downy woodpecker, identifiable by its short beak, showcases black and white upper parts with a prominent white stripe down its back and a black and white striped face. Its underparts are pure white. Males are distinguished by a red patch on the nape. They feed on wood-boring insects, berries, and seeds, inhabiting open woodlands, orchards, and parks.

Image: pixabay.com

Downy’s can be found throughout most of the country and will readily visit bird feeders for seeds and suet. Whenever I have moved and put my feeders up, they are always one of the first species to show up. They are also often caught drinking hummingbird nectar out of hummingbird feeders. Downy woodpeckers do drill into trees like other woodpeckers but primarily like to pick insects and larvae out of the crevices in bark.

The Downy Woodpecker’s presence in a variety of habitats, including suburban backyards and parks, highlights its adaptability and the role it plays in controlling insect populations. In winter, these birds often join mixed-species feeding flocks, showcasing a social side that aids in their survival during the colder months.

Their gentle tapping and feeding on tree bark cater to the ecosystem’s balance by aiding in insect control, making them a gardener’s ally. Additionally, their choice to nest in tree cavities provides nesting opportunities for other species that cannot excavate their own cavities, thereby contributing to the biodiversity of their habitat. 


5. Hairy Woodpecker

hairy on suet
Hairy woodpecker on suet feeder | image credit: birdfeederhub.com
  • Scientific name: Picoides villosus
  • Size: 8.5-10 inches
  • Location: Across the majority of the U.S. and Canada, some section of Mexico.
  • Nesting: 3-6 eggs on bed of wood chips in tree cavity.

The hairy woodpecker is distinguished by its black wings with white spots, a white stripe down the back, and an all-white belly. Males feature a red patch on their nape. They feed on wood-boring insects, berries, and seeds, and inhabit mature forests, orchards, and parks.

hairy male versus female

Despite their close resemblance to the smaller downy woodpecker, hairy woodpeckers can be identified by their larger size and longer bill. An interesting behavior is their habit of following pileated woodpeckers to forage in the holes left behind, seeking insects the Pileated may have missed.

Hairy Woodpeckers play a critical role in forest ecosystems by preying on destructive insects, including beetle larvae that burrow into trees. Their foraging habits can help control pest populations and reduce the spread of tree diseases. These birds exhibit remarkable precision in locating their prey beneath the bark, using their long tongues to extract insects from deep crevices.

Beyond their ecological benefits, Hairy Woodpeckers’ drumming on trees serves as a form of communication and territory establishment, adding to the auditory landscape of their habitats. Their presence is a sign of a healthy forest, making them essential indicators of environmental quality. 


6. Red-cockaded Woodpecker

photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast | CC 2.0
  • Scientific name: Leuconotopicus borealis
  • Size: 8-8.5 inches
  • Location: Southeastern United States.
  • Nesting: 2-5 eggs in decayed heartwood of living pine. Breeds in loose colonies in stands of tall pines, nest cavities may be used for many years.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is marked by its bold black and white pattern, with a prominent white cheek and a barred back. Males are identified by a small red spot at the back of the crown. Their diet consists mainly of wood-boring insects, and they inhabit open pine forests.

This species is unique for nesting in pine trees afflicted by red-heart disease, a fungal condition that softens the heartwood, making it easier for the birds to excavate nesting cavities. However, such trees are becoming scarce as most pine forests are harvested before reaching the age at which red-heart disease typically occurs.

Image: Alan Schmierer | goodfreephotos.com

Unfortunately, the red-cockaded woodpecker is in decline, with possibly only four remaining population groups in the southeastern United States. They have been considered endangered since 1973, reflecting the critical state of their open pine forest habitats.

This species is unique in its cooperative breeding system, where offspring from previous years assist their parents in raising the next generation, a rare behavior among woodpeckers. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s reliance on mature pine forests for nesting makes it vulnerable to habitat loss, but it also underscores the importance of conservation efforts aimed at preserving these ecosystems.

Efforts to protect and manage suitable habitat, including the maintenance of longleaf pine ecosystems through controlled burns, are crucial for the survival of this species. The bird’s specialized nesting requirements highlight the complex interdependence between species and their habitats. 


