Woodpeckers are cool and adorable birds. Watching them is an eye-opener of the Woodpecker’s uniqueness. Their hunting style is a sight to watch. They look like they are standing upright on vertical tree sides. Woodpeckers support themselves with their strong tail feathers and back toes. It’s like a kickstand posture.
Fun Facts About Woodpeckers
Most common woodpecker
The Downy Woodpecker is the most common in North America. It is also the smallest species of woodpecker. You’ll easily spot the Downy woodpeckers around orchards and woodlands. Since their preferred habitats are changing, they are now migrating to residential and suburban areas.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the rarest. It is thought to be extinct, disappearing from documented sightings within the past decade. There are ongoing efforts to try and rediscover the species. Currently, the results are not promising.
The Pileated Woodpecker is a conspicuous and big bird. Its red crest makes it stand out. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was the closest one to its size. However, it does not make the cut because of its possible extinction. The Pileated Woodpecker’s size is not the only standout. It makes rectangular holes on trees deviating from most woodpeckers’ normal oval or round holes.
Ohio’s Woodpecker Species
Woodpeckers’ back toes are different from ordinary birds. They have two toes facing forwards and the other two facing backward. It improves their grip and balance on trees. Ohio has up to seven species of woodpeckers. Two are seasonal residents, while the other five are constant residents. You’ll find woodpeckers in Ohio all through the year.
Let’s look at the woodpeckers that you’ll find in Ohio.
1. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Wingspan: 13-15 in (33.02-38.1 cm)
- Length: 7-9 in (17.78-22.86 cm)
- Weight: 1.5-2 oz (42.52-56.69 g)
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized bird. There is no other sapsucker in Ohio and North America. Its unique white stripe makes the bird stand out. The closest woodpeckers to its colorway are the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. The adult Yellow-bellied Sapsucker male is slightly different from the female. You can differentiate them as the male’s head has a red patch.
The female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have a distinctive white throat but with no red cap. The chics do not have any unique features. They have brownish-gray bodies, which slow turn as they grow older. The belly is a mix of gray and yellow. When looking to spot one, you need not concentrate on checking the yellow belly. In some cases, these birds do not have a yellow belly, or it’s vague.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has normal woodpecker drums and calls. They call with ‘meeww’ or ‘weeah’ sounds. They can get more aggressive with ‘quee-ark’ sounds when they are within their territory. Their drumming style is unique. They stutter with short drumming stints, with about three rolls.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker likes breeding around conifers, mixed hardwoods, and deciduous forests. They are migrants around September and October during the fall. They also move into Ohio during Spring. These birds are impossible to find during other seasons. Their population numbers are steady.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker feeds by retrieving sap from tree barks and tree trunks. They create sap wells and drink the tree sap. They do not choose any tree. They look for those with small holes in a perfect row line. The small holes should cover a long distance on the tree, preferably tulip trees. Their bills are similar to those of ordinary woodpeckers despite their sap-sucking behavior.
2. Northern Flicker
- Wingspan: 16-20 in (40.64-50.8 cm)
- Length: 11-12 in (27.94-30.48 cm)
- Weight:- 4-6 oz (113.4-170.1 g)
The Northern Flicker is one of the largest woodpeckers. It has a brown appearance. It has black and white spots and bars on its feathers. The Northern Flicker’s underparts can be white, gray, or light brown. The male Northern Flickers have a neck ‘mustache,’ differentiating it from the females. The ‘mustache’ is red or black.
The Northern Flicker has five subspecies, including;
- Cuban flicker
- Guatemalan flicker
- Gilded flicker
- Red-shafted flicker
- Yellow-shafted flicker
The common Northern flicker species in Ohio are the Gilded, Red-shafted, and Yellow-shafted flicker. The Gilded Flicker has yellow linings on the wings. The Red-shafted flicker is the most common, with a red ‘mustache’ and pinkish feathers. A red neck patch distinguishes the Yellow-shafted Flicker.
The Northern Flickers are permanent residents of Ohio. You’ll spot them around feeders or groves, woodlots, and open forests. They scour the ground for ants. Their diet consists of thistle, sunflower seeds, berries, and insects. Their preference for the ground does not stop the Northern Flickers from drumming. Northern Flickers use drum sounds for communication.
