woodpeckers in Massachusetts

Woodpeckers in Massachusetts: Top 7 Species with Pictures

Forests constitute almost 60% of the total size of the state of Massachusetts, which puts it on top of the charts of tree-laden states in the United States.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that there are several species of woodpeckers in Massachusetts. They keep searching for food and breeding in its deciduous forests and woodlands. There are precisely seven species of woodpeckers in the state. Read on for more information about their types, habitats, diets, etc.

Different Species of Woodpeckers in Massachusetts

There are seven different species of woodpeckers that live or breed in the state of Massachusetts. These species stay within the abundant forests and wetlands in the state. The woodpecker species of Massachusetts are:

1. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers

yellow bellied sapsucker in massachusetts
  • Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus varius
  • Length: 7.1-8.7 in
  • Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in

The Yellow-Bellied Woodpeckers are small with short bills and long wings. Despite their name, these woodpeckers aren’t all yellow. They’re mostly black and white with some pale yellow markings on the undersides.

This bird features a red throat, a bright red forehead, and white stripes down the sides of its neck.

These species spend most of their time in the deciduous forests in Massachusetts. Look for a horizontal row of sap wells on a tree if you want to spot them. They tend to dig those to suck the sap out of the trees. They revisit their cavities frequently to suck on the oozing juice and consume the insects attracted to it.

Top Tip: The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker mostly stays around specific trees, like hickory and yellow birch. They lay about five or six eggs and nest in the cavities of trees.

This breeding population is widespread in the western part of the state.

Birds of this species are known for their cat-like calls and heavy drumming. They tend to get louder during spring and can be extremely noisy.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a migratory bird that can be seen throughout the state during migration. It sometimes appears during the winter as well, but that’s a rare sighting.

2. The Hairy Woodpecker

hairy woodpecker portrait
  • Scientific Name: Leuconotopicus Villosus
  • Length: 7.1-10.2 in
  • Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in

The Hairy Woodpeckers are medium-sized and are mostly attracted to fully matured forests. This makes them less widespread in the state of Massachusetts than the Downy Woodpeckers.

This species has a patterned black and white plumage and features a large white patch on the back. The adult males of this species have a red streak at the back of their heads.

This bird is sometimes confused with the Downy Woodpecker. However, there are some fine differences to tell them apart. For instance, the Hairy Woodpecker is larger with a longer bill. Moreover, you can recognize the Hairy Woodpecker through its explosive-like peak calls or powerful whinnying sound.

Birds of this species feed primarily on wood-born insects, such as ants and bark beetle larvae. They can also consume millipedes, pupae, spiders, bees, and caterpillars.

They usually stick to tall trees, searching for leftover insects or sab in the holes that other woodpecker species leave behind.

3. The Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker on ground
  • Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Length: 15.8-19.3 in
  • Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in

The Pileated Woodpeckers are easily identifiable as the largest among woodpecker species in the state of Massachusetts.

They feature bright large red triangular crests on top of their heads and bold white stripes down the sides of their necks. There’s also an additional red stripe on the cheek of the adult male.

Top Tip: You can identify this woodpecker by its shrill call that reaches far distances. It also creates a loud drumming noise while pecking into trees with its long sharp bill.

This species creates rectangular holes and frequently excavates to look for carpenter ants. It also consumes wild fruits, berries, and nuts.

The Pileated Woodpecker creates a new nest every year within the cavities of dead trees. They typically lay between three and five white eggs.

The birds of this species can most commonly be found across the conifer forests of Massachusetts. However, they can also be seen around the edges of large cities.

Contrary to popular belief, this species prefers drilling into dead trees or softer wood logs rather than live ones.

4. The Northern Flicker

Flicker woodpecker on a branch
  • Scientific Name:Colaptes auratus
  • Length: 11.0-12.2 in
  • Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in

Unlike the traditional black and white coloration of woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are the only ones with distinctive gray-brown plumage. They usually stand out as the only species in the state of Massachusetts that features such colors.

The Northern Flickers are large birds, and their size is further intensified by their big bills. They’re curved towards the end, giving them a distinct look. These birds also have round heads, but they’re slim overall.

Flickers have dark highlights here and there on their undersides. Additionally, their wings are topped off by yellow streaks that contrast brightly against their feathers. Sometimes, when they fly, you can see a yellow flash of light.

These birds are known for their repetitive piercing calls and tree drumming. You may also enjoy seeing them walking vertically on tree trunks due to their zygodactyl feet.

The Northern Flickers can usually be spotted near the ground foraging for beetles and ants, although that behavior isn’t common among woodpeckers.

5. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker on trunk
  • Scientific Name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Length: 9.4 in
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers feature the typical black and white overall plumage with markings on their backs. Surprisingly, their bellies can hardly be considered pale red, and they only have red markings on their heads. The adult female of this species doesn’t have any red on her crown, just a red nape.

This species is a recent resident of the state of Massachusetts. The birds have only become native to the state a couple of decades back. Now, you can spot this bird throughout the entire state. They dwell in heavily forested areas.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are adaptable birds that can be spotted in urban settings. Therefore, you can attract them to your bird feeder, especially if you live near a wooded area.

Top Tip: Another difference between males and females of this species is their tongues. While both have long sticky tongues, those of males are longer and wider. This allows them to forage for food in different areas to feed their chicks.