7. 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
  • Size: 10-11 inches
  • Location: Western U.S.
  • Nesting: 5-9 eggs, cavity in dead branch or stump.

The Lewis’s woodpecker features a dark glossy-green head and back, a gray collar and breast, a red face, and a pinkish belly. Its wings are broad and rounded. This woodpecker primarily feeds on insects picked from bark or caught in flight and seldom chisels into wood. Berries, nuts, and especially acorns, which make up a third of its diet, are stored in tree cracks.

Found in open pine woodlands, groves, and areas with scattered trees, Lewis’s woodpeckers exhibit several unique behaviors. They have a graceful and steady flight, unlike the undulating flight of other woodpeckers, and will sit on wires and other perches out in the open, which is uncommon for woodpeckers. They are social birds, often seen in family groups.

This unusual woodpecker was named after Meriwether Lewis, of the famous explorers Lewis & Clark. His is the first written account of this bird from their journey across the western United States in 1805.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers exhibit a fascinating migratory behavior, unlike many other woodpecker species. They may travel great distances in search of food, particularly following the acorn crop, which is a significant part of their diet.

Their unusual flying style, more reminiscent of a crow than a woodpecker, along with their propensity to store food for the winter, showcases their unique adaptations to different habitats. Conservation of oak and pine forests, along with efforts to safeguard their food sources, is vital for maintaining the populations of this strikingly colorful and nomadic bird. 

Visit this article on lewis-clark.orgto learn more about this species.


8. Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn woodpecker perching
Acorn woodpecker perching | image by Rolf Riethof via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
  • Size: 8-9.5 inches
  • Location: West coast U.S., swaths all through Mexico into Central America.
  • Nesting: 4-6 eggs laid in a cavity, dead oak or other trees.

The acorn woodpecker is easily recognized by its black plumage with a red cap and a distinctive black mask through its eyes, complemented by a yellowish forehead and throat, and a pale eye. The bird’s glossy black body is accented with a white rump and a streaked chest.

Diet-wise, acorn woodpeckers feed on insects, fruit, and acorns, which are particularly significant. They inhabit oak woodlands, groves, and forested canyons, where they live in colonies typically consisting of 3-10 birds.

These woodpeckers are known for their communal lifestyle, especially evident in how they collect and store acorns, their crucial winter food source. The group works together to stash away enough acorns to last several months, drilling tiny holes in tree trunks to secure each acorn snugly.

Acorns cached in a dead tree

Their cooperative spirit is also reflected in their nesting habits, with all colony members sharing responsibilities such as incubating eggs and feeding the young. Remarkably, scientists have discovered “granary trees” used by these woodpeckers that contain up to 50,000 acorns, showcasing their extraordinary collective effort and foresight.


9. Gila Woodpecker

gila woodpecker saguaro cactus
Gila woodpecker sipping nectar from the flower of a saguaro cactus
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes uropygialis
  • Size: 8-9.5 inches
  • Location: Southern Arizona into north eastern Mexico.
  • Nesting: 2-7 eggs cactus or tree cavity.

The gila woodpecker has a barred black and white back, a brown face and neck, and males have a distinctive red cap. Their diet includes insects, fruit, seeds, and occasionally lizards. They are native to deserts with large cacti, dry subtropical forests, and woodlands.

When gila woodpeckers carve out a nest hole in a saguaro cactus, they typically wait several months before occupying it, allowing the inner pulp to dry and form solid walls within the cavity.

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, gila woodpecker populations declined by about 49% between 1966 and 2014. However, their numbers are still high enough that they are not yet listed as a bird of concern.

About 1/3 of the population lives in the U.S. and 2/3 in Mexico. The human development of the Sonoran Desert is reducing their habitat, and competition with non-native European starlings for nesting cavities is intense.


10. 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
  • Size: 8-9.5 inches
  • Location: Across most of Canada and Alaska, along Rocky Mountain corridor.
  • Nesting: 3-7 eggs in tree cavity, uses wood chips or fibers for lining.

The American three-toed woodpecker is characterized by a black back with a central black and white barred pattern, white underparts, and flanks barred black and white.

