Health and Wellness

Types of Woodpeckers in the Northeast

Understanding Northeastern Woodpecker Habitats is the First Step to Stopping Them From Damaging Your Home

There are seven main species of woodpeckers found in the Northeastern United States.

The size of these woodpeckers found in the Northeast range in size from 6 to 19 inches long. While all woodpeckers pound on wood as a means for survival, each woodpecker has a unique quality which makes them stand out from the rest.

Red-Headed Woodpecker 

In appropriation with its name, the red-headed woodpecker has bright red feathers that cover the entirety of its head and throat. This type of woodpecker is also recognized by its solid black back and white wing patches, underside, and rump.

The red-headed woodpecker inhabits deciduous forests and groves of large trees in old fields or wooded swamps in the eastern part of the United States. This species of woodpecker is endangered in Connecticut due to a decline in farming and a loss of large wooden areas.

To further their species, red-headed woodpeckers feast on insects, centipedes, spiders, berries, small fruits, acorns, and beechnuts. Red-headed woodpecker parents create and defend their nest in the cavities of isolated snags — standing, dead, or dying trees — between the ground level and 80 feet up. The mother lays four to eight white eggs, one egg per day, on a bed of wood chips within the snag. The baby birds will hatch from the eggs 14 days later. After 27 days, they hatch, the baby birds will fly away from the nest.

Downy Woodpecker 

The smallest species of woodpecker in North America, the Downy holds its title by maintaining a length of 6 to 7 inches short.

The Downy is recognizable by its black wings with white spotting and white stripe down its back with a white underside. They also wear a short bill with feather tufts above it.

A male Downy Woodpecker has a red patch of feathers on the nape of their neck. They prefer to live in woodlands and orchards, as well as suburban and residential areas in most of the United States (except the Southwest) and most of Canada.

You can find the Downy Woodpecker located in dead tree limbs anywhere from 12 to 30 feet above the ground. Here they make nests and feed on insect larva and eggs taken from crevices in the bark. They also eat berries, seeds, snails, and spiders. Once the downy has mated for the season, it lays four to five eggs, which incubate for 12 days before hatching. The young will leave the nest about 24 days after hatching.

Hairy Woodpecker

Widely distributed in North America, the hairy woodpecker holds rank as the almost-identical twin of the downy woodpecker.

With similar black wings, white spots, and a white stripe down the back, one can see why these two birds are hard to differentiate. Like the downy, male hairy woodpeckers have a red patch on the nape of their necks. Hairy woodpeckers, however, are 7 to 10 inches in length and have a longer bill than downies.

The hairy woodpecker prefers to position itself in mature, extensive mixed forests where they have the ability to build their nest in a live tree between 5 and 30 feet above the ground.

They will raise one brood per year by laying three to six white eggs, which will hatch 11 to 15 days post laying. Then, 28 days after the eggs are hatched, the young will leave the nest. At this point, they will feed on wood-boring insects and their larvae. They will also eat ants, spiders, grasshoppers, nuts, seeds, and sap from sapsucker drill wells.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Found in Northeastern and Upper Midwestern United States and Canada in the spring and summer, sapsuckers are the only species of woodpeckers to migrate south for the winter.

This unique behavior is due to their diet of tree sap, insects, fruits, berries, and tree buds. In the winter months, when the sap stops flowing in the trees up north, you can locate yellow-bellied sapsuckers from the Southeastern  United States over to Texas, and even down to Panama and the Bahamas. In either location, you can find yellow-bellied sapsuckers in live trees in forests, wood lots, and orchards.

As a medium-sized bird of 7 to 9 inches in length, yellow-bellied sapsuckers holds  a preference for aspens, building a nest between 10 and 45 feet off the ground. They are unique in that they drill rows or regularly spaced vertical and horizontal holes in the trunks of over 200 species of trees.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker lays five to six  eggs, which incubate for 12 to 13 days before hatching. The young will leave the nest between 25 and 29 days later after both parents have taught them how to suck sap. They prefer white birch, as it has the highest sugar content.

The color of yellow-bellied sapsuckers sets them apart from other woodpeckers due to their cream-colored underside with streaked marks. They also have black wings, a black bib, and a white barring on their back — a narrow longitudinal wing stripe. The males have a red forehead, crown, and throat, while the females have white throats.

Northern Flicker

Known for their brown back, brown wings with black barring, tan face, and buff, greyish underside with heavy black spotting, the Northern flicker sits at about 12 inches long.

Northern flickers are one of two types, yellow-shafted or red-shafted. Yellow-shafted flickers have yellow underwings and undertail, a red nape crescent, a grey crown, and either a grey or tan forehead. The males also have black mustaches.

The red-shafted flicker has reddish underwings and undertail with a red mustache. Either type of Northern flicker can be spotted in open country near large trees, forest edge, parks and residential areas.

Northern flickers can be found on the ground in open areas and live off of a diet of insects — especially ants — as well as seeds and fruit. This species of woodpecker prefers to live in decaying trees or off broken trunks anywhere from as low as 2 feet above the ground to as high as 90 feet. They will lay between five and 10 white eggs to incubate for 11 to 13 days.

The newly hatched birds leave the nest four weeks after hatching. Because of their adaptability, Northern flickers can be spotted all around America. Yellow-shafted flickers are typically found in the eastern states while red-shafted flickers are found in the Western United States.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker 

This species of woodpecker, despite its name, differentiates itself from the red-headed woodpecker by having red only on the nape and crown of its head instead of on its entire head.

Female red-bellied woodpeckers only have red on their nape while their crown is grey. The bird can also be identified by the white and black barrings on its wings and pale greyish/tan underside. The red-bellied woodpecker is 9 inches in length and can be found in woodlands, farmlands, orchards, residential areas, and city parks with shade trees.

On a diet of insects, fruit, vegetables, and sap, red-bellied woodpeckers survive the winter by hammering food into bark and tree crevices. This allows them to continue their species which ranges from the eastern sea-border of the United States to Texas and South Dakota. In the Northern U.S., they raise one brood per year in a nest that sets 5 to 70 feet above the ground in either dead trees or living trees with dead limbs. There they lay four to five white eggs that will incubate for 11 to 14 days. The young will leave the nest around the 24 to 26 day mark.

Pileated Woodpecker

Noted as the largest woodpecker found in Connecticut, the pileated woodpecker sizes up to be 16 to 19 inches in length.

This woodpecker has a solid black back and a red crest that goes from its forehead to the nape of its neck for its coloration. Males have a scarlet mustache while females have a red crest with a black forehead and a black mustache. The pileated woodpecker tends to inhabit either large tracts of deciduous forests, mixed forests or wooded parks. Their range is in the eastern part of the United States from Maine to Florida, west to Texas and north to Minnesota.

The pileated woodpecker diets on carpenter ants, beetles, acorns, beechnuts and fruits. They excavate holes 15 to 85 feet above the ground level in live trees.

Pileated woodpeckers are the only woodpeckers that make oblong shaped holes for feeding and round holes for nesting. The females lay a brood of 3-8 white eggs which incubate for 15 to 18 days before hatching. 26 to 28 days after hatching, the young leave the nest to be on their own.

Protecting Your Home From Woodpeckers

There are a number of ways you can protect your home from woodpeckers. If it’s too late and you’ve already encountered a woodpecker problem, contact a wildlife professional near you to help with the problem.





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