A male Downy Woodpecker–females do not have the red patch on the back of their heads

I recently posted about Northern Flickers which are an unusual kind of woodpecker.  They forage on the ground a lot, which is not how I usually picture a woodpecker.  Most woodpeckers cling to the sides of trees, banging their heads into the bark to find food (Northern Flickers do this too, of course).  They make a lot of noise, and I hear them in the woods long before I see them.  Since I added a suet feeder to my yard, particularly this one, I’ve had a lot more woodpeckers feeding in my garden.  And yes, one even ate seeds out of my daughter’s hand!  We were visiting a metropark where school children have been hand-feeding the songbirds for years on field trips.  The Chickadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse (Titmice?  Titmouses?  I don’t know) will land on your hand for seeds, but I was surprised to see the Downy do it one day!

Downy woodpeckers and Hairy woodpeckers look a lot alike.  I always had a hard time telling them apart until I learned to look at the beaks.  The length of the beak on the Hairy Woodpecker (below) is about the same as the width of the bird’s head from front to back.  On the Downy Woodpecker, the beak is much shorter than this distance.  I know there are other ways to tell them apart, but this one works for me.


Female Hairy Woodpecker–males would have a red patch on the back of their head


Female Downy Woodpecker

Another frequent visitor to my yard is the Red-bellied Woodpecker.


Male Red-bellied Woodpecker–the female has the red on the nape of the neck, but not on the cap.

I know so many people who mistakenly call this guy a Red-headed Woodpecker, including myself for a long time.  These do actually have a red belly, which you can barely see in this picture, but you don’t often notice it right away.  I have only seen an actual Red-headed Woodpecker once.  Here’s a picture of it–not a great photo, but I love it because it’s the only one I have of this guy.


Red-Headed Woodpecker

The last woodpecker I’ve seen in my woods is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  This is another bird on my list where I have only one photo and I don’t love it–hope to catch another soon.


A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. I’m not sure if this is a male or female. Both have red foreheads and males also have a red throat. I don’t think this one has a red throat, but I can’t really see it well.

One of my favorite, and most elusive, woodpeckers is the Pileated Woodpecker.  I’ve never taken a photo of one (seen here), and have rarely even seen one.  I remember as a kid one took to a tree in our backyard and stayed around for days.  And I *think* I saw one last summer, but only briefly and I couldn’t get a picture at all.  This one is on my list–I’ll be very happy when I finally get one!

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4 Responses to Woodpeckers

  1. John Blair says:

    Carol – I too would love to get a photo of a Pileated! We vacation in SW FL every year and I have seen them there, but only managed to get a blurry photo as it flew away. In my area, I have only seen the Flicker, Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy. I would *love* to see a Red-headed and the sapsucker – so neat you got photos of these two.

    • I’m determined to get a Pileated this summer! I was so excited when I saw the Red-headed woodpecker. I told some neighbors about it and they said, “oh, I see them all the time.” UGH!

  2. kenschneider says:

    Nice photos and descriptions. As a volunteer interpreter I suggested another way to distinguish the Downy from Hairy Woodpecker “Downy HAS black on outer tail feathers Hairy H’AINT got them” I’m sure you knew this but it seemed a good teaching tool until I discovered that the race of Downy in New Mexico may indeed have clear white outer tail feathers. So much for generalities! Go for that Pileated– I love them and have them in my neighborhood.

    • Thank you! I did know about the outer tail feathers being different, but I never heard it said that way–now I may actually remember what the difference is! So glad you visited my blog–keep coming back and teach me more about the birds. I have a lot to learn!

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