7 Types of Woodpeckers in Tennessee (with Pictures)

Tennessee is a beautiful state with the majestic Great Smoky National Park acting as a majestic crown jewel. But there’s more to the Volunteer state than just that. It’s jam-packed with beauty from the rugged Unaka Mountains region to the Cumberland Plateau.

Woodpeckers are one of the many types of birds that make Tennessee their home. Of the seven species you can find there, only one doesn’t stick around the state all year-round—the other visits during the non-breeding season.

You don’t have to go hiking in the mountains to get your eyes on woodpeckers, however. Even those who live in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga can see most of the following species.

If you want to increase your chances of seeing woodpeckers in Tennessee, hang a suet feeder in your yard. Woodpeckers can’t get enough of them.

Here is the list of species of woodpeckers in Tennessee:

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

7 Types of Woodpeckers in Tennessee

1. 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 Tennessee year-round. 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 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 mostly black and white, and 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 Tennessee.

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.

2. 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? The woodpeckers do have red feathers on their bellies, but they’re covered by white feathers, so you can’t actually see them. They’re there, hidden away, though.

These active birds live all across the Eastern United States including Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia. You can spot them in the air as they fly by their undulating flight pattern. They live in Tennessee year-round.

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.

3. 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 Tennessee, just the size of a chickadee. But its tiny size doesn’t make it difficult to spot. That’s because it’s brave and isn’t afraid of people. It’s probably the most common woodpecker to see in all of Tennessee, so the chances are good that you’ll be able to find one.

This cute little bird doesn’t migrate. Instead, it stays in its home year-round, which means you can spot these woodpeckers 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 watching them, hang a suet feeder in your yard. They’re the most frequent visitor of suet feeders of all the different woodpeckers in Tennessee.

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.

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 Tennessee. 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. 

They’re one of the most common woodpeckers in Tennessee, but they don’t all look the same.

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 (like Tennessee) and red in the western half of the US. These are the second largest woodpeckers in Tennessee.

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 dine on other insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites. This is definitely a bird you want to have around! 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 northern climates like Alaska and Canada will migrate to places with warmer temperatures during the winter, but these woodpeckers stick around Tennessee 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 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, which are almost the same length as their head. 

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

These lovely woodpeckers aren’t as common in Tennessee as their cousin, the downy woodpecker. However, 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.

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. 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 pale 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 year-round in Tennessee. You can entice them to your yard during the winter by offering 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; 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.

7. 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 lives in the eastern half of the US and heads to the southern part of the country in the winter. They stay in Tennessee during the non-breeding season, but they rarely venture to the east part of the state.

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 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 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 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 Tennessee

1 thought on “7 Types of Woodpeckers in Tennessee (with Pictures)”

  1. Why are “Birding” sites so reluctant to blame another bird for the demise of another bird species? Why? When it’s the truth.
    The Red Headed Woodpecker will soon be extinct in this world, and it is because of the European Starling, not habitat loss. I am so tired of hearing that excuse…habitat loss. With all the droughts, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, disease, insects, beavers, and logging, etc. there is no wonder there are so many dead trees these days. Between 2006 and 2016 (for 10 years) I documented European Starlings (which is a highly invasive bird species) improperly brought into the United States in 1890 by a Shakespearean lunatic obsessed with Shakespeare’s writings….literally throwing the Woodpeckers out of their newly built home. The Starlings were very persistent, and ganged up 5, then 6, then 7 and the pair of Red Heads stood no chance of successfully nesting all April thru Sept. Starlings are truly a Bully Bird whose body mass is 27 times more dense than that of a Seagull, and a gull is a much larger bird. Also, European Starlings are more intelligent than all the Cavity nesting woodpeckers, but here is the key. Red Headed Woodpeckers have existed in North America for the past 2.5 million years plus. Fossils of the Red Headed Woodpecker have been found in Florida to Virginia to Illinois and areas in between those states which put them into the plistocene age. Mark My word…..Because Red Headed Woodpeckers did not Evolve all those years competing with the Starling the Red Headed Woodpecker will become extinct in near future the way it is declining so rapidly in the last 40 years due to European Starlings. We now have millions of dead trees so it is not habitat loss. Petition the US Fish and Wildlife Service and file 100’s of FOIA’s (Freedom of Information Act and ask Government why they have not listed this woodpecker as a Threatened species when Canada has done so years ago. Thank You, Dan


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