Hammering is a form of courtship for the Northern Flickers. They drum to attract mates to their nests, trees, or zones. Their frequent hammering earned it the name ‘Yellowhammers.’ The Northern Flickers drill nests in birdhouses, telephone poles, and trees. You might also find some Northern Flickers building their nests in cactuses.
The Northern Flicker females can lay up to eight eggs. It is more than the woodpecker average of four. The females and males collaborate to incubate the eggs for about 16 days. After they hatch, they feed the chicken with regurgitated food. The chicks will stay in the nests for about four weeks before leaving. They will rely on their parents for a while before learning how to hunt for food.
Foraging for food on the ground is a unique feature of the Northern Flicker. Their favorite food they look for includes beetle larvae, ants. They will also eat other insects they find. You will spot them perching on berry trees to eat their fruits.
3. Pileated Woodpecker
- Wingspan– 13-16 in (33.02-40.64 cm)
- Length– 9-11 in (22.86-27.94 cm)
- Weight– 2-3 oz (56.7-85.04g)
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest in Ohio. There is only one Woodpecker that is bigger in North America. It is the Imperial Woodpecker, found in Mexico. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was one of the closest to its size. Ohio gets the privilege of hosting this magnificent bird. It is easy to spot because of its red crest.
The Pileated Woodpecker has black and white stripes on the face and neck. Its plumage is black. Its nostrils adapt to prevent the entry of wood chips through its bristly yellow feather around the area. Its bill looks sharp and pointed. The Pileated Woodpecker has a sticky and long tongue to reach deep holes in trees.
The male and female Pileated Woodpeckers are almost similar except for the forehead colors. The female’s forehead is yellowish-brown, while the male’s is red like its crest. You can easily spot the Pileated Woodpecker in Ohio. You will find them in deciduous and coniferous forests. They are not backyard feeders. You’ll be lucky to spot one around the feeders.
The Pileated Woodpecker’s diet consists of nuts, fruits, and insects. Their favorites are beetle larvae and carpenter ants. It uses its strong and sharp bill to bore through trees to reveal ant colonies. It then utilizes its sticky grab and eats these ants. The Pileated Woodpecker’s bill also comes in handy to create large holes that can fit for nesting and the breeding season.
After a male Pileated Woodpecker creates a nest, a female will lay about four eggs inside. The male and female assist each other to incubate the eggs taking turns during the day and night. The eggs are ready to hatch after two weeks. The parents take care of the chicks for about four weeks before they are ready to leave the nest.
4. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Wingspan– 13-16 in (33.02-40.64 cm)
- Length– 9-10 in (22.86-25.4 cm)
- Weight– 2-3 oz (56.7-85g)
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a distinct bird with gray-pink underparts. It has a redhead like the Pileated Woodpecker but does not have a crest. Its wings have black and white bars. Its bill has red markings. The red color on the head of the male Red-bellied Woodpecker extends to the neck. The female has a red crown that does not extend to its neck.
The Red-Bellied usually migrate in the winter to other parts of America. In Ohio, it stays around all year. It is one of the most common woodpeckers in Ohio. Their belly is not as deep red as one may assume with its name. It has a pinkish shade. Some Red-bellied Woodpeckers might not have the shade. They are quick to change their nests yearly. They leave behind cavities that other animals shelter inside.
The Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a sticky tongue for hunting insects and ants. Their diet comprises seeds and berries. Their tongues triple the size of their bills. The Red-bellied Woodpeckers frequent feeders. They enjoy natural as well as artificial suet. Their presence around feeders is no surprise because they are in and around developed areas in Ohio.
Identifying the Red-bellied Woodpecker can be challenging because its belly color is not conspicuous. You can easily mistake it for a Red-headed or Pileated Woodpecker. Its name does not provide a unique description. You will need to take a closer look to identify the Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Woodpeckers rarely expose their bellies, making this another challenge.
The Red-bellied woodpecker stores food in tree cavities. They can be their previous nests, natural cavities, or new ones they create. The Red-bellied woodpeckers store food for the winter. Their primary diet during this season is seeds because they will not move out to hunt.
5. Hairy Woodpecker
- Wingspan– 13-16 in (33.02- 40.64 cm)
- Length– 7-10 in (17.78- 25.4 cm)
- Weight– 1.5- 3.5 oz (42.52-99.22 g)
The Hairy Woodpecker looks almost like the Downy Woodpecker. Their plumage pattern is almost the same. The Hairy Woodpecker has more plumage, as the name states. Its bill is longer than the Downy’s. It is hard to differentiate them if they are close to each other. If you are keen enough, you’ll spot the differences. It is one of the most common Woodpeckers in Ohio.
