Woodpeckers are a favorite bird of people in the United States and across the world. They are a very diverse species and they add a lot of color and personality to your backyard. There are only 22 species of woodpeckers found in the United States, but there are over 200 species across the world.
In Pennsylvania, there are seven species of woodpeckers that are native and breed in the state. There is also one woodpecker, the Black-Backed Woodpecker, that travels to the state in the winter.
Woodpecker Species Body Adaptations
There are some characteristics that make woodpeckers unique from other birds. Mainly, this is the sharp bill that they use to chip away at the trunks and branches of trees. When they peck at the wood, they alternate directions so that the wood is destroyed in an even fashion.
All of this drilling against hard wood is probably difficult on the woodpeckers body, though. So, how have woodpeckers adapted to deal with that extra trauma?
For starters, their skull is thicker than what is found in most birds. Along with that, there are bones that are found between the skull and the bill. This is true for all birds, but in woodpeckers, these bones are not attached as firmly. This gives the bones a bit of wiggle room while being jarringly bashed against wood.
A woodpecker can drill into a piece of wood up to 100 times a minute, so these extra protective measures are very much needed.
The tongue, although not used for protection, is a very interesting part of a woodpecker’s body. The tongue is so long that when the woodpecker isn’t using it, they will pull it back into their mouth where it wraps around the back of the skull within the bird’s head. They are able to do this because the tongue is about twice as long as the head itself.
The tip of the tongue is barbed which helps the woodpecker to grab insects. Along with the barb, the tongue is covered in saliva and tactile cells that are sticky enough to grab bugs.
The muscles in the necks of woodpeckers are much stronger than what is found in most birds. There is also tissue at the joints that absorb shock with their sponge-like material.
Even the eyes and nostrils are protected because it wouldn’t be good for the birds to get dust and debris in their eyes. To combat this, the facial feathers are bushy to catch any dust. The eyes have a thick nictitating membrane that closes every time the bird pecks at the wood.
Where Can You Find Pennsylvania Woodpeckers?
Mostly, woodpeckers will drill on trees to find something to eat, but this isn’t always the case. When a woodpecker drills into something, they are establishing a territory.
Drumming in a territory that they have chosen can even help them to find a mate. It also acts as a form of communication between their offspring or parents. Because of this, you will sometimes see woodpeckers drilling against garbage cans, pipes, and tin roofs.
During mating season, woodpeckers will set up nests inside of trees. They will drill a hole into the tree trunk and set up camp there. They don’t even need to go out looking for nesting material. They will simply use the leftover wood chips that resulted from their drilling.
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8 Unique Woodpeckers In PA
1. Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
These woodpeckers are usually about 8-9 inches (20.3-22.8 centimeters) in length, although their wingspan can reach 16-18 inches (40.6-45.7 centimeters) across.
The Red-Headed Woodpecker is one of the most beautiful woodpeckers you’ll find in Pennsylvania. When they are young, the heads have brown feathers. But, as they age, that brown transforms into a magnificent scarlet coloration. In fact, this is the only eastern woodpecker whose head is entirely red.
The underside of the body is white, while the tail and wings are mostly black. However, the secondary feathers and the rump are white, so there is a lot of contrast between the white and black feathers. This coloration is the same in both sexes.
The call of these woodpeckers sounds raucous, and they produce a “kwrrk” sound.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker can be found in forests and woodlands that are open. It is very important that these woodlands have plenty of dead and dying trees. Woodpeckers of all species generally go after dead trees, and avoid healthy, live ones.
You will frequently find these birds in the woodlots of farms, in groves, orchards, at the edges of forests, near rivers, swamps, towns, and parks.
It’s also very important for these birds to have lots of open space to fly. This allows them to catch insects while they’re flying. Rather than lots of trees, they prefer to have a few trees that are tall and wide around the trunk.
Range: They can be found throughout most of North America from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean in the east and west directions. In the north, it can be found as far as southern Ontario, down south toward Texas, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico.
In Pennsylvania, these woodpeckers are most commonly seen in south-central counties close to the Mason Dixon line. They are not seen in northern parts of the state, with a few exceptions in the north-west.