It has a black head with a white eyebrow, and the male features a yellow cap. This species primarily feeds on wood-boring insects, spiders, and berries, and is found in coniferous forests.

 

Notably, the three-toed woodpecker breeds farther north, from upper Canada into Alaska, than any other woodpecker species. Unlike most woodpeckers that have four toes, this bird is unique in having only three toes, all pointing forwards.

This adaptation may influence its feeding behavior; rather than drilling heavily into trees, it prefers to flake off bark with its bill to find food, typically focusing on dead or dying trees.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker is a specialist in exploiting burned forests, seeking out areas affected by wildfire to feast on the bark and wood-boring beetles that proliferate after such events. This preference for burned woodlands underscores the woodpecker’s role in post-fire recovery processes, aiding in the decomposition of dead trees and facilitating the regeneration of forests.

Their presence in these environments is a crucial part of the natural cycle of forest renewal, demonstrating the adaptive strategies of wildlife to changing landscapes and the importance of disturbance in creating habitat diversity. 


11. Black-backed Woodpecker

Photo Credit: Mike Laycock, National Park Service | CC 2.0
  • Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
  • Size: 9.5-10 inches
  • Location: Across Canada into Alaska, some sections of north western U.S. and northern California.
  • Nesting: 2-6 cavity, rarely above 15 ft off the ground.

The black-backed woodpecker is distinguished by its entirely black back, wings, and tail, contrasted by mainly white underparts and flanks barred with black and white.

The head is black with a characteristic white whisker mark, and males display a yellow cap. Their diet consists of wood-boring insects, spiders, and berries, and they inhabit coniferous forests.

Like the three-toed woodpecker, black-backed woodpeckers also have only three front-facing toes. However, they show a particular preference for flaking bark off trees rather than drilling, with a special affinity for burned-over sites.

These woodpeckers are known to move from one location to another in pursuit of wood-boring beetles thriving in habitats recently affected by fires.

They may even venture far south of their usual range into the United States, driven by fluctuations in their preferred food sources or by a need to expand their territory following a population boom.


12. Golden-fronted Woodpecker

photo by: Becky Matsubara | CC 2.0
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes aurifrons
  • Size: 8.5-10 inches
  • Location: Central and southern Texas into Eastern half of Mexico.
  • Nesting: 4-7 eggs in dead trunk limb or fence post, telephone poles.

Golden-fronted woodpeckers are recognized by their distinctive gold markings located above the beak and at the nape. Their backs are barred black and white, while their face and underparts exhibit a grayish tan coloration.

Males are distinguished by a red cap. Their diet includes insects, fruit, and acorns, and they are commonly found in dry woodlands, groves, and mesquite areas.

These woodpeckers have a particular penchant for using man-made structures like telephone poles and fence posts as nesting sites, often drilling into them so extensively that they cause significant damage. They meticulously chisel out cavities that range from 6 to 18 inches deep, and sometimes even deeper.

An interesting behavior is observed during the Texas summers when some golden-fronted woodpeckers turn their faces purple, a result of their diet heavily consisting of prickly pear cactus fruit.


13. 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: Picoides scalaris
  • Size: 6.5-7.5 inches
  • Location: Very south eastern U.S. and across most of Mexico.
  • Nesting: 2-7 eggs in cavities of trees or cactus.

The ladder-backed woodpecker is easily identified by its black and white barring on the back and patterned flanks, with males sporting a red cap. Their diet primarily consists of wood-boring insects, caterpillars, and cactus fruit, and they thrive in arid, dry brushy areas, thickets, and desert environments.

Predominantly found in Texas, more so than in any other U.S. state, these woodpeckers are well adapted to dry, arid climates. They exhibit a remarkable skill in locating wood-boring beetle larvae, a key component of their diet.

ladder backed woodpecker3
ladder-backed woodpecker

Despite the scarcity of trees in many of their habitats, ladder-backed woodpeckers often make their homes in the giant Saguaro cactus. Their former name, the “cactus woodpecker,” reflects this preference. Their small size and agility allow them to deftly maneuver around the thorns and spines of cacti and mesquite.

