Knock! Knock! Knock! and Ratta-tat-tat. You’ve got a woodpecker in your backyard. But what kind is it? We have up to eight different species of woodpeckers in North Texas depending on the time of the year. Many of them are superficially similar in appearance and behavior. How can you tell them apart?

The following will be a brief guide and primer to the woodpeckers of North Texas. In it you will find descriptions of appearance, behaviors, preferred habitat, and distribution.

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

Downy Woodpecker - Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Downy Woodpecker – Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Downy Woodpecker - Female, from Wikimedia Commons
Downy Woodpecker – Female, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

Adult downy woodpeckers are the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers. The total length of the species ranges from 14 to 18 cm (5.5 to 7.1 in) and the wingspan from 25 to 31 cm (9.8 to 12.2 in). Body mass ranges from 20 to 33 g (0.71 to 1.16 oz). Standard measurements are as follows: the wing chord is 8.5–10 cm (3.3–3.9 in), the tail is 4–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in), the bill is 1–1.8 cm (0.39–0.71 in) and the tarsus is 1.1–1.7 cm (0.43–0.67 in).The downy woodpecker is mainly black on the upperparts and wings, with a white back, throat and belly and white spotting on the wings. There is a white bar above the eye and one below. They have a black tail with white outer feathers barred with black. Adult males have a red patch on the back of the head whereas juvenile birds display a red cap.

The downy woodpecker is virtually identical in plumage pattern to the larger hairy woodpecker, but it can be distinguished from the hairy by the presence of black spots on its white tail feathers and the length of its bill. The downy woodpecker’s bill is shorter than its head, whereas the hairy woodpecker’s bill is approximately equal to head length.

Despite their close resemblance, downy and hairy woodpeckers are not very closely related, and they are likely to be separated in different genera; the outward similarity is a spectacular example of convergent evolution. Why they evolved this way cannot be explained with confidence; it may be relevant that the species exploit rather different-sized foodstuffs and do not compete very much ecologically.

The downy woodpecker gives a number of vocalizations, including a short pik call. Like other woodpeckers, it also produces a drumming sound with its beak as it pecks into trees. Compared to other North American species its drums are slow.

Downy woodpeckers are native to forested areas, mainly deciduous, of North America. Their range consists of most of the United States and Canada, except for the deserts of the southwest and the tundra of the north. Mostly permanent residents, northern birds may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations.

Downy woodpeckers nest in a tree cavity excavated by the nesting pair in a dead tree or limb. In the winter, they roost in tree cavities. Downy Woodpeckers forage on trees, picking the bark surface in summer and digging deeper in winter. They mainly eat insects, also seeds and berries. In winter, especially, downy woodpeckers can often be found in suburban backyards with trees and will feed on suet at birdfeeders.

Downy Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Downy Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

Hariry Woodpecker - Male right and Female left, from Wikimedia Commons
Hariy Woodpecker – Male left and Female right, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, averaging approximately 250 mm (9.8 in) in length with a 380 mm (15 in) wingspan. With an estimated population in 2003 of over nine million individuals, the hairy woodpecker is listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern in North America.

The hairy woodpecker inhabits mature deciduous forests in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States. Mating pairs will excavate a hole in a tree, where they will tend to, on average, four white eggs.

Adults are mainly black on the upper parts and wings, with a white or pale back and white spotting on the wings; the throat and belly vary from white to sooty brown, depending on subspecies. There is a white bar above and one below the eye. They have a black tail with white outer feathers. Adult males have a red patch or two side-by-side patches on the back of the head; juvenile males have red or rarely orange-red on the crown.

The hairy woodpecker measures from 18–26 cm (7.1–10.2 in) in length, 33–43 cm (13–17 in) in wingspan and 40–95 g (1.4–3.4 oz) in weight. It is virtually identical in plumage to the smaller downy woodpecker. The Downy has a shorter bill relative to the size of its head which is, other than size and voice, the best way to distinguish them in the field. These two species are not closely related, however, and are likely to be separated in different genera. The best way to tell the two species apart other than the size is the lack of spots on its white tail feathers (which the Downy has). Their outward similarity is a spectacular example of convergent evolution. As to why this convergence has evolved, only tentative hypotheses have been advanced; in any case due to the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species is rather slight.

These birds are mostly permanent residents. Birds in the extreme north may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations.