In the winter, they will store their food, wedging nuts, seeds, and even insects into the crevices of the tree and below the bark. They will attempt to hide their store of food by covering the crevice with wood pieces, and they will aggressively defend their stores against squirrels and other thieving animals.
These birds are not commonly seen in Pennsylvania during the spring and fall months. They will usually migrate elsewhere and are not seen in April-May or September-November. They are, however, Pennsylvania residents over the summer and winter months.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 12 years
Researchers believe that woodpeckers are mainly monogamous, although they haven’t been able to figure out how long these mating pairs last. For this reason, it’s thought that woodpeckers might participate in polygyny as well.
When they nest, they will create a crevice about 8-80 feet (2.4-24.3 meters) high up in the tree. They will usually create these crevices inside oak trees, but you may sometimes see them in fence posts and utility poles as well. Both male and female will create these nests, but the males do most of the digging. Cavities will be about 7.8-23.6 inches (20-60 centimeters) deep.
The female will lay between 3-10 eggs between April and July. The male and female will work together to sit on them. Incubation takes between 12-14 days. The eyes of the chicks will open after about 12-13 days, and they will leave the nest at 24-31 days old. In fact, if chicks decide to stay too close to the nest, the parents will eventually chase them away.
Red-Headed Woodpeckers spend most of their hunting time on the ground searching for food. However, they are very good at plucking insects, like flies, straight from the air while they’re flying. For insects, they will most commonly eat bees, beetles, cicadas, ants, caterpillars, and grasshoppers.
Sometimes, these birds have even been seen eating small mammals, or the eggs and babies of bluebirds and house sparrows.
Still, these woodpeckers are omnivorous, and the majority of their diet consists of plant matter. In addition to insects, they will eat seeds, fruits, berries, corn, beech nuts, and acorns.
Predators & Threats
Natural predators include Cooper’s Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Eastern Screech-Owls, and Red Foxes. The eggs may also be predated by snakes, raccoons, and flying squirrels.
In Pennsylvania, Red-Headed Woodpeckers are listed as “Greatest Conservation Need”. Throughout the United States, their populations have declined about 2.4%, but in Pennsylvania, populations have declined 46% from about 1989-2009.
One of the biggest threats to these woodpeckers is the European Starling. They came to America in the 1890’s and will compete with the woodpeckers for their nesting sites. They have even been known to drive the woodpeckers out of their nests.
Humans threaten this species by removing the dead trees that they use for their homes. They are also at risk of being hit by cars because they fly low to the ground.
2. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is not much smaller than the Red-Headed Woodpecker. It is about 7-8 inches (17.7-20.3 centimeters) in length, but the wingspan reaches about 14 inches (35.5 centimeters).
When it comes to coloration, these birds are also mostly black and white. The back is a mottled black or brown coloration that helps them to blend in with the tree bark. However, their back also has vertical white stripes going down the wings. The juveniles are a uniform brown coloration.
The underside of the bird has pale yellow feathers, but the head is brighter. The crown of the head and the throat are both a bright red, in males. In females, just the crown is red, and they are lacking the red stripe down their throat. The rest of the head is marked with black and white coloration.
Unlike most woodpeckers who drill, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker creates a more rhythmic tapping sound. They tap rhythms of twos or threes. For their call, they produce a nasally, mewing sound.
These woodpeckers are most commonly found in open woodlands, orchards, woodlots, and at the edges of forests. The trees they like to inhabit the most are deciduous northern hardwoods and conifers.
In Pennsylvania, these birds are most commonly seen in the northern counties of the state. In the south, they are most commonly seen in the mountains.
Range: Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers can be found across the north and middle areas of the United States.
These woodpeckers migrate more than any other native Pennsylvania woodpecker. They are very common in spring around April. They are not commonly seen in the summer because they will go northward to breed, often going as far as southern Canada. They are also commonly seen in Pennsylvania between September and October, but move south over winter.
They will most commonly migrate to the southern United States, Central America, and the West Indies over the winter months.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 7 years
Nests will be created between April and May. When they create a nest, they will drill a cavity into a tree 8-40 feet/2.4-12.2 meters in the air. They are most likely to choose trees that are made of soft wood like aspen or red maple trees. They will also choose hardwood trees that have been softened by tinder fungus. The nests are shaped like a gourd.
