Discover All About 8 Brilliant Species of Woodpeckers in Pennsylvania

Of the nearly two-dozen woodpecker species that live in the United States, only seven make their home in Pennsylvania, with one additional species that pops in to visit on occasion.

There are lots of ways to view woodpeckers in their natural habitat, including visiting your local neighborhood parks, state park, or wilderness areas. These birds hang out in forests because they feed in trees, so that’s a good place to start looking. For instance, Cook Forest State Park is full of opportunities to see all of the following species of woodpeckers in Pennsylvania.

If you don’t want to travel, you can also stick a suet feeder out in your yard and draw these fascinating birds to you, instead.

Here are the species you might see in Pennsylvania:

  1. Downy Woodpecker
  2. Pileated Woodpecker
  3. Hairy Woodpecker
  4. Northern Flicker
  5. Black-backed Woodpecker
  6. Red-headed Woodpecker
  7. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

8 Types of Woodpeckers in Pennsylvania

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 smallest woodpecker species in the US, the downy woodpecker is extremely common across the country. It doesn’t migrate but instead makes Pennsylvania its home year-round, which means you might be able to spot it even during the winter.

You can find this itty-bitty woodpecker in rural areas, cities, suburban yards, and wilderness areas. During the wintertime, they flock with other common birds such as chickadees and nuthatches, and they build their nests in the cavity of trees. While they may change their habitat range during the seasons, they don’t migrate far as many birds do.

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 in the wild, put 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 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, much to the dismay of homeowners.

2. 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 every part of Pennsylvania all year round. They often make their nests in utility poles or high up in tall trees that have died. They love to munch on carpenter ants, and they will dig distinct rectangular holes deep into the wood to find them.

They’ll also eat nuts and berries and have even been known to consume poison ivy berries. You may occasionally see them foraging on the ground for food, but they usually hang out in the trees.

These woodpeckers are mostly black and white like many other woodpecker species, but they are 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 and stays in the same area year after year. They will, however, move their nest to a different spot nearby if the eggs fall out of it.

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

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 are sometimes confused with downy woodpeckers, but you can tell them apart because hairy woodpeckers are bigger and they also have a longer bill. Their bill is almost the same length as 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 distinctive woodpeckers aren’t as common in cities as their cousin, the downy woodpecker, but you can still see them in parks, suburban areas, cemeteries, and other quiet wooded or open areas. They also visit suet feeders in suburban backyards.

Hairy woodpeckers don’t migrate during the winter. They 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. 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 northern flicker is one of the common types of woodpeckers in Pennsylvania. It lives in open habitats near trees, as well as in quiet parks and cemeteries. They are a common visitor to suet feeders in suburban and urban yards. You may also see them hunting around on the ground rather than in the trees. 

The males, females, and juveniles all differ in appearance from each other. On top of that, they can look different depending on the region where they live. That means a juvenile in Pennsylvania will look different from one in California. 

Despite their differences, they do have some similarities. 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, you can hear the calls of Northern flickers as they mate and nest. It’s a distinctive sound, and once you know how to identify their calls and drumming, it’s easy to tell when they’re around.

They mostly eat ants, but they’ll dine on insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites if they find them. There are also reports that they can catch young bats as they leave the nest. You can entice them to visit your home by offering a suet feeder in your yard.

Northern flickers that live in Alaska and Canada will migrate to areas that have higher temperatures in the south during the winter. Otherwise, they tend to stay put.

Studies show that Northern Flickers can lose their nests to invaders like European starlings, which is putting pressure on their populations.

5. 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 have some pattern of black and white, often with a red patch on the head or cheeks, which means you have to look closely to tell them apart. This woodpecker is distinctive 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. No red to be found at all.

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

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

This bird is only rarely seen in Pennsylvania, so keep a good eye out.

6. 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 on them and white bodies. Then, they have a deep, dark red head and neck that is so vibrant it looks like velvet. Once you see one, you’ll easily be able to identify them by that beautiful red marking.

The juveniles are brownish-black with white spots on the wings and dull red cheeks.

They don’t live west of the Rocky Mountains, but they can be found in all parts east, from Canada to Florida. They winter in Texas, southern Ohio, and northern Mexico, and breed in the northern end of the US and southern Canada. They live in areas like Pennsylvania year-round.

This is one of the few woodpeckers out there who store food for the winter rather than hunting for fresh stuff in the cold months. They will pack seeds and nuts that they find in the warmer months into bark or holes in trees. They have even been known to stuff food under roof shingles. 

They also hunt their prey, snatching insects out of the air, which is another rare behavior for woodpeckers.

7. 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 distinctive red bellies given their name, but that’s not what you’ll find. Typically, the red-bellied woodpecker has a pale cream belly. 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 on earth did the name come from if they don’t have a red belly? These woodpeckers actually do have red feathers on their stomach area, but white feathers usually cover them up, so you can’t see them.

These are highly active birds that live all across the Eastern United States. You can spot them in the air as they fly by their unique undulating flight pattern.

Otherwise, look for them in oak and hickory trees, where they like to feed and nest. They’ll also visit suet feeders now and then, but not as often as other species.

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 southeast edge of Pennsylvania year-round when they aren’t breeding. Otherwise, they breed in the western half of the state. 

These birds are primarily black and white, with 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.

What about their yellow belly, you’re probably wondering?

The females have a faint yellow coloring to their bellies, but it might be so light that you might not be able to identify it, so don’t rely on that coloring to help you confirm your sighting. The males have a cream belly.

The birds make tiny holes in wood with their beaks, and then they wait for the sweet sap to leak out from the tree. They lick this up with their tongues, snatching up any insects that crawl along and get themselves stuck in the sap in the process.

You might see them feed at backyard suet feeders, but they mostly stick to forested areas.

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