Head outside to a forested or wilderness area in Illinois, and you’re bound to hear the tell-tale sound of a woodpecker drilling holes with its beak into a tree or utility pole.
Illinois is home to seven different species of woodpeckers, from the tiny yellow-bellied sapsucker to the substantial pileated woodpecker. These birds make their home across the state, from the waterways of Northern Illinois to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.
However, you don’t need to venture out on a hike with a pair of binoculars and a keen ear. You can see all seven different species right in your backyard, especially if you put out a suet feeder. All of the following birds will show up at feeders from time to time. Keep an eye out all year round, but particularly during the winter.
Here is the list of species of woodpeckers in Illinois:
- Northern Flicker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-Headed Woodpecker
- Red-Bellied Sapsucker
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
7 Types of Woodpeckers in Illinois
1. Northern Flicker
Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
Size: 11-12 inches
Weight: 4-6.5 ounces
Wingspan: 16.5-20 inches
The distinctive northern flicker woodpecker lives in open habitats near trees, as well as in parks and cemeteries across Illinois. They are a frequent visitor to suet feeders in suburban and urban yards. Unlike some woodpeckers, they like to hunt around on the ground rather than in the trees.
They’re one of the most common woodpeckers in Illinois, but they don’t all look the same, which can make identifying them a challenge.
The males, females, and juveniles vary in appearance depending on where they live. They’re brown in color overall, with black spots. The underside of the wings and tails are yellow in the eastern half of the US and red in the western half of the US. These are the second largest woodpeckers in Illinois.
Some have a red or black stripe on their cheeks, and many of them have large, black crescents on their chest. Others have red marks on the back of the head. Some have a slightly gray head.
In the spring, you can hear the calls of Northern flickers for long distances. They have a distinct call, and once you know what it sounds like, it’s easy to tell when they’re around.
They primarily eat ants, but they’ll also dine on other insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites. There are also instances of them catching young bats as they leave the nest. You can tempt them to visit your home by offering a suet feeder in the yard.
Flickers who live in northern climates like Alaska and Canada will migrate to places with warmer temperatures during the winter, but these woodpeckers stick around Illinois all year round.
Studies show that Northern Flickers can lose their nests to invaders like European starlings.
2. Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
Size: 16-19 inches
Weight: 9-14 ounces
Wingspan: 30 inches
The pileated woodpecker lives in Illinois year-round. They often make their nests in utility poles or high up in the deadwood of tall trees. Their favorite snack is carpenter ants, which they will dig rectangular holes deep into the wood to find.
They’ll also eat nuts and berries and will even dine on poison ivy berries. You may occasionally see them foraging on the ground for food, but they usually stick to the trees.
These distinctive birds are mostly black and white, but they stand out because of their bright red crest. The males also have a red stripe on the side of their faces. These are large birds, about the same size as a crow, and are the largest woodpeckers in Illinois.
The pileated woodpecker doesn’t migrate. It stays in the same area for its entire life. They will, however, move their nest to someplace nearby if the eggs fall out of it.
The cartoon bird Woody Woodpecker was probably based on this species. It’s pretty easy to see the resemblance if you compare the comic to these birds.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
Size: 7 inches long
Weight: 0.75-0.99 ounces
Wingspan: 10-12 inches
The downy woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in Illinois and is common across the state, as well as across the rest of North America. But its tiny size doesn’t make it difficult to spot. That’s because it’s pretty bold and isn’t afraid of people. It’s probably the most common woodpecker to see in all of Illinois, so the chances are good that you’ll be able to check one out.
Additionally, it doesn’t migrate but instead stays in its home year-round, which means you can spot these woodpeckers even during the harsh winters in Illinois.
You can find this itty-bitty bird pretty much anywhere. It lives in rural areas, cities, suburban yards, and wilderness areas.
During the wintertime, they flock with other birds such as chickadees and nuthatches for safety and to find food. They build their nests in the cavity of trees where they live and raise their young. While they may change their habitat range during the seasons, they don’t travel too far.
Downy woodpeckers are black and white, with distinctly spotted wings and a white chest. Adult males have a bright red cap on the back of their heads, which makes them easy to identify from females.
If you love the idea of watching the behavior of these tiny woodpeckers, hang a suet feeder in your yard. They’re the most frequent visitor of suet feeders of all the different woodpeckers in Illinois.
Because of their small size, they can land on small stems of plants to hunt for food. They’re also small enough that they often make nests in the wood siding of homes, much to the dismay of homeowners.
4. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides villosus
Size: 7.5 inches
Weight: 1.4-3.4 ounces
Wingspan: 13-16 inches
Hairy woodpeckers look a lot like downy woodpeckers, but much larger. They also have longer bills, which are almost the same length as their head.
They’re black and white all over. You can tell the genders apart because the adult males have a little red spot on the back of their heads.
These pretty woodpeckers aren’t as common in Illinois as their cousin, the downy woodpecker. However, you can still see these woodpeckers in parks, suburban areas, cemeteries, and other quiet wooded or open areas. They also visit suet feeders in suburban backyards.
Like their cousin, the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpeckers don’t migrate during the cold weather and stay in the same place all year. They make their homes in the cavities of dead trees.
Research published in The Journal of Wildlife Management found that they prefer forests that have been recently burned because there is abundant food for them there.
Populations have been declining in the past few decades because they’re losing their habitat. They also face pressure from invasive birds like European starlings, which steal their nesting spots.
5. Red-headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Size: 7.5-9.1 inches
Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
Wingspan: 16.5 inches
Red-headed woodpeckers are beautiful birds. They have solid black wings with a big white patch, and white bodies. To top it off, a deep, dark red head and neck that is so vibrant it looks like velvet.
The juveniles are brownish-black with white spots on the wings and dull red cheeks.
They don’t cross to the west side of the Rocky Mountains, but they can be found in all parts east, from Canada to Florida. These woodpeckers live year-round in Illinois. You can entice them to your yard during the winter by offering them some citrus or suet.
It’s one of the few woodpeckers out there who like to store food for the winter. They stuff seeds and nuts in bark or holes in trees. They have even been known to stuff food under shingles.
They also hunt their prey, snatching insects out of the air as they fly. That’s uncommon behavior for woodpeckers.
6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
Size: 9.5 inches
Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 inches
You’d probably expect these woodpeckers to have bright red bellies, but that’s not the case. Their bellies are typically pale, creamy white. Their back and wing feathers are black and white striped, and the females have a red nape. The males have a red nape and crown.
So, where did the name “red-bellied” come from? The woodpeckers actually have red feathers on their bellies, but they’re covered by white feathers so you can’t see them very easily.
These active woodpeckers live all across the eastern United States, including Illinois, and you can spot them in the air as they fly by their undulating flight pattern.
Look for them in oak and hickory trees, where they like to feed and nest. They’ll also visit suet feeders.
7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Size: 7.1-8.7 inches
Weight: 1.5-1.9 ounces
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 inches
The yellow-bellied sapsucker lives in the eastern half of the US and heads to the southern part of the country in the winter, but it will stay in some northern states like Illinois all year-round.
These birds are mostly black and white, with white bellies, and black and white barred wings and back. You can tell the difference between males and females because the throat of the male is bright red. Females, on the other hand, have a white throat. Both the females and males have red foreheads.
The females have a faint yellow coloring on bellies, but it can be so indistinct that you might not be able to identify it unless you get really close.
These sapsuckers drill little holes with their beaks and then they wait for the sweet sap to emerge from the tree. They lick this up, along with any insects that crawl along and get themselves stuck in the sap.
You might see them hanging out at your backyard suet feeder, but they mostly stick to forested areas. They aren’t nearly as bold as some of their woodpecker cousins.
Also Read: Woodpeckers in Virginia