As the male and female are creating the nest, they will participate in “courtship” flights around the tree. They will also participate in ritual tapping of the tree as a bonding exercise. The male will tap first, followed by the female mimicking his taps.
When the females are ready to lay eggs, they will have 4-7 eggs. The incubation period lasts for 12-13 days. Both parents will incubate the eggs, but the male will sit on them most, especially at night. The fledgelings will leave the nest in 25-29 days.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are less likely to catch their prey in the air. Instead, they use the sap of the tree to their advantage, much as the name suggests.
Unlike the Red-Headed Woodpecker who only seeks out dead trees, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker actively seeks out live trees. This is because they will drill holes into the live trees and use the sap to catch insects. The holes that they create are made into uniform rows.
The insects are attracted to the sap, so the birds will leave for a little while, and come back once they’ve caught some bugs. They will also drink the sap, soaking it up with their tongue. They may drill up to 30 holes a day.
These woodpeckers are omnivorous. Their insect diet consists of ants, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, and insect eggs.
They will also eat the cambium, or the layer that is found beneath the bark of a tree. Their favorite trees to feed on are aspen, beech, birch, fir, maple, oak, pine, serviceberry, and hickory trees. They like to eat seeds and fruits as well.
Predators & Threats
Unlike Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are very common in Pennsylvania. They are the most common woodpecker that you will see in the northern parts of the state. Their population has increased in Pennsylvania by 62% over a few decades.
Natural predators may include minks, foxes, and coyotes.
3. Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)
Downy Woodpeckers are even smaller yet, only reaching 5-6 inches (12.7-15.2 centimeters) in length with a wingspan of 11-12 inches (28-30.4 centimeters). These woodpeckers are so small that they are actually the smallest woodpeckers in North America.
They look very similar to the Small Hairy Woodpecker. The underside of the bird is white, as well as a white stripe down a black back. The wings are black with white spots. The outer tail feathers have black bars. You will also notice that the head is white, but the crown is black. They even have black markings around their eyes that resemble a mask.
The males can be distinguished from the females because there is a patch of red at the back of their head that the females lack.
Unlike most woodpeckers, the Downy Woodpecker has a short bill, similar to a chisel. The beak is actually shorter than the width of its head.
The drumming sound that these woodpeckers create is a bit slower; slow enough that you can count the beats. The call of these birds sounds like “pik”. They will also produce a rattling-type sound that begins slowly, and they will speed up toward the end.
The Downy Woodpecker is the most common eastern woodpecker, and you can find it in mixed-growth forests, woodlots, parks, suburbs, and orchards.
They prefer to reside in second-growth forests and can be found in oak-hickory or beech-maple-hemlock forests. You won’t often see them in conifer forests unless the forest has an understory of deciduous trees.
Range: These woodpeckers are very common and can be found all across North America. They are found as far as southeastern Alaska and Newfoundland, to Florida, and southern California.
Downy Woodpeckers can be found in Pennsylvania throughout every season. During winter, you’ll often see them looking for dried-up corn in fields, or they may come to bird feeders.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 12 years
These woodpeckers are monogamous and will form breeding pairs from January to March. They will forage together until it is time for incubation. The pairs will stay together for the entire summer, and some pairs have been known to mate again in the following years.
When Downy Woodpeckers create their nests, they will dig them into rotting wood. They will choose a location in a tree that is 3-50 feet/0.9-15.2 meters above the ground. Woodpeckers will usually choose a tree that is rotting, and will create the nest below the underside of a limb.
When the female is ready, she will lay 3-16 eggs which are then incubated for about 12 days. Both the male and female woodpecker will incubate the eggs, but the male does most of the work. He will incubate throughout the night, and they will alternate duties throughout the day.
Both parents take part in caring for and feeding the chicks. The fledglings will then leave the nest about 18-21 days after hatching. Although they’ve left the nest, the parents will still care for them for about three weeks. They teach them where to get food and how to avoid predators.
Something else that is interesting is that Downy Woodpeckers will sometimes have helpers. A helper is another female Downy Woodpecker that comes to help with the nest. Oddly, the helper is not usually a previous offspring.