Ladder-backed woodpeckers share a close relationship with California’s Nuttall’s woodpecker, although their ranges barely overlap, highlighting the unique adaptations and niches these species have developed.


14. Nutall’s Woodpecker

male nuttalls woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker (male) | image by Sam May via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Dryobates nuttallii
  • Size: 6 – 7.5 inches
  • Location: Primarily western half of California.
  • Nesting: 3-6 eggs

The Nuttall’s woodpecker can be identified by their black head, white throat and belly, black spots on their breast and black wings and rump, the adult female has a black forehead, crown and cap while the adult male has a red crown and black forehead.

The only difference between them and the ladder-backed woodpecker is that the Nuttall’s woodpecker’s red crown extends more toward its neck than the Ladder Backed.

Nuttall’s woodpeckers primarily feed on insects, favoring beetles, beetle larvae, ants, and millipedes, and occasionally supplement their diet with fruits like blackberries.

Nutall’s woodpecker | credit: ALAN SCHMIERER

They inhabit regions west of the southern Cascade Mountains, from southern Oregon to northern Baja California, predominantly within oak woodlands and along streams. Despite their affinity for oak trees, they do not consume acorns.

The species maintains stable populations within these specialized habitats. However, their reliance on limited oak woodland areas raises concerns about potential future risks, especially from environmental changes.

A significant threat to their habitat is the spread of Sudden oak death, a fungal disease detrimental to oak trees, which could severely impact Nuttall’s woodpecker populations if it leads to substantial habitat loss.


15. White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed woodpecker perching
White-headed woodpecker perching | image by Francesco Veronesi via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Leuconotopicus albolarvatus
  • Size: 9-9.5 inches
  • Location: Pockets of coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.
  • Nesting: 3-7 eggs in cavities, prefers snags, stumps and fallen logs.

The white-headed woodpecker is characterized by its distinctive appearance, featuring a mainly black body, wings, and tail. What sets it apart is its striking white face, crown, and throat, along with a notable white patch on the wing. In males, a small red patch is observed on the nape.

This woodpecker sustains itself primarily on a diet of pine seeds and wood-boring insects, showcasing its adaptability to its natural habitat. Their preferred environment includes mountain pine forests, where they are often found.

These guys are expert pinecone raiders. The white headed woodpecker will cling to the sides or bottom of an unopened pine cone and avoid making contact with their body so they do not get sap on their feathers.

They then chip open the scales and remove the seeds. Then, they take the seed and wedge it into the crevice of tree bark and hammer the seed to break it apart.


16. Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker | Photo by: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Leuconotopicus arizonae
  • Length: 7.1-7.9 in
  • Weight: 1.2-1.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 14.2 in  

The Arizona woodpecker is only found in 2 states in the U.S., Arizona and New Mexico. In both states these woodpeckers only have the tiniest range in the Southern corners of the states.

There is a long population strip going through Central Mexico where these woodpeckers live year round, the northernmost tip of it just barely enters the U.S. in Arizona and New Mexico. 

You’ll have the best chance of spotting one of these guys between March and May, this is when both sexes are most vocal during the breeding season. Arizona woodpeckers feed on various insects, larvae, nuts, berries, and other typical woodpecker food. They live in mature pine-oak forests and nest in excavated cavities in dead wood. 


17. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow bellied-sapsucker on a tree bark
Yellow bellied-sapsucker on a tree bark | Image by iTop Loveliness from Pixabay
  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
  • Size: 8-9 inches
  • Location: Most of Canada and Mexico, eastern half of the U.S.
  • Nesting: 4-7 eggs laid in live tree cavities. They prefer Aspen trees.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a distinctive woodpecker found primarily in eastern North America. These birds have a varied diet that includes sap, insects, and berries, making them well-suited for life in forests and woodlands.

Identified by their striking appearance, they feature black and white plumage on their upper body, a white wing patch, and a red crown and throat in males, while females have a white throat.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Yellow-bellied sapsucker | image by dfaulder via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Unlike their name suggests, they don’t “suck” sap; instead, they use hair-like bristles on their tongue to lick sap from rows of holes they drill in tree trunks. This behavior not only provides them with sap but also attracts insects, which they readily consume once caught in the sticky sap.