These birds forage on trees, often turning over bark or excavating to uncover insects. They mainly eat insects, also fruits, berries and nuts, sometimes tree sap. They are also known to peck at wooden window frames and wood sided homes that may house bugs.

Hairy Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Hairy Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris)

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Ladder-backed Woodpecker - Female, from Wikimedia Commons
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Female, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The ladder-backed woodpecker is fairly common in dry brushy areas and thickets and has a rather large range. The species can be found year-round over the southwestern United States (north to extreme southern Nevada and extreme southeastern Colorado), most of Mexico, and locally in Central America as far south as Nicaragua.

The ladder-backed woodpecker is a small woodpecker about 16.5 to 19 cm (6½ to 7½ inches) in length. It is primarily colored black and white, with a barred pattern on its back and wings resembling the rungs of a ladder. Its rump is speckled with black, as are its cream-colored underparts on the breast and flanks. Southern populations have duskier buff breasts and distinctly smaller bills. Adult males have a red crown patch that is smaller in immatures and lacking in adult females. The ladder-backed woodpecker is very similar in appearance to Nuttall’s woodpecker, but has much less black on its head and upper back, and the range of the two species only intersects a minimal amount in southern California and northern Baja California. Hybrids are known.

Ladder-backed woodpeckers nest in cavities excavated from tree trunks, or in more arid environments a large cactus will do. The female lays between 2 and 7 eggs, which are plain white. The eggs are incubated by both sexes, but the nesting period and other details are unknown.

Like most other woodpeckers the ladder-backed woodpecker bores into tree-trunks with its chisel-like bill to hunt for insects and their larva, but it also feeds on fruit produced by cacti.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Ladder-backed Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Pileated Woodpecker - Male right and Female left, from Wikimedia Commons
Pileated Woodpecker – Male left and Female right, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a large woodpecker native to North America. Roughly crow-sized, it normally inhabits deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is the largest woodpecker in the United States, second to the critically endangered ivory-billed woodpecker.

Adults are 40 to 49 cm (16 to 19 in) long, span 66 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in) across the wings and weigh 250 to 400 g (8.8 to 14.1 oz), with an average weight of 300 g (11 oz). Each wing measures 21.4 to 25.3 cm (8.4 to 10.0 in), the tail measures 14 to 17.4 cm (5.5 to 6.9 in), the bill is 4.1–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in) and the tarsus measures 3.1–3.8 cm (1.2–1.5 in). They are mainly black with a red crest, and have a white line down the sides of the throat. They show white on the wings in flight. The flight of these birds is strong and direct but has an undulating quality, similar to the relatively unique flight-style of all woodpeckers. Adult males have a red line from the bill to the throat, in adult females these are black. Two species found in the Old World, the white-bellied and black woodpeckers are closely related and occupy the same ecological niche in their respective ranges that the pileated occupies in North America. The only North American birds of similar plumage and size are the ivory-billed woodpecker of the Southeastern United States and Cuba, and the related imperial woodpecker of Mexico. However, unlike the pileated, both of those species are extremely rare, if not extinct. Most reports of the ivory-billed woodpecker are believed to be erroneous reports of the far more common pileated.

The call is a loud, far-carrying laugh, sometimes described as a “jungle bird” call due to its wild, un-fettered quality. The northern flicker, which is very different looking and weighs about half as much as a pileated, has a similar-sounding call but has a weaker voice. Its drumming can be very loud, often sounding like someone striking a tree with a hammer.

Their breeding habitat is forested areas across Canada, the eastern United States and parts of the Pacific coast. This bird favors mature forests and heavily wooded parks. They specifically prefer mesic habitats with large, mature hardwood trees, often being found in large tracts of forest. However, they also inhabit smaller woodlots as long as they have a scattering of tall trees.

These birds mainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. They also eat fruits, nuts, and berries, including poison ivy berries. Pileated woodpeckers will often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects, especially ant galleries. They also will lap up ants by reaching with their long tongue into crevices. They are self-assured on the vertical surfaces of large trees but can seem awkward while feeding on small branches and vines. Pileated woodpeckers may also forage on or near the ground, especially around fallen, dead trees, which can contain a smorgasbord of insect life. They may forage around the sides of human homes or even cars and can occasionally be attracted to suet-type feeders. Although they are less likely feeder visitors than smaller woodpeckers, pileateds may regularly be attracted to them in areas experiencing harsh winter conditions.