They will search for most of their food in trees and their limbs, but they will also search inside of shrubs. To search for food, they will pick insects off the surface of the trees, shrubs, and even weeds. They will also look inside of crevices, and may drill holes into wood.
These woodpeckers are omnivorous, feasting on insects like moths, beetles, ants, boring larvae, aphids, and spiders. They will also eat dogwood fruits, poison ivy, berries, acorns, apples, and corn.
Predators & Threats
Natural predators consist of birds of prey. To avoid these predators, the woodpeckers will flatten themselves against the surface of a tree and remain still. In urban areas, predators include rats and cats. The juveniles are most at risk, predated by snakes, squirrels, and other woodpeckers.
4. Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus)
The main difference between the Hairy Woodpecker and the Downy Woodpecker is that the Hairy Woodpecker is significantly larger. It measures about 7-10 inches (17.7-25.4 centimeters) in length, with a wingspan of about 15 inches (38.1 centimeters).
These birds also have a white stripe down the center of their back, and their wings are black with white spots. The tail is barred with white, and the belly is white. They have a black crown and black markings around the eyes that look like a mask. The males and females can be differentiated because the male has a spot of red at the back of its head. The female does not.
Unlike the Downy Woodpecker, the Hairy Woodpecker has a longer and heavier bill.
The Hairy Woodpecker also sounds a bit different, its voice being higher pitched than the Downy Woodpecker, and sounds like “keek”. The Hairy Woodpecker also makes a rattling sound, but it is done in one pitch, and it does not trail off at the end like the Downy Woodpecker’s call does.
Hairy Woodpeckers can be found in forests with lots of mature deciduous and conifer trees. You may see them in larger forests, swamps, woodlots, suburbs, and even cemeteries. Like most woodpeckers, they search out dead trees rather than live ones.
Some of the favorite trees of the Hairy Woodpecker include douglas fir, hemlocks, and junipers.
Range: Hairy Woodpeckers are found throughout most of North America. They can be found as far north as northern Canada, Alaska, and NewFoundland. They can be found as far south as Mexico and Central America. They can even be found in parts of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama.
In Pennsylvania, the Hairy Woodpecker tends to stick around throughout the year.
Hairy Woodpeckers will usually stay in their home range even throughout winter. Some species in northern regions may move south.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 16 years
Nesting and mating will occur between February and June, depending on where the woodpeckers are located. In many cases, the females are the ones that maintain their territory. When they are ready to mate, they will drum against a tree to attract a male. Once they form a bonded pair, they will both drum against a tree as a bonding exercise.
When they create their nest, these woodpeckers will choose a location in a tree 5-30 feet (1.5-9.1 meters) above the ground. The entrance to the hole is about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in diameter, and the hole itself is about 8-12 inches (20.3-30.4 centimeters) deep.
When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she will have 3-6 eggs followed by an incubation period of 12-14 days. The fledglings will then leave the nest about 28-30 days after hatching.
Hairy Woodpeckers are omnivorous, but they feed mostly on insects. Their favorite insects include wood-boring beetle larvae, bark beetles, moth pupae, ants, and caterpillars. They will occasionally eat spiders, bees, millipedes, and wasps. Even less often, they will eat seeds and fruit.
They will forage for food in bushes, trees, stumps and in rotting branches. In other parts of the country and world, they will forage in vines, bamboo, sugar cane, and reeds.
Predators & Threats
These woodpeckers are still very common, but their populations have declined from what they once were. This is due to the loss of dead trees in which they make their nests. Their nests are also threatened by Starlings and House Sparrows who will drive them out and steal their spot.
Natural predators include birds of prey such as Great-Horned Owls, Eastern-Screech Owls, Barred Owls, Northern Goshawks, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, and Cooper’s Hawks.
5. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Northern Flickers are one of the larger woodpeckers. Their bodies are about 11-12 inches (27.9-30.4 centimeters) in length and their wingspans reach about 20 inches (50.8 centimeters).
These woodpeckers have brown backs and wings with no white on their wings. They do have a black band on the high portion of their chest, and red at the nape of their neck. The males can be distinguished from the females because they have a black mark from the top of the bill going back to the throat that looks almost like a mustache.