These birds also make different loud sounds, such as chuckles, trills, and deep drumming on trees, to communicate with one another.

6. The Downy Woodpecker

Male Downy Woodpecker
  • Scientific Name: Picoides pubescens
  • Length: 5.5-6.7 in
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in

This is the most common woodpecker species you’d see in Massachusetts. Usually referred to as “downies” by locals of Massachusetts, the Downy woodpecker has acquired its name from the soft texture on its back.

The Downy woodpecker is the smallest in North America. It’s mostly black with a distinct black and white striping pattern on the back and horizontal bars on the wings. It also has a white patch on the back. Male Downies have a red bit on the back of their heads, which people usually use to identify them from females.

Downy woodpeckers look like the Hairy Woodpeckers because of the distinct patterns on their plumage. However, they’re much smaller and have smaller bills. They also feature white spots on their tail feathers, which are not present in the Hairy Woodpecker.

These birds are highly adaptable to different habitats. You can spot them in open woodlands, urban yards, forest edges, and even your backyard if you know how to attract them. Unlike most woodpeckers, the Downies not only drill into trees but also forage in long grass and weeds.

If you’re a bird lover, you can spend hours on end watching the Downy Woodpeckers. They are usually spotted among other birds. However, their high-pitched sound and loud rattles and peeps distinguish them.

When downies decide to lay eggs, they stay in the cavities of dead trees. They can lay 3–8 eggs on average. As for their food, they mainly prefer larvae and nuts, but they won’t say no to berries or grains.

7. The Red-headed Woodpecker

red headed woodpecker feeding
  • Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Length: 7.5-9.1 in
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.5 in

This is the rarest woodpecker species to see in the state of Massachusetts. It only sometimes breeds in the western part of the state. They’re typically found in pine plantations, beaver swamps, wetlands, and other agricultural areas.

The Red-Headed Woodpeckers are medium-sized. They’re easily distinguished with their bold colors. They feature bright red heads, powerful bills, and short tails.

Their plumage is distinct with black upperparts, white bellies, and wings that are half black and half white. Interestingly, this bird develops its red head in adulthood. Juveniles have rather brown heads, so you may think they belong to a different species.

Author Note: You can also locate these woodpeckers by their sharp “wee-ah” sounds and their deep drumming on trees. They’re known for their shrill call.

Unlike other woodpeckers, this unique bird can catch insects in midflight. Therefore, they don’t rely only on insects within cavities. In fact, insects such as honeybees, midges, grasshoppers, and beetles form only one-third of this bird’s typical diet.

They also consume nuts, seeds, wild fruit, and small rodents. These hunter birds catch food and store it in tree crevices and cover it with tree bark for later use.

In the event of defending their territory, Red-headed Woodpeckers can become fierce. They may even destroy or remove the eggs of other birds if they had to.

They nest in tree cavities and may even reuse other birds’ nesting sites. These birds typically lay four or five eggs.

Unfortunately, the number of red-headed woodpeckers has been declining in the states. They’re suffering a loss of habitat, which is causing a major decline in their populations, almost reaching 70% in some states.

Damage by Woodpeckers

According to the State of Massachusetts, woodpeckers can cause damage to buildings made of pine, cedar, fir, plywood, or redwood sidings. They attempt to drill into wood, especially naturally stained or dark-colored wood that is gray or brown.

Author Note: Woodpeckers also damage vinyl sidings, wooden utility poles, and aluminum flashing. If woodpeckers drill into your building, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s infested with insects. However, if you notice that more than one woodpecker has visited your building, it might be a sign of infestation.

You shouldn’t relocate, possess, or destroy woodpeckers, their nests, or their eggs. This is considered illegal under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state laws that strictly protect woodpeckers.

However, the state of Massachusetts can grant a legal permit to kill woodpeckers under a co-signed federal and state Migratory Bird Depredation Permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Therefore, to avoid damage, you should cover any damaged or infested areas in your building. You can also discourage woodpeckers by scaring them away. Scare tactics include:

  • Clapping
  • Shouting
  • Loud Music
  • Spraying Water
  • Hanging reflective Mylar tape
  • Looping aluminum pie plates on strings

To Wrap It Up

Massachusetts houses seven different species of woodpeckers. They live in forests, wetlands, and even urban areas.

Some species of woodpeckers in Massachusetts can be easily attracted to your birdfeeder. They’re highly adaptable and can live in urban and suburban areas.

The smallest woodpecker in Massachusetts and North America is the Downy Woodpecker, while the largest is the Pileated Woodpecker.

Other woodpecker species in the state of Massachusetts are the Red-Headed Woodpeckers, the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-Bellied Woodpecker, and the Hairy Woodpecker.

In the state of Massachusetts, woodpeckers may cause damage to your building. However, they are protected under state acts and laws. To prevent such damage, you can use one of the scare tactics or simply cover any damaged or infested areas in your building.


Where is a good place to see woodpeckers in Massachusetts?

Here is a good spot recommended by Audubon – the Quabbin Reservoir. Here, you can hopefully find the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Pileated Woodpecker.

What is the most common woodpecker in Massachusetts?

The Downy Woodpecker is the most common woodpecker in the state.

Where can I found out more about local woodpeckers in Massachusetts?

To find out where recent sightings of woodpecker have been, try eBird. You can search for the latest sightings or particular species or what has been seen in a certain area.

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