woodpeckers in Michigan

Woodpeckers in Michigan: Top 10 in the Great Lake State

Michigan, with its dual peninsulas, is a one-of-a-kind state with amazing biodiversity. That’s why it’s an ideal habitat for thousands of insects, animals, and plants. In fact, Michigan is home to over 450 species of birds.

From marshes and prairies to savannas and forests, Michigan is a fantastic state for birdwatching, especially for spotting woodpeckers.

The Great Lake State is home to five different woodpecker species, which can be seen year-round all over the state. Five other species spend their breeding seasons in Michigan or migrate through the state.

In this article, we take an in-depth look at the 10 species of woodpeckers in Michigan. By the end of this article, you should have the essential know-how to tell the difference between each woodpecker species and where to find them in Michigan, so be sure to stick around!

10 Woodpecker Species That You Can See in Michigan

Five of the ten woodpecker species found in Michigan are year-round residents. The remaining five species are divided into seasonal visitors and occasional passers-by.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Great Lake State’s 10 woodpecker species!

1.  Downy Woodpecker

downy woodpecker on fence
  • Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
  • Length: 5.5 to 6.7 inches
  • Weight: 0.7 to 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 9.8 to 11.8 inches
  • Lifespan: 2 to 4 years (wild); 11 years (oldest recorded)

Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest woodpeckers in North America, are one of the most common woodpecker species in Michigan.

Apart from being small, Downy Woodpeckers have completely white undersides and mostly black backs. They have a white patch right in the middle of their backs, and their wings are checkered black and white.

Because they don’t migrate and have a high tolerance for cold temperatures, these tiny birds can be seen throughout the state all year.

They often inhabit open woodlands, fields, parks, and orchards. They can also be seen with other small birds around bird feeders in suburban backyards.

However, Downy Woodpeckers almost exclusively live in dead trees or dead parts of trees. They also seek food in dead trees because many insects live and lay their larvae in them.

While Downy Woodpeckers’ diet is similar to that of other woodpecker species, the way they eat is quite distinct. These adorable acrobats will hang upside down small tree branches or tall weeds to eat insects that are difficult to reach.

So, if you ever come across a little black and white woodpecker hanging upside down from a branch or a bird feeder, it’s most likely a Downy Woodpecker.

2.  Hairy Woodpecker

hairy woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Dryobates villosus
  • Length: 7.1 to 10.2 inches
  • Weight: 1.4 to 3.4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13 to 16.1 inches
  • Lifespan: 4 to 11 years (wild); 15 years (oldest recorded)

Hairy Woodpeckers, which are slightly larger and less common than Downy Woodpeckers, are also year-round residents in Michigan.

Due to their uncanny resemblance in appearance, they’re frequently confused with Downy Woodpeckers.

These black and white woodpeckers nest and feed in large trees found in woodlands, woodlots, parks, farmlands, and cemeteries. They prefer dead trees and decaying tree limbs because they attract bark beetles, which are Hairy Woodpeckers’ favorite food.

Top Tip: They also eat insects and seeds, just like Downy Woodpeckers, which is why you’ll often see these two species at bird feeders together.

While Hairy Woodpeckers often forage for food themselves, they can be somewhat of scavengers.

These rambunctious woodpeckers will sometimes follow Pileated Woodpeckers to eat the insects that the larger woodpecker leaves behind in deep holes. They also sometimes drink the sap leaking from the holes made by sapsuckers.

3.  Northern Flicker

northern flicker in sunlight
  • Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
  • Length: 11 to 12.2 inches
  • Weight: 3.9 to 5.6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16.5 to 20.1 inches

Lifespan: 5 to 6 years (wild); 9 years (oldest yellow-shafted Flicker recorded); 8 years (oldest red-shafted Flicker recorded)

Another year-round resident of Michigan, you can find these relatively large woodpeckers all over Michigan. Northern Flickers mostly inhabit forest edges and open woodlands. They’re also frequent backyard feeder visitors and huge fans of birdbaths.

