Types of Woodpecker

Woodpeckers can be found across the globe except for the polar regions and (bizarrely) Australasia. It is an iconic bird with its often stunning plumage and hammering noise. In this post, we will look at bit more into the woodpeckers found across the United States.

Woodpeckers Families

Woodpeckers belong to the Picadae family, within which there are 33 genera and 233 species. In the United States there are 8 genera. Each one has different characteristics and there is a surprising total of 24 species.

We will look at each family and choose 1-2 species from each to demonstrate its qualities


Members of the Family

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Gila Woodpecker
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Lewis’s Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Photo by Imogen Warren

As is often the case, this bird is not accurately named. It is an attractive black and white pattern on the back and buff on the front. A bright red crest helps more with the identification than the ‘red belly’ that is only slightly marked and not usually seen.

This woodpecker is a southeastern bird and can be seen year round as it does not migrate. It can be seen in a number of different environments and it success in adapting makes it one of the most common woodpeckers seen in the U.S.

It is an opportunistic feeder and will eat the usual nuts and berries but also arthropods and small vertebrates.

Song and drumming, recorded by Paul Driver

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Photo by Frank Schulenburg

Less known than the eastern woodpeckers, the Acorn Woodpecker has an unusual pattern with black eye patches. The bird is black on the back and white on the front, blending to black on the breast. A golden throat and face is complemented by a bright red crest.

The Acorn Woodpecker is another non-migratory woodpecker that is resident in the south west and west coast. It is also found throughout Central America and the north of South America.

As the name suggests, this woodpecker just loves acorns! However, it actually has quite a wide ranging diet including insects, sap, some birds, lizards and small mammals.

Song and drumming, recorded by Paul Marvin


Members of the Family

  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  • White-headed Woodpecker
  • Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker (Dryobates arizonae)

Photo by Alan Wilson

This female Arizona Woodpecker is an attractive blend of browns and creams. The solid back gives way to a paler, patterned underside and the head is again patterned. The male is similar but the markings are darker and more striking. He also has a red crest.

Another misnomer, this woodpecker is more common in Mexico and is rarely seen in south Arizona. Where found, it is resident and seen all year round.

The Arizona Woodpecker digs through bark looking for insects and their larvae to eat.

Call recorded by Paul Marvin

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

Photo by Imogen Warren

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most common woodpecker across the U.S. Its black back is split by a long white patch and white patterns on the wings. Black and white patterning on the face is accentuated by the red crest.

The Downy Woodpecker can be found across continental America in all environments except for the very dry southern areas.

It digs through the bark of trees looking for insects but will also eat fruits and seeds.

Call and drumming recorded by Aidan Place


Members of the Family

  • Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Photo by Joshlaymon

The Pileated Woodpecker maybe the only member of its genus but it has the iconic woodpecker look. The mainly black body has white vents along the side and running up the neck and onto the face. The kicker is the bright red crest which really makes this bird stand out.

As can be seen in the range map above, the Pileated Woodpecker is resident and non-migratory in eastern and northwestern America.

This woodpecker, similar to others, eats ants, fruits and nuts.

Call and drumming recorded by Kate Atkins


Members of the Family

  • Black-backed Woodpecker
  • American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)

Photo by pbonenfant

This is a small and uncommon woodpecker with more white on the body than other species. The male, as pictured above, has a golden crown.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker is an uncommon find in woods and forest of the mid and north west.

This woodpecker loves the larvae of the bark and wood-boring beetles.

Call and drumming recorded by Patrice Mathieu


Members of the Family

  • Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Photo by Imogen Warren

This is a common woodpecker of Europe and across Eurasia. It is the expected black and white colors with a red vent and crest.

With less than 20 sightings in Alaska, this is an incredibly rare woodpecker in the United States.

Call and drumming recorded by Falco


Members of the Family

  • Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)

Photo by Arthur A. Allen

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the holy Grail of bird watching. It is considered extinct by many people but still people go from Texas to Florida looking for it. In parts of ancient forests you can still see their excavated holes, which is probably the closest any of us will come to seeing them.

Here is an unconfirmed call recorded in Louisiana in 2022.

??Knocking recorded by Matt Courtman??


Members of the Family

  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Red-breasted Sapsucker
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Williamson’s Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)

Photo by Kevin Cole

The Red-breasted Sapsucker is a striking crimson on the head and neck before reverting to ‘traditional’ woodpecker black and white coloring.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker is the first of the woodpeckers on our list that is migratory. It moves only a short way to further inland for breeding.

As the name suggests, the sapsucker’s diet consists largely of sap. However, it will also take fruit and arthropods.

Call and drumming recorded by Frank Lambert

Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)

Photo by Francesco Veronesi

Another dark, large woodpecker with a yellow blush on belly. This male also has a red patch on the throat. The female is a duller brown.

The Williamson’s Sapsucker has a complex migration patter with non-breed areas in the southwest and Mexico, breeding areas scattered further north and a streak of year round territory in California and Oregon.

This sapsucker is omnivorous and as the resident range suggests, its diet is highly variable.

Call and drumming recorded by Frank Lambert


Members of the Family

  • Northern Flicker
  • Gilded Flicker

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Photo by Hal Moran

An unmistakable pale woodpecker with a beautiful buff breast covered in black spots. The reddy brown throat is marked by a semi-circle of black below. Black blobs run down from the mouth and there is a red streak at the back of the head.

The Northern Flicker is widespread and resident across continental America with a migratory population south which moved north to breed.

This woodpecker primarily eats ants, fruits and seeds.

Call recorded by Scott Olmstead


These woodpeckers are fascinating. I always thought the drumming was to do with hammering away at food but it is all about communicating to potential predators, other woodpeckers and to prospective mates.

From the common Downy Woodpecker to the mystical Ivory-billed Woodpecker, there is a lot to learn and like about these amazing creatures.


How do woodpeckers find food if not by drumming?

That long and tough bill is used to dig around in the bark to pull out insects and larvae. Sapsuckers also have a long, barbed tongue that they use to drink up sticky sap.

How powerful is the woodpecker’s drilling?

The equivalent force if used on you would be enough to give you a concussion several times over!

Which is the loudest woodpecker?

The Pileated Woodpecker is the loudest, probably due to its size.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Types of Doves

Types of Doves

In this post we are looking at doves that are native to the United States

Types of Hawks

Types of Hawks

You would think it would be easy to find the types of Hawks in the United

You May Also Like