Got a woodpecker at the back yard feeder? Identifying the eight North Carolina woodpeckers can be a fairly easy task by remembering a few identification rules of thumb.
Start with the largest woodpecker in the state, the Pileated Woodpecker pictured at the top of the page. No other woodpecker species has the fancy red crest on the head. The white stripes across the face also means it’s difficult to mistake the Pileated Woodpecker for any other species. In most of their Eastern environment, they have adapted to life in new growth forests and woodlots. There are many examples of their being enticed to backyard bird feeders.
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.
Back to the woodpecker identification.
North Carolinians who see a woodpecker walking along their lawn can almost immediately think Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. They are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family.
Males are distinguished from females by the black mustache on the cheek. The name Yellow-shafted refers to the color of the underwings.
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.
The amount of red feathers on the head is the best field identification clue to differentiate between the Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers.
Red-bellied woodpeckers have red feathers on the back of the neck. Males also have a patch of red feathers on the top of the head. Otherwise, their face has pale colored feathers. The stomach feathers have a slight red hue to them.
They belong to the same genus as the Acorn Woodpecker, and like them, they are known to store food in cracks in trees. Their diet also consists of in season fruit, nuts and insects.
Considering that the entire head of Red-headed woodpeckers are covered with red feathers means that identifying them is very easy. Both males and females share this feature. The only identification issue arises with juveniles. They 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.
Identifying the Red-cockaded woodpecker is also fairly easy. The difficult comes in finding one. They are the only woodpecker species on the Endangered Species List. In North Carolina, they make their home .
Physically it is a medium sized woodpecker with a common barred black and white feathers. A black cap and nape surrounding white facial feathers are the best field identification clues. Males have red stripes across the crown. The were called cockades after a 19th century hat fashion.
The Carolina Bird Club reports:
In this state, the woodpecker was found across most Coastal Plain counties and a few Piedmont counties along the Fall Line, as late as the 1980’s; however, as of 2016, the species is limited mostly to the longleaf pine belts of the Sandhills region and the lower Coastal Plain.
There might be a bit of identification confusion with the two remaining Picoides species, the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers. They are common across North Carolina and they look very similar.
Both have a very similar looking black and white feather patter around the head and body. Downy Woodpeckers, however, are the smaller of the two species. They also have a smaller bill.
Compare the picture of the Hairy with the Downy and the larger bill of the Hairy woodpecker becomes obvious. Otherwise, the black and white striped face, white belly and back feathers look very similar. Males also have a red crown.
Both species are comfortable in forests and residential areas alike. Look for them at the backyard feeder.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories.