Explore 10 Types of Woodpeckers in Michigan (Common & Rare Species)

While there have been nearly a dozen species of woodpeckers spotted in Michigan, only eight make the state their home full time. The other two you can spot now and then if you keep a close eye out.

Winter is an excellent time to get out there and check out some of Michigan’s woodpecker residents. When other birds have migrated or are hibernating, many woodpeckers are busy poking holes in the wood and making their distinctive calls to each other. 

Look up in the trees and watch for species of woodpeckers in Michigan. Most of them are black and white, and many of them have red markings, usually on their heads. 

Most woodpeckers live in small groups, while some are solitary, and others live in large flocks. Some even live in groups with other species of woodpeckers in Michigan.

They live everywhere from the busiest parts of Grand Rapids and Detroit, to the wildest and most rural stretches of the tip of the mitten.

Here is the list of the 10 species of woodpeckers in Michigan:

  1. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  2. Red-headed Woodpecker
  3. American Three-toed Woodpecker
  4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  5. Downy Woodpecker
  6. Hairy Woodpecker
  7. Pileated Woodpecker
  8. Northern Flicker
  9. Lewis’s Woodpecker
  10. Black-backed Woodpecker

10 Types of Woodpeckers in Michigan

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker

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 a 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 come from? These woodpeckers do actually have red feathers on their bellies, but they are usually covered by white feathers so you can’t actually see them. But they’re there.

These active birds live all across the Eastern United States including Michigan, and you can spot them in the air as they fly by their undulating flight pattern.

Otherwise, look for them in oak and hickory trees, where they like to feed and nest. They’ll also pop up at suet feeders now and then.

2. Red-headed Woodpecker

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 very striking. 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 the Rocky Mountains, but they can be found in all parts east, from Canada to Florida. They winter in Texas and northern Mexico and breed in the northern end of the US and southern Canada. 

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, which is another rare behavior for woodpeckers.

3. American Three-Toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker
Male American Three-toed Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
  • Size: 8.3-9.1 inches
  • Weight: 1.6-2.4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 inches

This woodpecker primarily makes Canada its home, but you will rarely see it pop down to North Dakota, Michigan, and Maine. It also lives year-round in western parts of the country, including Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.

This bird likes to hunt in burned-out areas and forests where beetles have killed lots of trees. It hunts for insects, pulling and stripping away bark until it finds what it is looking for. 

Yes, this bird only has three toes, but you’ll most easily be able to identify it by its coloring. It’s primarily black but it does have white barring on its sides and back, and the chest is white. The male has a bright yellow crown.

4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
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 beautiful yellow-bellied sapsucker migrates and breeds in Michigan, but it doesn’t live there 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 to their bellies, but it can be so faint that you might not be able to identify it.

The birds drill little holes with their beaks and then they wait for the sweet sap to emerge from the tree. They lick this up, as well as 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 in Michigan.

5. Downy Woodpecker

downy woodpecker
Male Downy Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
  • Size: 7 inches long
  • Weight: 0.75-0.99 ounces 
  • Wingspan: 10-12 inches

The smallest woodpecker species in North America, the downy woodpecker lives across Michigan year-round.

You can find this tiny woodpecker in the plains, rural areas, cities, and suburban yards in Michigan.

In the winter, they hang out with chickadees and nuthatches, and they build their nests in the cavity of trees. While they may shift around their habitat range during the seasons, they don’t migrate.

They’re black and white, with distinctly spotted wings and a white breast. Adult males have a bright red cap on the back of their heads that makes them easy to identify.

If you dream of watching the behavior of these common birds, put a suet feeder in your yard. They love them and won’t hesitate to come hang out for a bit so that you can watch them.

Because of their small size, they’re able to access parts of the tree or 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.

6. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Picoides villosus
  • Size: 7.5 inches
  • Weight: 1.4-3.4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13-16 inches

Hairy woodpeckers are sometimes confused with downy woodpeckers, but you can tell them apart because they’re bigger.

They have a long bill, almost the length of their head, which further sets them apart from downy woodpeckers. They are black and white all over their bodies. 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 cities as downy woodpeckers, but you will see them in parks, suburban areas, cemeteries, and other quiet wooded or open areas in Michigan. They will also visit suet feeders in your backyard.

Hairy woodpeckers don’t migrate. They stay in Michigan all year round. They make their nests in the cavities of dead trees. Research published in The Journal of Wildlife Management found that they prefer forests that have recently burned.

Populations have been declining in recent years because they’re losing their habitat, but they also face pressure from invasive birds like European starlings, which take over their nests. 

7. Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker
Male Pileated Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Size: 16-19 inches
  • Weight: 9-14 ounces
  • Wingspan: 30 inches

The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in Michigan and only lives in the northern part of the state in forested areas. They often make their nests in utility poles or high up in tall trees in deadwood. 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 have even been known to chomp on poison ivy berries. You may occasionally see them foraging on the ground for food, but they usually stick to the trees.

These striking birds are mostly black and white, but they are very distinct because of their bright red crest. The males also have a red stripe on the side of their faces. These are larger birds, about the same size as a crow.

The pileated woodpecker doesn’t migrate. It stays in Michigan year after year. They will, however, move their nest if the eggs fall out of it.

The cartoon bird Woody Woodpecker was likely based on this species.

8. Northern Flicker

northern flicker
Male Northern Flicker
  • Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
  • Size: 11-12 inches
  • Weight:  4-6.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16.5-20 inches

The beautiful northern flicker lives in open habitats near trees, as well as in parks and cemeteries. They are a frequent visitor to suet feeders in suburban and urban yards. Unlike some woodpeckers in Michigan, they like to hunt around on the ground rather than in the trees. 

The males, females, and juveniles vary in appearance. They are 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. 

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, the calls of Northern flickers can be heard for a long way. It’s a common sound and once you know how to identify their calls and drumming, it’s easy to tell when they’re around.

They primarily eat ants but they’ll also dine on insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites. There are also reports that they’re capable of catching young bats as they leave the nest.

You can entice them to visit your home by offering a suet feeder in the yard.

Flickers who live in Alaska and Canada will migrate to areas that have higher temperatures in the south during the winter.

Studies show that Northern Flickers can lose their nests to invaders like European starlings.

9. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
  • Size: 10.2-11 inches
  • Weight: 3.1-4.9 ounces
  • Wingspan: 19-.20.5 inches

This medium-sized bird typically lives across the western half of the US, migrating from the northern part of the country to the southern part during the winter. However, when they’re breeding and migrating in the spring, you might spot them in the midwest. 

They don’t dig or peck into trees as most other woodpeckers do. Instead, they hunt for insects crawling around on the bark. 

These lovely woodpeckers stand out with their green and pink feathers and red face with a white neck. It also likes to catch insects mid-air while they’re flying, which sets it apart from other birds. That’s something most woodpeckers don’t do, for the most part.

As fall comes around, this industrious bird collects acorns and other nuts and stuffs them into cavities in trees so that they have food for later.

Pairs mate for life and make nests in excavated trees or utility poles.

10. Black-backed Woodpecker

black backed woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
  • Size: 9.1 inches
  • Weight: 2.1-3.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 inches

Many woodpeckers in Michigan and the rest of North America are some pattern of black and white, often with a red patch on the head. This woodpecker stands out because of its solid black back and white chest. It has a black face with a distinct white stripe. The male has a small yellow crown.

Making its home in burned-out forests across all of Canada and the western US, with a few colonies in areas like northern Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine. 

Its black coloring helps it blend in with the charred trees that it hunts on. It eats beetle larvae and will hang out in recently-burned areas for several years before moving onto more newly burned areas.

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