Usually, pileated woodpeckers excavate their large nests in the cavities of dead trees. Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees that the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. The roost of a pileated woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes. Pileated woodpeckers raise their young every year in a hole in a tree. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Once the brood is raised, the pileated woodpeckers abandon the hole and will not use it the next year. When abandoned, these holes—made similarly by all woodpeckers—provide good homes in future years for many forest song birds and a wide variety of other animals. Owls and tree-nesting ducks may largely rely on holes made by pileateds in which to lay their nests. Even mammals such as raccoons may use them. Other woodpeckers and smaller birds such as wrens may be attracted to pileated holes to feed on the insects found in them. Ecologically, the entire woodpecker family is important to the well being of many other bird species. The pileated woodpecker will also nest in nest boxes about 4.6 m (15 ft) off the ground.

A pileated woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is a non-migratory species. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate floaters during the winter. When clashing with conspecifics, they engage in much chasing, calling, striking with the wings, and jabbing with the bill. Drumming is most commonly to proclaim a territory and hollow trees are often used to make the largest sound possible.

Pileated woodpeckers have been observed to move to another site if any eggs have fallen out of the nest—a rare habit in birds. The cavity is unlined except for wood chips. Both parents incubate three to five eggs for 12 to 16 days. There is an average of clutch size of 4 per nest. The young may take a month to fledge. The oldest known pileated woodpecker was 12 years and 11 months old. Predators at the nest can include American martens, weasels, squirrels, rat snakes and gray foxes. Free-flying adults have fewer predators but can be taken in some numbers by Cooper’s hawks, northern goshawks, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and barred owls.

The pileated woodpecker occupies a large range and is quite adaptable. Its ability to survive in many wooded habitat types has allowed the species to survive human habitation of North America much better than the more specialized ivory-billed woodpecker. Pileated woodpeckers have a large population size and, despite being non-migratory, are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. While the large birds control many insect populations, especially tree beetles, that may otherwise experience outbreaks, some people may consider them harmful if found on their property due to the considerable damage that pileated woodpeckers can do to trees.

Pileated Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Pileated Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Female, from Wikimedia Commons
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Female, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a medium-sized woodpecker of the Picidae family. It breeds in southern Canada, northeastern Mexico, and the northeastern United States, ranging as far south as Florida and as far west as Texas. Its common name is somewhat misleading, as the most prominent red part of its plumage is on the head; the red-headed woodpecker, however, is another species that is a rather close relative but looks quite different.

It was first described in Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, as Picus carolinus. The type locality is given simply as “America septentrionalis” (North America).

Adults are mainly light gray on the face and underparts; they have black and white barred patterns on their back, wings and tail. Adult males have a red cap going from the bill to the nape; females have a red patch on the nape and another above the bill. The reddish tinge on the belly that gives the bird its name is difficult to see in field identification. They are 22.85 to 26.7 cm (9.00 to 10.51 in) long, and have a wingspan of 38 to 46 cm (15 to 18 in).

Red-bellied woodpeckers are noisy birds, and have many varied calls. Calls have been described as sounding like churr-churr-churr or thrraa-thrraa-thrraa with an alternating br-r-r-r-t sound. Males tend to call and drum more frequently than females, but both sexes call. Often, these woodpeckers “drum” to attract mates. They tap on aluminum roofs, metal guttering, hollow trees and even transformer boxes, in urban environments, to communicate with potential partners. Babies have a high-pitched begging call of pree-pree-pree. They will continue to give a begging call whenever they see their parents for a while after fledging.

These birds mainly search out arthropods on tree trunks. They may also catch insects in flight. They are omnivores, eating insects, fruits, nuts and seeds. Their breeding habitat is usually deciduous forests. They nest in the decayed cavities of dead trees, old stumps, or in live trees that have softer wood such as elms, maples, or willows; both sexes assist in digging nesting cavities. Areas around nest sites are marked with drilling holes to warn others away.

Though the species is not globally threatened, it depends on large trees for nesting. In areas that are extensively deforested, the birds will sometimes utilize gardens, but for the most part simply will not be present in any numbers.

In early May, the red-bellied woodpeckers begin breeding activities by drumming patterns; such as, slow taps followed by short rapid drumming. Woodpeckers depend on dead and drying wood for nesting purposes. The male red-bellied woodpecker takes the initiative in locating a nest hole. He will then seek approval from his female mate by mutual tapping. The red-bellied woodpecker excavates holes in trees for nesting and roosting. By excavating cavities, they play an important role in the forest communities for other species as well. For example, species such as squirrels and bats use these cavities as shelter. The female red-bellied woodpecker accepts the nesting hole by completing the excavation and entering the nest hole.