These birds are often referred to as “yellow-shafted flickers” because the feather shafts of their wings are yellow. When they fly, you can see this bright yellow on the underside of their wings.
The reason these birds are called “Northern Flickers” is because they make a flickering sound. They will make a loud flickering sound 2-7 times every minute. They will also produce a sound like “kee-oo” that is shrill.
Northern Flicker Woodpeckers are seen around the edges of forests, in open woodlands, woodlots, orchards, yards, and fields. They love areas with lots of dead trees where they can make their home.
Range: These woodpeckers are found as far north as Alaska and Quebec, and are found southward into the United States. Over winter, they are found in the southern United States and northern Mexico.
In the winter when insects are not available, these woodpeckers will flock more toward seeds and berries. Some of their favorites are poison ivy fruits, dogwood fruit, berries, wild cherries, staghorn sumac seeds, and corn.
Northern Flickers are considered partial migrants because some will stay in their home range throughout winter, while others will migrate south. They commonly migrate across Pennsylvania between March-April and September-October. They breed in the state over the summer, but are rarely seen over winter.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 9 years
Breeding occurs from February to July depending on where the woodpeckers are living. They will create their nests out of dead parts of trees, dead tree trunks, and telephone poles.
When they create their nest, they will build it 6-15 feet/1.8-4.5 meters above the ground. They will build cavities into trees just like the other woodpeckers. Still, some have been seen using nesting boxes provided for larger birds like wood ducks or screech owls.
As the female prepares to lay eggs, she will produce 5-8 eggs. She will then incubate those eggs for about 11-13 days. The fledglings will then leave the nest about 25-28 days after hatching. The young will then develop their adult plumage between June and October.
Northern Flickers are often found along the ground foraging for their food. Their diet mainly consists of ants, which is their favorite. They are able to eat ants because the formic acid produced by the ants is neutralized by the woodpecker’s saliva.
Other insects they will eat include grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths. They can even be seen eating snails.
Predators & Threats
Unfortunately, the Northern Flicker population is in significant decline across much of eastern North America. Habitat destruction is thought to be the main issue causing these declines. There are other issues as well, including the fact that Starlings will often drive Northern Flickers out of their nests.
Natural predators include birds of prey like Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-Shinned Hawks. Nestlings are in danger from predators like raccoons, snakes, and squirrels.
6. Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in Pennsylvania and the United States. Their bodies are about 16-19 inches (38.1-48.2 centimeters) in length and their wingspan can reach up to 29 inches (73.6 centimeters).
The only woodpecker that may be larger is the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, but they are thought to likely be extinct.
The back and tail are a solid black coloration, but their crest is a bright red. The underside of the wings is white. The males can be distinguished from the females because they have red patches on their cheeks. The females also have less red in their crests.
Pileated Woodpeckers drum quickly and very loudly. As they drum, their momentum slowly begins to taper off. For calls, they will make sounds like, “wuk wuk wuk wuk” or “cuk cuk cuk cuk”.
These woodpeckers can be found in mature forests of deciduous trees, or a mix of deciduous and conifer trees. Although they spend most of their time in these forests, they are also seen in woodlots and hedgerows to forage.
Range: Pileated Woodpeckers can be found throughout North America as far north as Nova Scotia, south Quebec, and central Ontario. They can be found as far south as Florida. To the west, they are found all the way to Texas and Oklahoma.
Pairs will choose a territory year-round. They will defend it if they have to.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 13 years
When they are ready to create a nest, they will do so about 15-70 feet (4.5-21.3 meters) above the ground. They will drill a hole into the tree, creating an oval-shaped entrance. The hole in the tree will be about 10-24 inches (25.4-61 centimeters) deep.
The female will lay about 3-5 eggs which will be incubated for about 18 days. Both Parents will take turns incubating the eggs throughout the day, but the males will do all the incubating at night time.
Pileated Woodpeckers are omnivorous, feeding on insects, fruits, and seeds. Some of their favorite insects include beetles, wood ants, and wood-boring larvae. They also eat nuts and fruits like dogwood berries, greenbriers, spicebush, sassafras, sumac, blackberries, and elderberries.
