Massachusetts Woodpeckers: Pictures and Information

picture of a Black-backed Woodpecker, one of the less common Massachusetts woodpeckers

Birding for Massachusetts woodpeckers is always an exciting day out. Six of the eight species listed below commonly breed in the state.

The two additional species, Black-backed and Red-headed woodpeckers are much less common. Discovering one on an outing is always the highlight of the day.

Woodpecker popularity partially comes about because they enjoy living in and around residential areas. That makes them great photography subjects.

Share your woodpecker pictures and stories with the community. The bird button on the left leads to more help with bird identification questions.

Woodpeckers: Picoides

Most Americans, as well as Massachusettsian are unfamiliar with the Black-backed woodpecker. They are not one of the typical Massachusetts woodpeckers. In fact, they are a rare find. Since their inception in 1989, the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee has only documented three occurrences of the woodpecker on Massachusetts trees.

Their preferred habitat is the Northern Boreal forests, especially those that suffer some type of damage. That’s the case because their diet consists primarily of insects, especially wood-boring beetles that flock to large dead and moribund trees. As a result, Black-backed woodpecker populations necessarily link to habitat changes. In times of abundant food, populations thrive. Unfortunately in times where forest areas recover, their populations decrease.

They are cavity nesters, similar to other woodpeckers. As the picture highlights, the yellow crown on the male distinguishes them from the typical red crown of more common woodpecker species. Females have a black crown.

picture of a downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpeckers change the conversation from least common species to most common species. That’s because they adapts equally well to most wilderness and residential areas with trees. They also happily arrive at backyard feeders.

Physically, the Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger and related Hairy Woodpecker. In instances where size comparisons might not be available, experts suggest examining the bill size in relation to the head size. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills.

picture of a Hairy Woodpecker
Almost everything written above about the Downy Woodpecker applies to the Hairy Woodpecker. Note the larger bill in the picture.

Both are very common species in Massachusetts, even in the large metropolitan areas such as Boston.


picture of a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker
Flickers (genus Colaptes) rank as one of the most common woodpeckers in the United States. They have a presence in every single state, and they adapt to residential areas with little trouble.

Massachusetts has always been home to the East Coast variant the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The color designation refers to the under the wing color of their tail and wing feathers. While they are common across the state, the population density in most areas has trended downward since the 1970s.

Flickers are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family. They prefer open habitats such as fields and residential areas because they supply them with their primary food sources such as insects, seeds and berries. Males are distinguished from females by the black mustache on the cheek.

Popular birds, they are welcome at many back yard feeders and especially enjoy a snack of suet and water. With a life that often exceeds the five year mark, homeowners might expect a long term relationship with any flickers they might attract to the back yard feeder.

Woodpeckers: Dryocopus

picture of a Pileated Woodpecker
The red crested head and white stripes across the face makes it difficult to mistake the Pileated Woodpecker for any other species. It’s the only species in the Dryocopus genus in the United Sates and probably the largest woodpecker in any area.

Pileated Woodpeckers are habitat adaptable. That fact partially explains their range. With the exception of the Rocky Mountain states and the Midwest, they can be found from coast to coast. They need some dense forested area for habitat. In the West, they prefer old growth habitat and in the East they can adapt to the younger forests.

They are described as both shy and adapted to human environments. Their attitude toward humans probably depends on the particulars of their territory. In instances where they breed and live in non-residential areas, they can be shy. There are also ample examples of their being enticed to backyard bird feeders. They are fairly common in western Massachusetts and the most recent surveys show population increases for them in the east.

Woodpeckers: Melanerpes

picture of a red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpeckers are the more common of the two Massachusetts Melanerpes woodpeckers, and nobody was more surprised at that fact than Massachusetts birders. The first breeding bird atlas from 1974-1979 recorded three areas of breeding pairs. By the time of the second atlas, breeding pairs were discovered throughout the state.

According to Massachusetts Audubon,

Other than the Wild Turkey (which received considerable direct assistance from humans), no breeding bird species in Massachusetts shows a greater increase in occupied blocks across the state than the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Red-bellied Woodpeckers seem to have flooded into the low-lying areas of the state from the south.

They are larger than average birds with an outgoing personality. They easily adapt to backyard feeders and their loud vocalizations can often be heard through the neighborhood.

Physically, the name red-bellied can be a bit misleading because the stomach feathers have barely a hint of red to them. The back and top of the male’s head is red. The female’s head is lacks a red crown and the nape is red.

close up picture of Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed woodpeckers rank as the most wide spread of the Melanerpes species, with a presence in almost every state from the Rocky Mountains and destinations east. It’s physical appearance translates into easy identification. The head, covered in red feathers, along with a white stomach stands out in a crowded woodpecker field. Both males and females share this feature. Juveniles have brown feathers on the head for their first year.

They enjoy open areas with grasses and woodlands, especially oak dominated areas because the consume acorns. Their propensity for nuts also means they are easily enticed to backyard feeders with suet or other healthy nuts such as sunflower seeds.

Woodpecker enthusiasts with backyard feeders can attest to their gregarious nature. They don’t mind flocking in large groups when food is plentiful. In those times, they can be a bit vocal. In the northernmost area of their range they are a summer resident for breeding and then migrate south for the winter.

As mentioned above, they are very uncommon in the state.


picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. It breeds across Canada from Coast to Coast and in the winter returns to most forested areas west of the Rocky Mountains. They are common in the west and almost nonexistent in the east of Massachusetts.

Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories.

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