Researchers have documented that red-bellied woodpeckers have the tendency to nest in clear areas with only few trees. Studies have indicated that close canopy areas does not impact the bird’s nesting behavior; however, further studies are needed and are in progress. Red-bellied woodpeckers are territorial during the nesting season and they breed once per year. A pair-breeding woodpecker begins nesting in April or May holding a year-round territories and showing high site fidelity.

Red-bellied woodpeckers depend on dead trees for nesting. Recent studies have shown that these woodpeckers experienced low breeding due to cutting sites of dead trees; however, predators are still of main concern. The juvenile red-bellied woodpecker are ready to fledge its nest at 24 to 26 days of age. Natal dispersal has been observed on juvenile red-bellied woodpeckers. The juvenile red-bellied woodpecker remains approximately 27 weeks in its natal area after fledging. In some cases, the woodpecker may return to its natal area for breeding depending on predation levels and food resources.

It has been noted that vocal signals in red-bellied woodpeckers is used to attract and communicate with potential mates. A low “grr, grr” sound is observed in a pair of woodpeckers from the start of courtship until the end of the breeding season. In an intraspecific conflict, the red-bellied woodpeckers usually make a loud “chee-wuck, chee-wuck, chee-wuck” sound. As indicated by Kilham 1983, the red-bellied woodpecker drums with its bill during conflict situation and taps to maintain pair bonding. An example of a conflict event between red-bellied woodpeckers would be competing for the same mate. Nevertheless, the red-bellied woodpeckers are known to be in monogamous relationships.

Red-bellied Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Red-bellied Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Red-headed Woodpecker - Male or Female, from Wikimedia Commons
Red-headed Woodpecker – Male or Female, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

The red-bellied woodpecker also has its most prominent red part of its plumage on the head, but it looks quite different in other respects.

Adults are strikingly tri-colored, with a black back and tail and a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondary remiges. Adult males and females are identical in plumage. Juveniles have very similar markings, but have an all grey head. Non-birders may often mistakenly identify red-bellied woodpeckers as red-headeds, whose range overlaps somewhat with that of the red-headed woodpecker. While red-bellied woodpeckers have some bright red on the backs of their necks and heads, red-headed woodpeckers have a much deeper red that covers their entire heads and necks, as well as a dramatically different overall plumage pattern.

These are mid-sized woodpeckers. Both sexes measure from 19 to 25 cm (7.5 to 9.8 in) in length, with a wingspan of 42.5 cm (16.7 in). They weigh from 56 to 97 g (2.0 to 3.4 oz) with an average of 76 g (2.7 oz). Each wing measures 12.7–15 cm (5.0–5.9 in), the tail measures 6.6–8.5 cm (2.6–3.3 in), the bill measures 2.1–3 cm (0.83–1.18 in) and the tarsus measures 1.9–2.5 cm (0.75–0.98 in). The maximum longevity in the wild is 9.9 years.

They give a tchur-tchur call or drum on territory.

These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. About two thirds of their diet is made up of plants. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole, or a dead part of a tree that is between 2.45 and 24.5 m (8.0 and 80.4 ft) above the ground. They lay 4 to 7 eggs in early May which are incubated for two weeks. Two broods can be raised in a single nesting season. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range, with most having arrived on the breeding range by late April, and having left for winter quarters by late October; southern birds are often permanent residents.

Red-headed Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Red-headed Woodpecker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) - Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) – Male, from Wikimedia Commons
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) - Female, from Wikimedia Commons
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) – Female, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized member of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. There are over 100 common names for the northern flicker. Among them are: yellowhammer (as it’s known as the state bird of Alabama, not to be confused with the Eurasian yellowhammer), clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names are attempts at imitating some of its calls.

Adults are brown with black bars on the back and wings. A mid-to-large-sized woodpecker measures 28–36 cm (11–14 in) in length and 42–54 cm (17–21 in) in wingspan. The body mass can vary from 86 to 167 g (3.0 to 5.9 oz). Among standard scientific measurements, the wing bone measures 12.2–17.1 cm (4.8–6.7 in), the tail measures 7.5–11.5 cm (3.0–4.5 in), the bill measures 2.2–4.3 cm (0.87–1.69 in) and the tarsus measures 2.2–3.1 cm (0.87–1.22 in). The largest-bodied specimens are from the northern stretches of the species range, such as Alaska or Newfoundland and Labrador, whereas the smallest specimens come from Grand Cayman Island. A necklace-like black patch occupies the upper breast, while the lower breast and belly are beige with black spots. Males can be identified by a black or red moustachial stripe at the base of the beak. The tail is dark on top, transitioning to a white rump which is conspicuous in flight.