Predators & Threats
At the beginning of the 20th century, Pileated Woodpeckers weren’t a common sight. This is because a lot of logging was happening that was causing forests to be destroyed. Since then, forests have been protected and allowed to regrow, so the populations have gotten better.
Natural predators likely include larger birds of prey, raccoons, squirrels, and snakes.
7. Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker can grow up to 8-9 inches (20.3-22.8 centimeters) in length. They have a wingspan of 15-18.1 inches (38-46 centimeters).
They have a black and white zebra-like pattern across their back and wings. Their cape is a bright red, and their rump is white. They get their name from a faint red patch that is just barely visible on their abdomen. The rest of their belly and their face is a light gray color.
The males can be distinguished from the females because they have a red crown as well as red along the nape of their neck. The females only have the red on their neck.
When one of these birds calls out, they tend to make a sound like, “churr churr churr”.
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are usually found in mature hardwood forests. They can also be found in pine-hardwood forests, mesic pine flatwoods, swampy woods, and riparian forests. They will most commonly be found below 1,968 feet/600 meters in elevation, but they have been found as high as 2,952 feet/900 meters in the Appalachian mountains.
Range: These woodpeckers are found across the eastern United States. They can be found as far west as the Great Plains, eastward across the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic coast. They can be found as far north as southern Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan.
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers do not really migrate, but will stay in their home range throughout the entire year. However, some woodpeckers that live far north may migrate southward over winter.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: Up to 12 years
Researchers believe that Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are monogamous, although they choose new mates every season. They will choose partners from early winter to late spring. The males will call out to females by tapping on wood, drumming, and making a “kwirr” sound. When the pair gets together, they will both drum against the wood as a form of communication.
Nesting occurs in March and April, and the male and female will choose a nesting site together. When deciding on a cavity, one of the mates will tap on the wood from the inside of the cavity, while the other taps on the wood from the outside. Both must approve.
Nests are dug out from dead trees or the dead limbs attached to live trees. The female will lay about 4 eggs, and they will be incubated for about 12 days. The chick’s eyes will begin to open at about 6 days old, and feathers begin to grow in around days 10-12. The fledglings will leave the nest around 24-27 days after hatching.
Although they leave the nest at this time, they remain close to the nest for a few days. About two days after leaving the nest, the fledglings will follow their parents who continue to help feed them for up to 10 more weeks. If the fledglings try to stay longer than this, the parents will begin to drive them away.
These woodpeckers are omnivorous and will eat fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, insects, and tree sap. Some of their favorite insects include flies, grasshoppers, ants, caterpillars, and beetle larvae. They have also been known to eat green anoles, small fish, tree frogs, and nesting birds and eggs.
Most of the food is foraged for by pecking and digging at bark. Females will generally forage on tree limbs, while the males will forage on the trunks. When they go after larger prey, they will bash the prey against a tree and will peck at it until it’s dead.
They have also been known to hide food away for later, sticking it into crevices in the wood. They will store things like nuts, fruit, seeds, and insects.
Predators & Threats
Natural predators include birds of prey like Sharp-Shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, as well as rat snakes and house cats. Nestlings and eggs are in danger from European Starlings, rat snakes, Red-Headed Woodpeckers, and Pileated Woodpeckers.
8. Black-Backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)
These woodpeckers are a smaller size. Their bodies are about 8.4-9.4 inches (21.5-24 centimeters) in length, and their wingspan reaches 4.8-5.2 inches (12.3-13.4 centimeters).
Black-Backed Woodpeckers have a black back with white undertones. The sides, belly, breast, and throat are also white. However, the sides are covered in black bars. Conversely, the black wings have white bars across them.
The tail is also mostly black except for the tips of the feathers which are white. The head is black, but has a white stripe running from its nostrils to the nape of its neck.
The males can be distinguished from the females because they have a yellow patch of feathers on the crown of their head. The females are also slightly dulled in color, and their bills are shorter than the males.
Most woodpeckers have four toes, but the Black-Backed Woodpecker only has three. Two of the toes face forward while the remaining one faces backwards.
The call of these woodpeckers is fast and sharp. Many other woodpeckers will call with a series of sounds. The Black-Backed Woodpecker only emits one sharp sound, a “kyik”. This call is saved for communication between mates, young, and for defending their territory.
They also have a call that sounds like, “wet et ddd eee yaa” that sounds more like a rattle. This call is used to communicate with other woodpeckers.
Their drumming may be fast, or it may be slow. However, the drumming sounds long and even.
Black-Backed Woodpeckers prefer boreal and montane forests. They like forested areas that have recently burned, and are attracted to forests that are more fire-prone in general.
Range: These woodpeckers can be found throughout North America and parts of the Nearctic Region. To the north, they can be found as far as Alaska, Newfoundland, and labrador. They can also be found as far south as British Columbia and central California. They are not found further south than Nebraska, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Black-Backed Woodpeckers do not migrate. However, they seek out recently burned forests to live in. If a forest has had a fire that is close to them, they will move to set up their home there.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Lifespan: 6-8 years
Black-Backed Woodpeckers are monogamous, and they only breed once a season. Unlike other monogamous woodpeckers, it seems that the Black-Backed Woodpecker remains monogamous for life. They stay together year round, and they will not interact much with other woodpeckers.
When they’re ready to mate, the males will attract the females by raising the yellow tuft of feathers on their crest.
They will begin building their nest in April and May, creating it about 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) off the ground. Actual breeding will occur in June. The female will lay anywhere from 2-6 eggs which will be incubated for 12-14 days. Unlike other woodpecker species, the female does most of the incubation. Fledglings will leave the nest at about 25 days old
Black-Backed Woodpeckers rely on the burned remains of coniferous forests for their meals. They are insectivores that feed on the larvae of metallic wood-boring beetles, longhorn beetles, bark-boring beetles, and mountain pine beetles.
Insects are attracted to recently burned forests, creating an ideal habitat for Black-Backed Woodpeckers. They will find the larvae by peeling away the burnt bark from the trees.
They are not strictly insectivores, however, as they will also eat seeds, fruit, and bark when there are not enough insects around.
Predators & Threats
Because Black-Backed Woodpeckers mainly live in burned forests, they do not have many predators. Most animals avoid burned forests, so this is a layer of protection for the woodpeckers.
However, one natural predator is the black bear. They will climb the trees and try to gnaw their way into the woodpecker’s nest. Birds of prey, like Cooper’s Hawks, may also predate adult woodpeckers. Nestlings and eggs are in the most danger from flying squirrels and Douglas squirrels.
Although these woodpeckers have a large population and are not threatened, they do face habitat loss due to humans. They live in recently burned forests, only staying in an area for up to 2-3 years.
The problem is that, especially recently, extra effort has been made to suppress forest fires. This suppression is leaving the woodpeckers with less and less habitat. Also, after a fire has occurred, humans often go in to salvage the remaining trees, also decreasing these woodpecker’s habitats.
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Cultural References To Woodpeckers — Myths & Legends
Native American Culture
In Native American culture — specifically the Prairie tribe — woodpeckers are a symbol of protection. A woodpecker’s presence is welcome as a protector over humankind.
They believe that woodpeckers represent knowledge and intelligence from the way that they peck and find food. This symbolizes the tireless pursuit of knowledge and discovery, despite how difficult that pursuit may be.
The drumming of woodpeckers against wood is also associated with the heartbeat of nature. They represent the energy that flows through all living beings, and their bonds with the earth.
In Celtic belief, birds represent fertility and vitality. They believe that birds symbolize skill and knowledge. In their stories, heroes were helped by birds who spoke to them, revealing any present dangers or secrets.
Woodpeckers, in particular, are considered a spirit guide, or an animal totem. Woodpeckers utilize and value everything in their reach — even dead trees. In the same way, humans can take the opportunities presented to them to create the life they desire.
Roman & Greek Mythology
In Roman mythology, the god Mars kept a woodpecker named Picus. Picus was sacred to the god to the point that Picus was exalted to the status of a minor god in Italy. Picus, and woodpeckers, were revered for their fertile and productive properties.
In Greek mythology, woodpeckers are considered sacred to Zues and Ares. Woodpeckers were considered an agricultural deity, providing fertilization in the form of manure and soil.