The Hairy Woodpecker has a longer bill than the Downy Woodpecker. It is sharper and straight. The Hairy Woodpecker is louder than the Downy Woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker’s plumage looks rough. It frequents bird feeders for suet. It prefers forests with canopies because they like flying high. It stays in Ohio all year round. You won’t miss it around feeders and forests.
The Hairy Woodpecker likes a dense forest. Research reveals that they will only breed in dense woodland. It shows that their habitat is highly sensitive. Hairy Woodpeckers avoid developed woods because they are more open. Natural forests favor their behavior. If you are looking to spot many Hairy Woodpeckers, you’ll need to check around undisturbed woodlands.
Hairy Woodpeckers do not migrate unless the weather is too harsh. They’ll move further south to find better conditions. This is an uncommon occurrence. You’ll find Hairy Woodpecker everywhere in Chicago. Their population is stable but is declining. It is because they lack their perfect habitat of dense woodland. The extensive urbanization and climate change are interrupting their habitat.
You can attract Hairy Woodpeckers to your backyard feeder by adding sunflower, peanut, and suet. You’ll succeed in the winter because they have difficulty finding food. If you are lucky a Hairy Woodpecker couple might start a family around your home if dead trees are nearby. When they migrate, the cavities will be homes for flying squirrels, bluebirds, nuthatches, chickadees, or wrens.
6. Downy Woodpecker
- Wingspan– 9-12 in (22.86-30.48 cm)
- Length– 5-7 in (12.7-17.78 cm)
- Weight– 0.5-1.1 oz (14.17-13.18 g)
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest one in Ohio and North America. It is a frequent visitor of feeders. It looks like a Hairy Woodpecker, but smaller. It has prominent white stripes down its back. Its small size allows it to maneuver around twigs and small branches looking for insects. Its tail feathers have black and white spots.
The male Downy Woodpecker is different from the female. It has a red patch around the neck. Both types of juveniles might have a similar red patch. It gradually disappears in females. Both males and females have red patches on the crown. The woodpecker’s length is a controversy when comparing it to the Downy.
Downy Woodpeckers are in up to seven subspecies. The main differences are color patterns, the intensity of the patterns, underpart color, and size. You will notice that some Downy Woodpeckers are bigger than others. The changes in color patterns result from cross-breeding. Others are born that way.
Downy Woodpeckers produce the ‘pik’ sound when calling. It is soft compared to the one from the Hairy Woodpecker. Its drumming is slow and soft. It has a lower pitch than the Hairy Woodpecker’s drumming. If you are attentive enough, these are the factors you’ll consider when differentiating a Downy Woodpecker from a Hairy Woodpecker. They drum more than they call.
The Downy Woodpecker is present in Ohio all through the year. It is common in coniferous forests and deciduous woodlands. They are not frequent migrants. It will take many years before they can switch their habitat. They will do so if there are adverse effects on their habitat. Downy Woodpeckers will travel long distances but still return to their nests.
The Downy Woodpecker population in Ohio is stable. Downy Woodpeckers stay in flocks. It helps them easily find food and stay safe from predators. They will spot predators faster in groups than individually. They can then dedicate most of their time to finding food rather than watching their back. They are more successful in finding feeders this way.
7. Red-headed Woodpecker
- Wingspan– 16 in (14.64 cm)
- Length– 7-9 in (17.78-22.86 cm)
- Weight– 2-3 oz (5.08-7.62 cm)
The Red-headed Woodpecker has a marvelous body pattern. It earned the Woodpecker the name ‘flying checkerboard.’ It has black and white wings, a snow-white body, and a crimson head. The Red-headed Woodpecker is unique from other woodpeckers because it attacks insects in mid-air. They also feed on beechnuts and acorns. The Red-headed Woodpecker will also hide extra food in tree cavities.
The Red-headed Woodpeckers species population is on the decline. It is a regular in Ohio. You will find them around dead trees and water bodies. The male and females look the same. It makes it the only Woodpecker to carry this characteristic. The juveniles do not get a redhead until they are older. At a young age, they have a dark gray head. Common places to find them include;
- Chagrin River Park
- Veterans Park
- Pete’s Pond
The decline of the Red-headed Woodpeckers population is because of the alteration to food supply and habitat loss. They rely on feeders and smaller habitats to survive. The trend is due to extensive urbanization in Chicago and across North America. They do not have a suitable habitat to breed in large colonies.