The northern flicker is part of the genus Colaptes, which encompasses twelve New-World woodpeckers. There are nine recognized subspecies and one extinct subspecies of C. auratus. The existing subspecies were at one time considered separate species but they commonly interbred where ranges overlap and are now considered one species by the American Ornithologists Union. Whether or not they are separate species is a well-known example of the species problem.

The yellow-shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus auratus) resides in eastern North America. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries. They have a grey cap, a beige face and a red bar at the nape of their neck. Males have a black moustache. Colaptes comes from the Greek verb colapt, to peck. Auratus is from the Latin root aurat, meaning “gold” or “golden” and refers to the bird’s underwing.

The red-shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) resides in western North America. They are red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries. They have a beige cap and a grey face. Males have a red moustache.

Northern Flicker (Red-shafted - Female left and Male right, from Wikimedia Commons
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) – Female left and Male right, from Wikimedia Commons

This bird’s call is a sustained laugh, ki ki ki ki, more congenial than that of the pileated woodpecker. One may also hear a constant knocking as they often drum on trees or even metal objects to declare territory. Like most woodpeckers, northern flickers drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense. In such cases, the object is to make as loud a noise as possible, and that’s why woodpeckers sometimes drum on metal objects.

According to the Audubon guide, “flickers are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground”, probing with their beak, also sometimes catching insects in flight. Although they eat fruits, berries, seeds and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet. Other invertebrates eaten include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and snails. Flickers also eat berries and seeds, especially in winter, including poison oak and ivy, dogwood, sumac, wild cherry and grape, bayberries, hackberries, and elderberries, and sunflower and thistle seeds. Flickers often go after ants underground (where the nutritious larvae live), hammering at the soil the way other woodpeckers drill into wood. They have been observed breaking into cow patties to eat insects living within. Their tongues can dart out 50 mm (2.0 in) beyond the end of the bill to snare prey. As well as eating ants, flickers have a behavior called anting, during which they use the acid from the ants to assist in preening, as it is useful in keeping them free of parasites.

Flickers may be observed in open habitats near trees, including woodlands, edges, yards, and parks. In the western United States, one can find them in mountain forests all the way up to treeline. Northern flickers generally nest in holes in trees like other woodpeckers. Occasionally, they have been found nesting in old, earthen burrows vacated by belted kingfishers or bank swallows. Both sexes help with nest excavation. The entrance hole is about 7.6 cm (3.0 in) in diameter, and the cavity is 33–41 cm (13–16 in) deep. The cavity widens at bottom to make room for eggs and the incubating adult. Inside, the cavity is bare except for a bed of wood chips for the eggs and chicks to rest on. Once nestlings are about 17 days old, they begin clinging to the cavity wall rather than lying on the floor.

Their breeding habitat consists of forested areas across North America and as far south as Central America. They are cavity nesters who typically nest in trees but they will also use posts and birdhouses if sized and situated appropriately. They prefer to excavate their own home although they will reuse and repair damaged or abandoned nests. Abandoned flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. Flickers are sometimes driven from nesting sites by another cavity nester, the European starling.

It takes about 1 to 2 weeks to build the nest which is built by both sexes of the mating pairs. The entrance hole is roughly 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) wide.

Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range; southern birds are often permanent residents.

Northern Flicker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Northern Flicker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Male right and Female left, from Wikimedia Commons
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Male left and Female right, from Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:

The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is a medium-sized woodpecker found in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is one of four species in the genus Sphyrapicus.[2] First described by Carl Linnaeus in 1766, it is monotypic across its sizable range.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a mid-sized woodpecker, measuring 18–22 cm (7.1–8.7 in) in length, 34–40 cm (13–16 in) in wingspan and weighing from 40–63 g (1.4–2.2 oz). Adults are black on the back and wings with white bars; they have a black head with white lines down the side and a red forehead and crown, a yellow breast and upper belly, a white lower belly and rump and a black tail with a white central bar. Adult males have a red throat; females have a white throat.

