Although there are many species of woodpecker found all over the world, we’re going to focus on the ones commonly seen in North America as they are the ones you’re most likely to see.
Have you ever seen a bright red flash of a bird or heard a strange tapping sound in the woods?
Chances are it was a woodpecker.
You don’t have to be a keen bird watcher to want to find out more about these interesting creatures.
What Are Woodpeckers?
Woodpeckers or Picidae refers to a group of around 180 species of bird that are primarily known for pecking insects out of tree bark and chiselling nest holes in deadwood.
They spend their lives hopping around trees looking for insects to eat, although there are a few ground-feeding species.
While diet usually consists of insects, some have been known to eat berries and fruits while others are known as sapsuckers, feeding on the sap of certain trees depending on the season.
Different species of woodpecker generally share many similarities making them quite easy birds to identify.
As with many males in the animal kingdom, they are more extravagant than the females displaying brightly colored crowns.
You might hear a woodpecker before you see it. Their characteristic drumming on wood sounds can be heard quite clearly. This is the sound of the males holding territories.
Overall they are not considered to be social birds, they tend to live a solitary life or live in pairs.
Species Of Woodpecker
There are 23 types of woodpecker native to the U.S. However, some have spread through migration and evolution.
We’re going to look at some of the common ones found in Northern America.
American Three-Toed Woodpecker
As the name suggests, this bird has three toes rather than the usual four.
The birds are mostly black with a few white spots on the wings, so they blend right into the trees. Male woodpeckers can be distinguished by their yellow crowns.
Dead and burnt coniferous trees or bogs are where you’ll find these woodpeckers, usually in the western and northern regions.
These woodpeckers breed farther north than any other, often found in Alaska and Canada.
Regularly, the birds will work on a single tree until they cannot find enough resources to sustain themselves before moving on.
A distinctive habit is seen in these birds and only one other type of woodpecker, this is the flaking off the bark of the trees in search of grubs to eat.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
If you spend a lot of time outdoors you’ve probably seen a Greater Spotted Woodpecker as it is the most common woodpecker seen throughout Eurasia.
Commonly noticed due to the striking black and white colorings; males can also be noticed from their distinctive red crowns.
They are shy birds which often try to hide within woodland areas. Trees such as mature broad-leaf trees and conifers can support them in terms of food and shelter.
Occasionally they will visit less protected areas such as a peanut bird feeder in the garden. They have been known to eat small eggs and nestlings.
Drumming is seen in the spring and is characterized by 8 to 12 taps which taper off at the end.
The Acorn Woodpecker is commonly found in the woodlands and gardens of more temperate southwestern regions of North America.
Both sexes are black and white with the male distinguished by its red crown compared to the female’s black forehead.
Unlike most woodpeckers, these live in colonies of around three to ten birds in which the adult birds assist with the raising of young in communal groups.
They take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the young once they’ve hatched. Communication is very loud as it would be in a colony.
Similarly to other species of woodpecker, they use drumming to communicate.
They are called acorn woodpeckers as they peck thousands of small acorn-sized holes into trees to store their food for winter and protect their food from other animals.
Another common type of woodpecker found in North America is the Hairy Woodpecker. They are almost identical to the Downy Woodpecker, apart from the slightly larger size and longer bill.
Males and females are mostly black with white spots on the wings; males have two red occipital patches on the side of the head rather than the color covering the whole crown.
As they are timid birds, they prefer to live in coniferous and deciduous forests where there is dense vegetation where they can seek cover.
They can also be found in places such as parks, cemeteries and woodlots. Backyard feeders that put out suet can also expect a visit from the Hairy Woodpecker, especially in the winter months.
This is a small yet striking creature with a black and white ladder rung pattern on its back and the same colored chequered pattern on the wings.
Males feature the typical red crown, yet white speckles are seen on the crown with the Ladder-backed. Similarities are seen in Nuttall’s Woodpecker with which they share a habitat boundary to the west.
Found in the warmer eastern areas of California and Texas as well as throughout Mexico, these birds like to hide in vegetation where they can forage for insects and larvae.
Due to their dry habitats, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers also feed on the fruit of cacti. Interestingly, they even excavate holes into large cacti to nest!
Woodpeckers are fascinating creatures which can be found across the globe. They are characterized by their drilling sounds and excavating of tree bark in search of insects.
North America has 23 native species of woodpecker with many more found to live there.
You can attract some species such as the Hairy Woodpecker and The Greater Spotted Woodpecker to your backyard with some tasty nuts and suet.
We hope you enjoyed learning about different species of woodpeckers and get to spot one soon!