There are four types of sapsucker species in North America, with the yellow-bellied sapsucker being the most prevalent in the eastern regions. We’ll learn about the other 3 next. 


18. Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted sapsucker | image by Mike’s Birds via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber
  • Size: 7.9-8.7 in
  • Location: Far western coast of Canada and the U.S.
  • Nesting: 4-7 eggs laid in live tree cavities.

The red-breasted Sapsucker is a distinctive woodpecker species predominantly found along the far western coast of Canada and the United States. Recognizable by its striking plumage, these birds boast a mostly red head and breast, accompanied by a bold white slash on the shoulder.

Their upper body is predominantly black, featuring limited white mottling. Red-breasted sapsuckers have a varied diet that includes sap, insects, and berries, which suits their habitat preferences along the western coast. Their unique appearance and specialized feeding habits make them a notable addition to the woodpecker family.

During breeding season, red-breasted sapsuckers engage in a fascinating courtship display that involves drumming on tree trunks and branches, not only to attract mates but also to establish territory. This rhythmic drumming serves as a communication tool among these birds.

They are known to nest in cavities they excavate in dead or decaying trees, showing a preference for certain tree species. This nesting behavior underscores their role in forest ecology, as they help in decomposing dead wood while raising their young in the protected environment of tree cavities. 


19. Red-naped Sapsucker

red naped sapsuckers
Red-naped sapsuckers (males) | image by NPS / Tim Rains via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
  • Size: 7.5-8.3 inches
  • Location: Across the western U.S., from the Rocky Mountains to parts of the PNW, and into Canada.
  • Nesting: 4-7 eggs laid in live tree cavities.

The red-naped sapsucker is a woodpecker species commonly found in the southern regions of British Columbia and throughout the western United States, extending into Mexico.

Red-naped sapsucker on tree trunk
Red-naped sapsucker on tree trunk | image by GlacierNPS via Flickr

What sets this bird apart are its unique characteristics, including a prominent white wing slash that distinguishes it from other woodpeckers. Notably, its facial markings are striking, featuring bold patterns of black, white, and red, while its back displays distinct white mottling, setting it apart from its close relative, the Red-breasted Sapsucker.

These woodpeckers maintain a varied diet, encompassing sap, insects, and berries, which aligns with their preferred habitats across their extensive range.


20. Williamson’s Sapsucker

williamson's sapsucker
Williamson’s sapsucker | photo by Yellowstone National Park via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
  • Size: 8.3-9.8 inches
  • Location: Coniferous forests across western North America. Southern British Columbia down to Baja California.
  • Nesting: 4-7 eggs laid in live tree cavities.

Williamson’s sapsucker is a distinctive woodpecker species that graces the landscapes along the Rocky Mountain corridor, extending its presence south into Mexico. What sets this bird apart is its remarkable and contrasting appearance between males and females.

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

The male Williamson’s sapsucker boasts a predominantly black plumage adorned with a large, striking white wing patch. Its face showcases two prominent white stripes, a vivid red throat, and a vibrant yellow belly.

In contrast, the female exhibits a brown head and striking black-and-white barred patterns on its back and wings, accentuating a sunny yellow belly. These sapsuckers maintain a diverse diet, including sap, insects, and berries, well-suited to their preferred habitats in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond.

Williamson’s Sapsuckers exhibit remarkable dietary specialization, relying on tree sap during certain times of the year, which they obtain by drilling neat rows of holes in tree bark. This sap-sucking behavior not only nourishes them but also attracts insects, adding an animal protein component to their diet.

Their migratory patterns, moving between different elevations based on seasonal changes, highlight their adaptability to varying conditions and the importance of preserving diverse forest habitats that support their complex life cycle. The intricate patterns of migration and feeding emphasize the nuanced relationships between migratory species and their environments. 


21. Northern Flicker  

  • Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
  • Size: 10-14 inches
  • Location: Northern Flicker across the entire U.S. and Canada into many areas of Mexico. Gilded Flicker very southern Nevada, throughout Arizona and into north eastern Mexico.
  • Nesting: 3-14 eggs laid in a cavity in a tree or cactus in dry habitats.