They drum and give a cat-like call in spring to declare ownership of territory.

The breeding habitat of the yellow-bellied sapsucker is forested areas across Canada, eastern Alaska and the northeastern United States. They prefer young, mainly deciduous forests. There is also a disjunct population found in high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

These birds migrate to the southeastern United States, West Indies and Central America, leaving their summer range. This species has occurred as a very rare vagrant to Ireland and Great Britain.

Like other sapsuckers, these birds drill holes in trees and eat the sap and insects drawn to it. They may also pick insects from tree trunks or catch them in flight. They also eat fruit and berries.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers nest in a large cavity excavated in a deciduous tree, often choosing one weakened by disease; the same site may be used for several years. Both the male and the female work in making the nest, where five or seven white eggs are well concealed. Both birds share in hatching.

They will mate with the same partner from year to year, as long as both birds survive. They sometimes hybridize with red-naped sapsuckers or red-breasted sapsuckers where their breeding ranges overlap.

Because yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on up to 250 species of living trees and woody plants, they are sometimes considered to be a pest. The birds can cause serious damage to trees, and intensive feeding has been documented as a source of tree mortality. Sapsucker feeding can kill a tree by girdling, which occurs when a ring of bark around the trunk is severely injured. Certain tree species are particularly susceptible to dying after being damaged by yellow-bellied sapsuckers. For example, a USDA forest study that examined trees injured by yellow-bellied sapsuckers noted a mortality of 67% for gray birch (Betula populifolia), 51% for paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and 40% for red maple (Acer rubrum). In other tree species, injuries inflicted by yellow-bellied sapsuckers can result in significantly less mortality. The USDA study noted that only 3% of Red Spruce (Picea rubens) and 1% of Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) that were injured by sapsuckers succumbed to their wounds.

In orchards, the USDA recommends allowing yellow-bellied sapsuckers to feed upon their preferred tree(s), suggesting the birds will focus their attention on these and spare the rest of the orchard from serious damage. Non-lethal deterrents can also be applied to trees to ward off the birds, including burlap wraps and bird tanglefoot (a type of sticky repellent). In commercial aspen plantations, yellow-bellied sapsuckers can be drawn to a stand by individual trees infested by the fungus Fomes igniarius. Infested trees are prone to heartwood decay, which provides prime habitat for sapsuckers to carve nesting holes. Therefore, infested trees should be eliminated to prevent colonization of commercial aspen stands by sapsuckers.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker observations as recorded in the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project

36 Replies to “The Woodpeckers of North Texas”

  1. I would like to report that I saw, and took a picture of, a female Ladder-backed Woodpecker in Abbott, TX. Abbott is 10 minutes south of Hillsboro along I-35, and 20 minutes north of Waco.

  2. I have twice recently observed female Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker(s), (Note – Probably the same bird, twice), in the very large willow tree behind our home. It/they have caused many substantial injuries to the tree on many larger branches at/above 8 feet from the ground level. Never occurred until this past few months. Latest observation was 8 days ago. I will apply burlap wraps to the affected areas to try and prevent further damage or girdling. Any other tips or ideas on how to accommodate the birds and also maintain my favorite tree will be appreciated. Thank you.

  3. Outside of your reporting area (Burkburnett, Tx), but we see ladder-backs every year on our property. We currently have a female excavating a hole in the tree in our backyard.

  4. Believe to have spotted a male red-bellied woodpecker investigating my feeder south of Burleson (Briaroaks) this morning.

  5. Hello All and happy day before Thanksgiving! I just saw what I thought was a pair of yellow bellied sapsuckers on the base of a small oak tree in my back yard but they looked too big. I grabbed my field glasses and was surprised to identify instead a pair of NORTHERN FLICKERS! They hopped onto the ground and pecked around a bit before flying off. The first time to see these lovely birds. The sap suckers are regular visitors.

  6. Hola from Del Rio Texas, using your website we have identified a male red bellied woodpecker that has been visiting our porch the past couple of weeks!

  7. Hello
    On 2/17/18 I observed 4 red headed woodpeckers in southern Clay County Texas on a rural deer lease property. They were eating corn on the ground near a wildlife feeder.

  8. Saw a female Downy Woodpecker in my oak tree in the afternoon both yesterday and today (March 3, 2018) in North Richland Hills. Thanks to this site for identifying it!

