Thursday, January 14, 2010

Woodpecker Profiles

In Indiana there are 7 species of woodpeckers that call our area home, at least for a few months of the year.
Of course the biggest of which is the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), being 15 to 19 inches tall, with a wing span of 26 to 29 inches, there is no mistaking the Pileated. Pileated's primarily feed on insects, fruits and nuts.

Pileated Woodpecker

Next on the list coming in at 11 to 12.5 inches tall with a wing span of 16.5 to 20 inches, is the colorful Northern Flicker. Primarily an insectavore, the Northern Flicker can be seen "hunting for ants, beetles, and larvae of insects on the ground, and they are not at all opposed to taking butterflies and moths as well. In winter months they will eat nuts and berries. The best places to look for Northern Flickers are on the edge of woods, in feilds close to woodlands, or around wetlands.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes Auratus)

Coming in next at about 9.5 inches in height and wingspan of 13 to 16 inches is the sleek Red-Bellied Woodpecker. It distinctive black and white barring across its back and and it bright red cap, YOu can primarily find these guys in woodlands, wetlands, and neighborhoods that have a lot of trees. Red-Bellies feed, like other woodpeckers, mostly on insects, nuts and berries, but they have been known to eat small lizards and even minnows if they can catch them.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes Carolinus)

Next is a Woodpecker whose status is considered near threatened, its the Red-Headed Woodpecker, a little smaller than the Red-Bellied, and more reclusive, the Red-Headed Woodpecker can easily be distinquished from the Red-Bellied by its solid red head, and solid black balck with white patches visible on its lower wings, and bright white belly. Red-Headed Woodpeckers are considered omnivores and will eat insects, eggs, baby birds, mice, and nuts and fruit. It is one of only 4 woodpeckers that are known to cover their stored food. Insects that it stores are kept alive, but are wedged into crevices in wood so tightly they can not escape. Also red-heaed woodpeckers are very territorial and will attack other birds in it territory, even go as far as to attack nests and break the eggs with it beak!

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

The next two species of Woodpecker here in our area would be the Hairy Woodpecker followed by the Downy Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpeckers are 7 to 10 inches tall with a wingspan of 13 to 16 inches. The Hairy is primarily an insect eater and forages through bark to fnd the bugs that it finds tastey. They are not opposed to hanging around areas where Pileated Woodpeckers forage, and once the Pileated has done the hard work of digging open a tree, and has flown off, the Hairy woodpecker will fly in and search for insect the Pileated left behind.

Female Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

Hairy Woodpecker Female (Picoides Villosus)

The Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight to pretty much anyone who puts out suet feeders in our area. Measuring between 5.5 and 6.5 inches tall and with a wingspan of 9.5 to 11.5 inches, Downy's will readily mix in with other flocks of feeding birds, taking advantage of the idea of safety in numbers. They are also primarily insect eaters, but get about 25% of their diet from nuts, berries, and seeds., you may also find them from time to time taking a sip form a hummingbird feeder.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Lat but definately not least is more of a seasonal visitor than it is a resident of the woodpecker family to our area, its the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (no its not just an insult in bugs bunny cartoons) measuring between 7 and 8.5 inches tall with a wingspan of 13 to 16 inches, this sap-sucker is a winter visitor in our area. These guys are the only Woodpecker in eastern America that is totally migratory. And yes, they eat tree sap, along with insects and fruit. the will peck out a "well" in a live tree and maintain it so it fills with sugary sap to feed on.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus Various)

Even with as large as some of our local species of woodpeckers can become, they can still find themselves on the dinner menus of our resident birds of prey, such as this misfortunate Northern Flicker that ended up on the wrong side of a Coopers Hawk:

Unfortunate Ending for a Northern Flicker


  1. We have observed pileated woodpeckers coming to our feeders for the past 20 years. This year we are excited to see a younger pair measuring approximately nine inches in length.

  2. Hi, it seems like spell check my have sabotaged you. You have the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker listed as "Sphyrapicus Various", when it's actually: Sphyrapicus varius. May cause people that search for it think it's not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  3. Maryalice March 15, 2014 at 10:55 a.m.
    Just saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes Carolinus) at our suet feeders. then he raced up a nearby tree. Beautiful, well filled out bird.

  4. Just saw a Pileted woodpecker in cloverdale didn't know woodpeckers got so big!!!

  5. Just moved here next to Geist and set up 3 large feeders and attracted my first red bellied woodpecker...that i have caught in view...glorious bird and I know he will bring his buddies soon. Very cool indeed.

  6. Saw a red bellied woodpecker in Irvington in our yard.

  7. My suet cakes have attracted a Pileated Woodpecker (probably 10+ inches) luck in spotting a mate - yet. we've had much enjoyment in the smaller species for years...I can tell it's SPRING in Indiana!!!

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  8. Spotted a Pileated Woodpecker in Valparaiso Indiana this past weekend...our backyard! Have never seen a woodpecker that big before.