If you want to attract them to your backyard, consider setting up a suet feeder or adding sunflower seeds to a hopper feeder.

Northern Flickers are one of the most brilliantly colored woodpecker species. In Michigan, you’re most likely to come across the Yellow-Shafted Northern Flickers. They have a cheetah-like underside, a red nape, and a black bib on the side of their heads.

It’s unusual for woodpeckers to be on the ground, but that’s where Northern Flickers often are. Instead of drilling trees for food, these peculiar birds burrow into the ground in search of ants and beetles. So, don’t be surprised if you scare one off the ground while out walking.

Northern Flickers mainly feed on ants, but they also feed on flies, moths, snails, and butterflies. In the winter when insect populations decrease, Northern Flickers eat seeds and a variety of berries.

4.  Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Winter Red Bellied Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Length: 9.4 inches
  • Weight: 2 to 3.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13 to 16.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 12 years (wild); 12 years (oldest recorded)

While Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found all year in Michigan, they’re more common in the southern half of the state, especially near deciduous trees. They prefer forests or suburban areas with large trees.

Author Note: Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a red blush on their bellies, hence the name. Their most distinct trait, however, is the bright red cap that extends from their beaks to their napes. For females, it’s a red patch on the back of their necks.

Aside from that, these medium-sized woodpeckers have a tan-white underside and a black-and-white back that has a similar pattern to that of the Downy Woodpeckers’.

Their main diet consists of insects and other invertebrates, but they’ve been known to eat smaller birds, bird eggs, fish, and even frogs. They’re also dominant birds at bird feeders, easily fending off invasive birds by aggressively stabbing them with their beaks.

5.  Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker on tree
  • Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Length: 15.8 to 19.3 inches
  • Weight: 8.8 to 12.3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 26 to 29.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 12 to 13 years (wild); 13 years (oldest recorded)

Pileated Woodpeckers, the largest woodpecker species in North America, are present year-round in Michigan, but they’re less common in the southeastern region. They can be seen around mature forests with many dead and fallen trees, where they find food.

They’re mostly black except for the white stripes extending from the side of their heads to the wings’ underside. Along with their size, the large red crest on top of their heads is the most noticeable feature.

Pileated Woodpeckers excavate for food in such a thorough and loud manner that they attract other birds. They can also drill holes too deep that the tree splits in half.

If you see triangular holes in trees, they could be the work of a Pileated Woodpecker. These birds eat nuts, seeds, fruit, and berries, which is why they can be found in wooded suburbs and backyards.

6.  Red-Headed Woodpecker

red-headed woodpecker in illinois
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Length: 7.5 to 9.1 inches
  • Weight: 2 to 3.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 9.9 years (wild); 9 years (oldest recorded)

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a deep crimson red head from the neck up. It has a jet-black back and a snow-white underside.

Top Tip: These redheads spend their breeding season in the upper peninsula but migrate to the south of Michigan in winter.

Woodpeckers are typically territorial, but the Red-headed Woodpecker is the most aggressive. This species will fight other birds, particularly cavity-nesting birds, which often bear the brunt of the Red-headed Woodpecker’s wrath.

These redheads aren’t only aggressive toward other birds. They’re also especially pugnacious toward each other and frequently fight, which is why they’re often solitary.

7.  Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

yellow-bellied sapsucker close up
  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
  • Length: 7.1 to 8.7 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 to 1.9 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13.4 to 15.8 inches
  • Lifespan: 4 to 6 years(wild); 7 years (oldest recorded)

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, as the name suggests, have yellow bellies. They also have a yellow tinge to their black and white plumage. Male sapsuckers have a red crown and a white neck, whereas females have a red crown and a white neck.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, like Red-headed Woodpeckers, migrate to the north of Michigan in the summer during breeding season and south in the winter.

These sap wells left by sapsuckers attract hummingbirds and other sap-drinking birds such as bats, squirrels, and porcupines.