  9. We have a red headed woodpecker on our property in Rains county. It can be seen in the mornings feeding at the bird feeder. It’s beautiful!

  10. Spotted a Downy Woodpecker in my backyard oak tree early this afternoon. I think it was a male and I am located in far north Dallas near Richland College.

  11. We have had at least two male red-bellied woodpeckers in our backyard for the past week, visiting our platform bird feeder and zealously driving off the cowbirds from it. We have also seen a ladder-backed woodpecker as well, although not as often. This is in Northwest McKinney. We live alongside a wooded small creek.

  12. We have Afghan pine saw a wood rocker approx 2 weeks straight in February. We now have an extreme amount of holes in the trunk will it kill the tree?

  13. My mom spotted a pair of what we believe are red-bellied woodpeckers in her backyard in Cedar Hill. I wish I could attach pics for identification.

  14. I have had a Downy Woodpecker in my back yard since December (I got a birdfeeder for Christmas and it was the first bird that found it) I haven’t seen it for about a week now and I came to your page hoping to learn that it left and not that something happened to it. I’m hoping it’s just gone for the Summer and will be back in December!

    Mansfield, Texas

  15. June 9,2018
    I was so excited today to see a Pileated Woodpecker as I was sitting on my porch in Tennessee Colony, Tx. We see the little sapsuckers all the time . This bird was so big, I actually heard him before I saw him. I had heard his tapping and then he flew in and settled on a tree right in front of me. This guy was huge and beautiful. Thank you Mother Nature.

  16. I have just spotted a downy woodpecker in my neighbors crepe myrtle tree right outside of my dining room window! Thanks to this website I was able to identify the species.

  17. We have a male Ladderback who comes daily since I put feeders out. This morning we saw two small birds with the same markings but no red – we think they are young offspring.

  18. I’ve observed a red-billed woodpecker at my feeder the last few days…he’s a big guy. Beautiful bird…

  19. Is it possible to have a Northern Flicker down in Granbury, TX? I have not yet been able to get a decent picture to accurately identify it. I have only seen it twice over a 3 day period.

  20. Beautiful red – bellieds enjoying my backyard in Arlington. See them on trees and logs, hopping upside down sometimes, busy eating, hanging from the side of trees, and swinging on/eating from the suet feeder which they love. They drink from a low birdbath, and have access to fruit blends with a variety of seeds, nuts and corn, although I haven’t yet seen them on the ground eating seeds. They’ve been scouting out the amenities for a while now, and I was thrilled to see them hanging on the suet feeder today. Don’t know how many, but both sexes for sure. Stately, beautiful birds!

  21. Also have a male downey enjoying the suet feeder in Arlington. Besides the beautiful woodpeckers, seems like many other birds love the suet, including doves, wrens, sparrows, cardinals and starlings. Blue Jays seem to prefer only the feeder. I could watch the birds for hours – What a joy to have such nature in our backyards! Add to that the foxes, raccoons and possums that often visit us.

  22. Spotted two Northern Flickers feeding in my yard at Lake o’ the Pines in northeast Texas. We have red-headed woodpeckers that have been nesting here for the past 13 years; beautiful birds. First time I’ve seen the Flickers.

  23. We have a pair of ladderbacks nesting in an excavated hole in a rotted tree trunk about 20 ft above the ground in Granbury Texas. They dug the hole over a two week period. Lots of wood chips on the ground under the hole. Nest hole is big enough for male and female both at same time.

  24. We have a Yellow-Bellied woodpecker that is coming to our feeders every morning and evening in Grapevine, TX. We hung a woodpecker feeder but he prefers to eat out of our red bird feeder. i fill it with fruit and nut food. He loves it. Also, there is a small woodpecker that feeds off the woodpecker feeder, usually in the morning. He looks like a small Flicker, but not sure.

  25. On 9/4/2020 I saw 2 red headed woodpeckers on a utility pole on our property in Decatur, Texas. First I have ever seen in my 33 years here.

  26. Were Ivory Billed Woodpeckers close to DFW
    say in the early 20th century perhaps in nearby parts of East Texas? Also known as the Ghost Bird and largest of the woodpeckers it is believed to be extinct.
    Last confirmed sighting in Arkansas in early 40s. Still reports come in on the bird fairly recently ( 2004). Range included the Piney Woods. Anyway maybe old sources exist of the birds whereabouts in Texas from the 1800s into the 20th. Any scholars or birdwatchers out there in the know?

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