If you want to attract the Red-headed Woodpecker to your backyard feeder, follow these tips. Always have suet in your feeder. It can be natural or artificial suet. Include a wide variety of fruits like; poison ivy, mulberries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, pears, and apples. Include seeds such as pecans, beechnuts, acorns, and corn.
The Red-headed Woodpecker hides food but also covers their hunt. It is among four woodpeckers that do so in North America. They will store the food in bark crevices or nests they build in the woods. They also improvise in roof shingles, fence posts, and wood cracks. They hide seeds and insects because they are easy to carry. They hide grasshoppers alive by placing them in hard-to-escape cracks.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are over-protective with their territory. If they see other birds nesting around their territory, they destroy their nests and eggs. They are not afraid of bigger birds such as ducks. They get into the nests and crack the eggs.
Woodpecker habitat varies depending on the types of species. The common habitats are shrubs and trees. A woodpecker’s habitat depends on its eating habit. For example, ground feeders like open forests or areas. They can scour around for ground insects such as ants. Woodpeckers that eat acorns brood around oak woodlands.
America is rich in riparian woodlands. They are good habitats for smaller woodpeckers, such as the Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker. They can maneuver through shrubs, large weeds, small branches, and trees. Hairy Woodpeckers can live in a variety of habitats such as mature forests. They like hunting for insects around trunks and main branches.
Many Woodpeckers prefer dead or dying trees. It is because it is easy for them to drill through deadwood. Deadwood is suitable for their drumming habits. Living trees may not produce the sounds they desire. Swampy forests are a good habitat for woodpeckers. They are abundant in insect larva, which almost any Woodpecker will eat.
Winter Behavior / Migration
Woodpeckers change their habits during the winter. A few woodpeckers will travel a long distance to migrate. Most of them adapt to the conditions. Most migrate over short distances looking for lowly elevated areas. Lower areas are warmer than high areas. Woodpeckers will flock around feeding stations and woodlots during the winter.
Woodpeckers alter their feeding behaviors. Some of them will join other birds in feeding, for example, the golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, and brown creepers. The woodpeckers and these birds will find food easier in large groups. They will also be safer from predators. A large flock has more eyes looking out for danger.
The feeding habits change according to gender. Males will stay higher in trees, while females move lower. They will continue drilling the tree barks as usual. Their diet consists of seeds and insects during the winter. Common insects they eat during the winter are wood-boring beetles, caterpillars, and gall wasps. They can find suet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds at feeding stations.
Life Cycle, Partners, and Reproduction
Most woodpeckers are monogamous throughout their life. They will only mate with one partner. A male woodpecker attracts a female by drumming and calling. Once they choose each other, they will knock their bills in agreement. The male Woodpecker will build a new nest which they will brood.
The female Woodpecker will lay about four eggs. Bigger woodpeckers can lay up to eight eggs at once. The male and female woodpeckers assist each other in incubating the eggs. The male Woodpecker will go out hunting during the day while the female incubates the eggs. The males will then take over at night.
The woodpecker eggs hatch after about fourteen days. It can be slightly higher for larger woodpeckers. Both parents raise the chick until they are old enough. Woodpeckers brood during summer or fall. The weather is suitable at this time for the chicks to learn how to fly and hunt for food. The woodpeckers release their chicks after about four weeks.
The chicks are free to build their nests elsewhere or near their parents. The latter is the better option so they can stay safe. They hunt for their food. The young woodpeckers reach sexual maturity in about twelve months. They will look for mates and start their family. The life cycle repeats in the same order.
Woodpeckers will live to an average of four to eleven years. The length of life depends on whether they are in the wild or captivity. Woodpeckers live longer in captivity because they get a better quality diet. They are also safe from predators. Their species is a determinant. For example, a Downy woodpecker lives for about two to four years.
Woodpeckers will only move about during the day. They do not travel far from their nests because they live in colonies. They start hunting from sunrise until evening. Woodpeckers shelter in their nests for the night. If you hear drumming sounds at night, that’s not a woodpecker. When woodpeckers are drumming, it does not mean they are eating or hunting. It can be communication or a mating call.
Woodpeckers stay in a similar range throughout the year. Some species are frequent migrants. They will change their habitat up to two times annually. When seasons change, most woodpeckers will not change their range. They will only alter their diets to what’s available.
