Woodpeckers in Minnesota (Explore 11 Species to Spot)

Minnesota can get chilly in the winter, but that doesn’t stop woodpeckers from making this their year-round home. Nine of these species stay in Minnesota year-round despite the chilly winters. Two other species visit during the warmer months but travel out of the state when things get cold.

You don’t even have to leave your house to catch a glimpse of many of these species. They’ll come snack at suet feeders, especially during the winter. For some of the more rare species, you can bundle up well and hike to one of Minnesota’s many national and state parks, monuments, and wilderness areas. Or just hang out on the coast of Lake Superior with a pair of binoculars.

The Blue Mounds State Park is a particularly excellent place to see woodpeckers in Minnesota.

Here are the species you might see in Minnesota:

  1. Downy Woodpecker
  2. Black-Backed Woodpecker
  3. Hairy Woodpecker
  4. Red-Headed Woodpecker
  5. Northern Flicker
  6. Red-Bellied Sapsucker
  7. American Three-Toed Woodpecker
  8. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
  9. Pileated Woodpecker
  10. Lewis’s Woodpecker
  11. Williamson’s Sapsucker

11 Types of Woodpeckers in Minnesota

1. 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 downy woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in Minnesota (and the rest of the US) and is extremely common across North America. But that doesn’t mean it’s hard to spot. It’s probably the most common woodpecker in all of Minnesota. 

It doesn’t migrate but instead stays in its home year-round, which means you can spot it even during the harsh winters in Minnesota.

You can find this itty-bitty woodpecker pretty much anywhere. It lives in rural areas, cities, suburban yards, and wilderness areas. It doesn’t mind the desert or a nice wooded area. 

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 want to watch these birds (and many other woodpeckers) in the wild, place a suet feeder in your yard. They love them and will come to hang out for a bit so that you can observe their antics.

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. 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 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, this woodpecker also has a few colonies in areas like northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Maine

Like its cousin the three-toed woodpecker, the populations increase during the winter in Minnesota as woodpeckers from Canada escape the north for warmer southern areas.

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.

3. 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 look a lot like downy woodpeckers, but you can tell them apart because hairy woodpeckers are bigger and have a longer bill. Their bill is 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 Minnesota 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 put all year. 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 been burned recently.

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

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 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 the Rocky Mountains, but they can be found in all parts east, from Canada to Florida. These woodpeckers breed in northern Minnesota, and winter in the southern and western parts of the state.

Many populations leave Minnesota for warmer areas during the winter months. For that reason, they may be harder to spot during the winter months. If you do see them around, offer 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. That’s uncommon behavior for woodpeckers and makes for an interesting show if you can catch it.

5. 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 distinctive northern flicker woodpecker lives in open habitats near trees, as well as in parks and cemeteries across Minnesota. 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. 

The males, females, and juveniles vary in appearance. 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 Minnesota.

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. It’s a distinct 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 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 Alaska and Canada will migrate to areas that have higher temperatures during the winter, but these woodpeckers may stick around Minnesota all year round.

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

6. 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. 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 are usually covered by white feathers so you can’t see them.

These active birds live all across the Eastern United States, including Minnesota, 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. 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 head down to northern states such as Maine, Michigan, and Minnesota, where it hangs out in the northern part of the state. It also lives year-round in western parts of the country, including Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Along with its close relative, the black-backed woodpecker, this is the most northerly species in Minnesota and populations increase in the winter when birds in Canada head south to Minnesota for the winter.

This bird likes to feed in burned-out areas and forests where fires and beetles have killed off the trees. It hunts for insects, pulling and stripping away bark until it finds those juicy beetles. 

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

8. 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 lives in the eastern half of the US and it will head to the southern part of the country in the winter and will stay in states like Minnesota during the warmer months. However, some flocks, and particularly young birds, will remain in the state 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 to their bellies, but it can be so indistinct 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, 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.

9. 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 lives in Minnesota year-round. 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 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 Minnesota.

The pileated woodpecker doesn’t migrate. It stays in the same area 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.

10. 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 lives across the western half of the US, migrating from the northern part of the country to the southern part during the winter. However, during the breeding season, you can rarely see them pop over to northern midwestern states like Minnesota. 

They don’t dig or peck into the wood, but find insects crawling around on the bark. 

These pretty woodpeckers are green and pink with a red face and white neck, which makes them stand out among other species. 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.

11. Williamson’s Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus

Size: 8.3-9.8 inches

Weight: 1.6-1.9 ounces

Wingspan:  17 inches

Like other sapsuckers, this one drills small holes into trees. Then they wait for the sap to start leaking out and they drink it. They also eat ants and other small insects.

They prefer coniferous forests and they live in the mountains of western North America. However, there have been isolated populations spotted in Minnesota and Illinois. They like to spend their time in the higher elevation forests and drop down to lower elevations during the winter. However, in the 1990s, scientists found that this sapsucker had extended its range as far south as Baja California.

Large for a sapsucker, the males are mostly black with white patches on the wings and a red throat. The females have horizontal barring on their backs. They also have brown heads. The sexes appear so different from one another that scientists originally thought that they were different species. 

The males carve out holes in trees to create a nest for the female to lay her eggs in.

Also Read: Owls in MN

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