Northern flickers, distinguished by their black-spotted bellies and barred wings, are larger woodpeckers common in U.S. wooded areas. They come in two varieties: the “yellow-shafted” in the east, identified by yellow underwing feathers, and the “red-shafted” in the west, with red underwing feathers.

These varieties, not separate species, sometimes interbreed where their ranges overlap, showcasing the diversity within this species. Males are noted for their distinctive “mustache,” which can be black or red depending on the subspecies.

northern flicker (yellow)
Image credit: birdfeederhub

Unlike other woodpeckers, flickers often feed on the ground, primarily on ants, making them one of North America’s most prolific ant eaters. They exhibit a unique foraging behavior, sifting through leaf litter and pecking at the soil with their large bills. During mating season, their drumming on metal surfaces can be heard over long distances, serving as a communication method.

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

The northern flicker is further divided into subspecies, including the Gilded Flicker found in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, preferring giant cactus habitats.

These birds are also among the few woodpecker species that migrate, with northern populations moving southward in winter. This adaptability in feeding and migration highlights their unique place in North American avian ecology.


22. Gilded Flicker

gilded flicker on cactus
Gilded Flicker | image by Jean-Guy Dallaire via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Colaptes chrysoides
  • Size: 11 to 12 inches
  • Location: Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico
  • Nesting: Cavities in saguaro cacti or trees

The gilded flicker is only found in the deserts within its range in the United States. They are most common in the saguaro cactus forests. Because this species has such a tiny range, not as much is known about it as it’s more common cousin, the northern flicker.

credit: ALAN SCHMIERER

The gilded flicker has brown wings with black stripes, a black spotted belly, gray head with brown crown, and yellow under their wings. Males have a red “mustache”.  They are not listed as endangered as of yet, but their population has been steadily declining over the years.

This decline in population may be attributed to habitat loss and changes in their desert environments. Conservation efforts focusing on preserving saguaro cactus habitats are crucial for the survival of the gilded flicker, emphasizing the importance of targeted environmental protection measures for this and other species dependent on specific ecological niches. 


23. Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Ivory Bill_nesting
Male Ivory-Bill returns to relieve the female. Photo taken in Singer Tract, Louisiana by Arthur A. Allen (April 1935)
  • Scientific name: Campephilus principalis
  • Size: 19 to 21 inches  
  • Location: Historically found in the southeastern United States and parts of Cuba.
  • Nesting: Would nest in large cavities of dead trees in dense swamps and forests.

The ivory-billed woodpecker, once a majestic presence in the dense forests and swamps of the southeastern United States and parts of Cuba, is now considered almost certainly extinct.

With its distinctive black and white plumage and striking ivory-colored bill, it was among the largest woodpeckers in the world. Despite this, its existence has faded into legend, primarily due to habitat destruction and hunting.

In recent years, occasional reports and unconfirmed sightings have tantalized birdwatchers and conservationists, hoping against odds for the species’ survival.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even postponed declaring the bird extinct in 2023, following a reported sighting from a trail camera. However, this sighting, like others before it, was never confirmed, maintaining the bird’s status in limbo.

Ivory billed pileated woodpecker
Ivory-billed compared to a pileated woodpecker

Even though some people may think they’ve seen one, the last confirmed sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker dates back to 1944. This shows that if any remnant population exists, it has somehow eluded detection for decades while many bird experts have been searching for it tirelessly.

The likelihood of this species still being alive in some remote forest are almost nonexistent. The sporadic reports of sightings since then, while intriguing, likely only delay the inevitable acknowledgment of extinction.

The ongoing fascination with the ivory-billed woodpecker serves as a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of species to human impact and the importance of conservation efforts to protect our planet’s biodiversity.

3 thoughts on “23 Woodpeckers in North America (Photos)”

  1. Very nice write up about Woodpeckers! I never realized they had so many special adaptations specific for being the type of bird they are, from their special toes to their brain anatomy, to their tongue! We have some Downys (or maybe Hairys?) in the half dead cottonwoods near our yard. I see them pecking/drilling and hear occasional drumming. I have not noticed them at the suet in the winter, but we have it out for the other birds in the area at that time.

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