Knowing what woodpeckers eat will help you equip your feeder. If you do not have one, don’t worry. This information is still useful for you. Woodpeckers’ diet consists of;
- Flower nectar
- Tree sap
- Insects such as ants, spiders, grubs, bark beetles and wood-boring beetles.
- Hulled sunflower seeds
- Black oil sunflower seeds
Weather seasons determine what the woodpeckers eat. For example, during spring, most woodpeckers suck sap from trees. At this time, trees are rejuvenating from the biting winters. The summer and spring are prime feeding times for woodpeckers. Their diet will comprise fruits, seeds, nuts, and insects. Insects provide protein for growing chicks and breeding pairs.
During winter, food is scarce. Woodpeckers will eat nuts and seeds. They might be lucky to find leftover food on the ground or in bushes. Some species, such as the Red-headed Woodpecker, store food for the winter. Others like the Acord Woodpecker will create a big store which they use to hold many acorns. Others are not proficient and will only hide a few amounts of food in the ground or loose bark.
If you are planning to have a feeder. There are essentials you should have, including;
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
Feeders help woodpeckers during food-scarce seasons. Natural foods are better than artificial ones. They will attract woodpeckers easily.
Woodpeckers are at risk to many predators. They take caution by nesting on slippery and tall trees. Their eggs are also vulnerable to predators. Some woodpecker predators include bully birds like hawks, foxes, and snakes. Other carnivores in the wild will also look to attack woodpeckers when on the ground.
Catching a woodpecker is not easy for any predator. They are smooth flyers and are always looking out for danger. The disruption of their woodland habitat makes it easier for predators to catch the woodpeckers. Predators can spot them and their nests in more spacious forests.
Preferred Trees to Live In
Woodlands is the ideal habitat for a woodpecker. They will create nests in live trees, but they prefer dead trees. Some of the common trees they will choose are;
The trees can be densely or sparsely vegetated. Some species prefer dense forests, while others will choose open ones. They will select smooth trees or those that shed their rough barks. Smooth surfaces are key to avoiding climbing predators such as snakes.
Trees are not the main nesting areas for woodpeckers. They will create nests in buildings and utility poles. They might also look for natural cavities, such as those in rocks. Most woodpeckers will stay in their nests for years as long as they are safe from predators.
Habitat Loss Caused By Climate Change
The woodpecker habitat is declining. The birds adapt to urban habitats that are not favorable for their longevity. Climate change alters the wintering range and leads to the loss of breeding areas. Woodpeckers have to adjust to smaller and more sophisticated habitats. It exposes them to more predators.
Not all woodpeckers can adjust to these changes. They are sensitive birds to change of habitat because of what they eat. They have to rely on feeders to get most of their food. Not all areas have feeders. It is leading to a decline in the woodpecker population. It is evident as one species, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, is not extinct because of habitat loss.
Cultural References – Myths, Legends
Woodpeckers are a significant cultural reference among Native Americans. Their feathers are part, and bills are part of their tradition. They were precious artifacts in the community. They made hats and necklaces from feathers and bills. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was the most sought-after.
One legend describes the Red-headed Woodpecker’s behavior. When it sees a person, it will hide on the other side of the tree. The legend describes the Red-headed Woodpecker as embarrassed. It might not be the case because it can be hiding from danger.
Which is the most common woodpecker in Ohio?
The Downy Woodpecker is the most common in Chicago. It is native to North America. It is also the smallest woodpecker. You’ll find them around feeders and in the forests.
Does Ohio have native woodpeckers?
The Downy Woodpecker and Pileated Woodpeckers are native to Chicago. They are popular woodpeckers in North America. Pileated Woodpecker stands out with a red crest. You’ll easily spot one around Ohio.
Which is Ohio’s largest woodpecker?
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest in Ohio. It has sharp and loud calls which are identifiable in the wild. You’ll most likely hear it more than you see it. When you spot one, you’ll immediately recognize it. It has a red crest and a black body.
Which one between Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers is bigger?
The Hairy Woodpecker is bigger than the Downy woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker has a longer bill than the Downy woodpecker. They almost look alike, but the Hairy Woodpecker has a dense plumage.
Are Red-headed Woodpeckers rare in Ohio?
Ohio hosts many Red-headed Woodpeckers. North America hosts the highest percentage of Red-headed Woodpeckers globally. They are conspicuous birds with red crowns.