Hummingbirds have even developed a symbiotic relationship with sapsuckers, timing their spring migration to coincide with the arrival of sapsuckers. This way, the hummingbirds can drink sap and feed on the insects that are drawn to the sap.

8.  American Three-Toed Woodpecker

American Three-Toed Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
  • Length: 8.3 to 9.1 inches
  • Weight: 1.6 to 2.4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 14.6 to 15.3 inches
  • Lifespan: uncertain, with a maximum lifespan of six years (wild); 11 years (oldest recorded)

Because the upper peninsula is in their range, American Three-toed Woodpeckers can sometimes be spotted there year-round. They’re medium-sized and have black and ashen white plumage. The males have a bright yellow patch on top of their heads that the females lack.

Top Tip: You’ll rarely, if ever, see an American Three-toed Woodpecker at a backyard bird feeder as they mostly feed on Spruce beetle larvae in burned forests.

Thanks to these dietary choices, these three-toed birds are a boon to the environment, as these beetles are pest-like and can cause a lot of damage if left unchecked.

What’s more, these three-toed birds are opportunistic feeders that’ll exploit insect outbreaks to the point of shifting habitats to take advantage of short-term insect abundance.

9.  Black-Backed Woodpecker

Black-Backed Woodpecker in Michigan
  • Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
  • Length: 9.1 inches
  • Weight: 2.1 to 3.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 15.8 to 16.5
  • Lifespan: 6 to 8 years (wild); unknown (oldest recorded)

The Black-backed Woodpecker is another three-toed bird that’s not native to Michigan but can be seen on occasion in some regions. It’s sometimes spotted in Michigan’s upper peninsula but rarely in the lower peninsula.

This medium-sized bird has a black back and white undersides, as well as a yellow patch on top of its head. Because of its size, color, and rarity, this woodpecker is difficult to spot.

What’s more, they prefer to live and feed in newly burned forests, where there are wood-boring beetle larvae. They also feed on ants, spiders, snails, and aphids.

Interestingly, Black-backed Woodpeckers don’t reuse nests, preferring to drill a new nest hole with each breeding cycle. Other birds that rely on ready-made nest holes take advantage of these abandoned nests.

10.   Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis woodpecker sitting on tree and making hole
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
  • Length: 10.2 to 11 inches
  • Weight: 3.1 to 4.9 ounces
  • Wingspan: 19.3 to 20.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 3 years (wild); 10 years (oldest recorded)

Last on our list is the occasional visitor Lewis’s Woodpecker, which can sometimes be spotted in late spring to early summer in Detroit. They usually settle down to breed in spacious pine forests, burned-out forests, and open woodlands. Otherwise, they’re constantly on the move.

Author Note: The Lewis’s Woodpecker is a uniquely colored bird with a pink belly and gray ring around its neck. Its back and head are an iridescent green, but its face is dark red.

Instead of drilling trees for food, the Lewis’s Woodpecker prefers to perch high and spend long periods watching for flying insects to catch mid-flight. In addition to insects, Lewis’s eat fruits, nuts, and grains.

They’re also one of the few woodpecker species that store food in trees during the fall and winter.

In Conclusion

Michigan is a woodpecker haven due to its unique geography that creates a variety of environments that attract numerous fascinating woodpecker species.

No matter where you are in Michigan, you can see flocks of woodpeckers around bird feeders, parks, open woodlands, and any place with dietary offerings and nesting cavities.

What’s more, while most birds and animals migrate in the winter, many woodpecker species don’t migrate or take shelter.

That’s why many Michigan residents get to enjoy the trademark drumming sound of woodpeckers year-round.

So, whether you live in Michigan or are planning a trip there soon, be prepared with binoculars or a camera in case you spot one of those lovely feathered wood-drummers!


Where is a good place to see woodpeckers in Michigan?

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory – Lewis’s Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker
Warren Dunes State Park – Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker

What is the most common woodpecker in Michigan?

The Downy Woodpecker is the most common species in Michigan.

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

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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