Sorting Out Our Woodpeckers

Photo Group
Downy Woodpecker (left) and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (right)
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

We have several species of woodpeckers that call our backyards their home at least part of the year. Let’s sort them out.

Downy Woodpecker is easily the most common woodpecker in our area. It also happens to be the smallest. Its small size, black and white plumage and small stubby bill are diagnostic features.

Hairy Woodpecker is the larger cousin to the Downy. Its colors and pattern are pretty much the same but it larger size and much larger bill should help separate them out.

Red-bellied Woodpecker is the most common of our medium-sized woodpeckers. Often called ladder-backs or red-headed, which are names for other woodpeckers in North America. The red on the head is limited to the crown and nape and if you get a good look at the belly, you will see the red.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are not nearly as common as red-bellieds and their heads are truly red all over. The black and white plumage is striking.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are more common here in fall and spring but a few do over-winter. They are the most confusing. Look for the large white vertical slash on their wings.

Northern Flickers are truly striking and quite large. Often seen on the ground feeding on ants, the yellow underwing and tail feathers are beautiful and their white rump patch is hard to miss.

Pileated Woodpeckers are our largest and most elusive woodpecker. A truly unmistakable bird with its large size and impressive crest.

By Mark McKellar

FALL 2014