Pennsylvania Woodpeckers: Pictures and Identification

picture of a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, a Common Pennsylvania woodpeckers in residential areas

Pennsylvania woodpeckers are a natural fit for all corners of Penn’s Woods.

Typically the state lists seven woodpecker species, however that number has been known to jump to nine species on very rare occasions when two additional northern species, the Three-toed woodpecker and Black-backed woodpecker, make a southern road trip during the winter.

Most of the seven species are well recognized due to the fact that they are commonly seen at the back yard feeder, or in the case of the Northern Flicker, pictured at the top of the page, the back yard grass.

Flickers are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family. They can commonly been seen walking across the lawn as they forage for ants.

During the spring the tend to drum, or quickly strike their beak on objects such as telephone poles and the sides of houses in order to claim territory and attract a mate. While it may annoy some people, often the practice stops in a brief period of time.

The are cavity nesters, and in most instances, the sides of a house are not conducive to nest building. If the drumming persists, perhaps there is a carpenter ant infestation of the outside walls.

Pennsylvania Woodpeckers: Melanerpes

picture of Red-headed Woodpecker
The colorful Melanerpes species are always welcome in neighborhoods.

Unfortunately population declines in the Red-headed woodpecker means that many areas of northern Pennsylvania don’t see much of them any more. The bold red color feathers on the head translates into easy identification. 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.

picture of a red-bellied woodpecker
Populations of Red-bellied woodpeckers, on the other hand, have expanded in Pennsylvania over time, and the are now a very common back yard bird, even in urban areas.

Pennsylvania represents the northern edge of their year round living range. In some areas of the north and west of the state the may migrate a bit south during harsh winters.

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 buffy and the nape is red.

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.

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.

It might be suggested that nothing says Pennsylvania woodpeckers like the Pileated woodpecker.

In fact, Alexander Wilson, a Philadelphia native during the Colonial era, was the first Ornithologist of the day. He wrote about the presence of the large Pileated Woodpeckers in the city, and their subsequent population decline as the trees were felled and the city more urbanized.

Fortunately, the Pileated are fairly adaptable birds and their presence, however small, is still known in the large urban areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Elsewhere, in the state they have an easier go finding suitable habitat.

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.

Woodpeckers: Picoides

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are two of the most common Pennsylvania woodpeckers. They also look very similar.

Downy Woodpeckers, the smaller of the two, also have a smaller bill. The video shows a male excavating a nest. It takes up to three weeks to complete.

picture of a male Hairy Woodpecker
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. They tend to be fairly calm around humans making picture taking easy.


picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pennsylvania woodpeckers
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker migrates to the state during spring where it breeds in all corners of Pennsylvania. With few exceptions, the population then migrates south during the fall season.

Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. They are not known to be common backyard feeder birds, however they can be seen in residential areas drilling wells to uncover the tree sap.

Fortunately for them, Pennsylvania is filled with sap bearing trees such as the conifers (hemlocks and pines) as well as elm trees, maple trees, and hickory trees and apple trees.

Unfortunately for the average homeowner, at least one of those species sits in the back yard. In some instances the damage to trees can be severs The Penn State Extension service recommends

Wrapping a 0.25-inch-mesh hardware cloth or burlap around the affected area is recommended to discourage sapsuckers from feeding on a favorite tree. Sticky or tacky bird repellents smeared on limbs or trunks where sapsuckers are working also discourage the birds.