If you love birdwatching, Iowa is a good state to start your adventures in. Not only is the state home to an incredible range of bird species, but you can find seven woodpeckers in Iowa, as well.
You don’t need to leave the city to find them, either. Most of the species on this list will visit suet feeders hanging in backyards, especially during the winter.
That said, if you want to explore the Loess Hills, float the Iowa River, or visit Pikes Peak State Park, you can find even more species than you’d see from your patio.
Part of the fun of looking for woodpeckers is that they’re easy to find. They have a distinctive shape and when you hear that tap-tap-tapping on the trees and telephone lines nearby, you know there are woodpeckers around.
Here is the list of species of woodpeckers in Iowa:
- Downy Woodpecker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-Headed Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
7 Types of Woodpeckers in Iowa
1. 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 Iowa. It’s the size of a chickadee. But its tiny stature doesn’t make it difficult to spot. That’s because it’s brave and isn’t afraid to hang out around people if there’s good food around. It’s probably the most common woodpecker to see in all of Iowa, so the chances are good that you’ll be able to find one.
This little bird doesn’t migrate. Instead, it stays in its home year-round, which means you can spot them even during the winter.
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.
You can find this itty-bitty bird woodpecker much anywhere. It lives in rural areas, cities, suburban yards, and wilderness areas.
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 being able to see them without going out exploring, hang a suet feeder in your yard. They’re the most frequent visitor of suet feeders of all the different woodpeckers in Iowa.
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.
2. Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
Size: 16-19 inches
Weight: 9-14 ounces
Wingspan: 30 inches
The pileated woodpecker lives in Iowa year-round, but they only live in the eastern fourth of the state. They often make their nests in utility poles or high up in the deadwood of tall trees. Their favorite meal is carpenter ants, which they will dig rectangular holes deep into the wood to find.
They’ll also eat nuts and berries and 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 primarily 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. In fact, they’re the largest woodpeckers in Iowa.
The pileated woodpecker doesn’t migrate but 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 easy to see the resemblance when comparing the comic bird to these woodpeckers.
3. 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 they’re easy to tell from one another because Hairy woodpeckers are much larger. They also have longer bills, almost the same length as their head.
Their bodies are black and white. You can tell the genders from one another because the adult males have a little red spot on the back of their heads.
These woodpeckers aren’t as common in Iowa as their cousin, the downy woodpecker. That said, you can still see them in parks, suburban areas, cemeteries, and other quiet wooded or open areas if you’re patient. 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.
4. 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 striking. They have solid black wings with a big white patch and white bodies. But what makes them stand out so much is that they have dark red heads and necks that are so vibrant they look like velvet.
The juveniles are brownish-black with white spots on the wings and pale red cheeks.
They don’t travel to the west side of the Rocky Mountains, but you can find them in all parts east, from Canada to Florida. These woodpeckers live year-round in Iowa. You can entice them to your yard during the winter by offering them some citrus or suet.
It’s one of the few woodpeckers 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; a practice homeowners aren’t fond of.
They also hunt their prey, snatching insects out of the air as they fly. That’s unusual behavior for woodpeckers.
5. 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 and in parks and cemeteries across Iowa. Unlike some woodpeckers, they like to hunt around on the ground rather than in the trees. They are a frequent visitor to suet feeders in suburban and urban yards.
They’re one of the most common woodpeckers in Iowa, but they don’t all look the same.
The males, females, and juveniles vary in appearance depending on where they live. They’re brown overall, with black spots. The underside of the wings and tails are yellow in the eastern half of the US (like Iowa) and red in the western half of the US. These are the second largest woodpeckers in Iowa.
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.
You can hear the calls of Northern Flickers for a long way off during the spring mating season. They have an extremely distinct call, and once you know what it sounds like, it’s easy to tell when they’re nearby.
They primarily eat ants, but they’ll also feast on other insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites. This is a bird you want to have around! You can tempt them to visit your home by offering a suet feeder in the yard. There are also instances of them catching young bats as they leave the nest.
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 Iowa all year round.
Studies show that Northern Flickers are losing their nests to invasive species like European starlings.
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. Typically, their bellies are 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 come from? The woodpeckers do have red feathers on their bellies, but they’re covered by white feathers, so you can’t actually see them.
These active birds live all across the Eastern United States, and you can spot them in the air as they fly by their undulating flight pattern. They live in Iowa year-round.
Look for them in oak and hickory trees, where they like to feed and nest. They’ll also visit suet feeders now and then.
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. They only fly through Iowa during their migration between their breeding and non-breeding areas.
These birds are primarily 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 male’s throat 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 close–which they definitely won’t let happen.
These sapsuckers drill tiny holes into trees with their beaks, and then they wait for the sweet sap to leak out. They lick this up, along with any insects that crawl along and get stuck in the fluid.
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: Owls in Iowa