8 Amazing Woodpeckers in South Carolina (with Pictures)

South Carolina extends from the beautiful coastline of the Atlantic to the highland peaks of the Appalachians. In between, there are beautiful parks, wilderness areas, cities, and forests. That means that woodpecker lovers have multiple opportunities to see the eight different species that make their home in the state.

Congaree National Park, for instance, is one of the few places where you can regularly find the rare Red-cockaded woodpecker. Francis Marion National Forest, on the other hand, is an excellent place to see all eight species on this list. 

But don’t worry if you can’t go exploring. You can find several of the birds on this list in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and all areas in between.

Here is the list of species of woodpeckers in South Carolina:

  1. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  2. Downy Woodpecker
  3. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
  4. Northern Flicker
  5. Hairy Woodpecker
  6. Pileated Woodpecker
  7. Red-Bellied Sapsucker
  8. Red-Headed Woodpecker

8 Types of Woodpeckers in South Carolina

1. Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Photo Credit: Gary Leavens by CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Dryobates borealis

Size: 7.9-9.1 inches

Weight: 1.5-1.8 ounces

Wingspan: 14.2 inches

This non-migratory woodpecker species lives year-round in its habitat, which includes the southern states of the US from Virginia down the coast to Florida and as far west as the eastern edge of Texas. That means you can find it any part of the year in South Carolina. However, they only live in the east part of the state.

You might expect this bird to have a dramatic red mark, given its name. But actually, only the males have any red at all, and it’s just a tiny stripe on its cheek. Don’t try to identify this bird by this little streak, however. It’s pretty much impossible to see unless you’re right up close.

The rest of the bird is black and white with barred stripes on the wings and a mottled pattern on the chest. The head is white with a black crown and stripes down their cheeks that extend down their necks. The males and females look similar.

This bird has been losing its habitat due to logging and suburban spread and is on the conservation red watch list. It has been endangered since 1970. It lives in old-growth, long-leaf pine forests, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see this in your backyard. You’ll have to go out looking.

Be aware that many of its habitats are protected and closed to public access. Bird watchers might be able to obtain permission to search for them because experts want to know about any bird that is sighted.

2. 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 South Carolina, but its tiny size doesn’t make it hard for you to find. That’s because it’s a bold little bird and not too afraid of people. It’s also one of the most common woodpeckers, so the chances are good that you’ll be able to see one or more in South Carolina.

Another reason that they’re so easy to spot is that they don’t migrate. Instead, they stay in their home year-round, which means you can find these woodpeckers even during the winters in South Carolina when some other birds head south.

The downy woodpecker lives everywhere in South Carolina, including 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.

Hang a suet feeder in your yard to attract them. They’re the most frequent visitor of suet feeders of all the different woodpeckers in South Carolina.

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.

3. 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 yellow-bellied sapsucker only comes to South Carolina during the nonbreeding season. When they visit, you can find them anywhere in the state.

These birds are primarily black and white, with white bellies and black and white barred wings and backs. 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.

These sapsuckers drill tiny holes into trees and other wood with their beaks, and then they wait for the sweet sap to leak from the tree. They lick this up, along with any insects that crawl along and get 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.

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

These are the second largest woodpeckers in South Carolina, and they’re another one of the most common types of woodpeckers in South Carolina. They’re quite distinct looking, so they aren’t difficult to identify.

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 (including South Carolina) 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 for a long way off. 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 feed on other insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites. This is definitely a bird you want to have around if you have a pest problem! There are also instances of them catching young bats as they leave their 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 South Carolina all year round.

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

5. 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 similar to downy woodpeckers, but they’re easy to tell apart because Hairy woodpeckers are larger. They also have longer bills, which are almost the same length as their head. 

They’re black and white, as are many woodpeckers. You can tell the genders from one another because the adult males have a little red spot on the back of their heads.

These pretty birds aren’t as common in South Carolina as their cousin, the downy woodpecker. However, you can still see them in parks, suburban areas, cemeteries, and other quiet wooded or open areas. They also visit suet feeders (just like downies).

Hairy woodpeckers don’t migrate during the winter 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.

6. 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 South Carolina year-round, and they prefer forests with lots of tall trees. 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 prefer to 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, and are the largest woodpeckers in South Carolina.

Pileated woodpeckers don’t migrate. They stay in the same general area for their entire life. They will, however, move their nest to someplace nearby if their eggs fall out of it.

The cartoon bird Woody Woodpecker was rumored to have been based on this species. It’s easy to see the resemblance when comparing the famous comic bird to these 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 bright red bellies given their name, but that’s not true. 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 well.

These active woodpeckers live across the eastern United States, including South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. You can identify 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 in gardens and yards.

8. 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 beautiful birds. They have solid black wings with a big white patch and white bodies. To top it off, 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 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 in South Carolina year-round. You might be able to entice them to your yard by offering them some citrus or suet.

They’re one of the few woodpeckers out there that 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, which homeowners are understandably not crazy about. 

They also hunt their prey, snatching insects out of the air as they fly. That’s unusual behavior for woodpeckers, which usually snack on crawling insects.

Also Read: Owls in South Carolina

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