Woodpeckers in Tennessee: Pictures and Identification Guide

Thanks for visiting Tennessee woodpeckers.

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

Tennessee’s six woodpecker species are common for a southern state. All of them have fairly stable populations and can be found at back yard feeders.

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are common across the United States and represent the Picoides species in Tennessee.

The video at the top of the page shows a male Downy excavating a nest. It can take up to three weeks to complete. Both the Downy and the Hairy are faily calm around people, so it’s easy to get pictures and video as long as the human does not cause a fuss around the bird.

picture of a male Hairy Woodpecker
Comparing the video of the male Downey with the picture of the Hairy suggests the larger bill of the Hairy woodpecker stands out. 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. The Downy is probably the most common species in the state. Look for them at the backyard feeder.


picture of a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker
Flickers also rank as one of the most common of the Tennessee woodpeckers. They are year round residents and the population increases with some winter migration.

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. The male is distinguished from the female by the black patch 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.

Tennessee hosts the Yellow-shafted Northen Flicker.

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, and because of that, they are fairly common in Tennessee woodlands.

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.

Woodpeckers: Melanerpes

picture of a red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpeckers are the most common of the two Melanerpes species in the state. They are year round residents that can be found almost anywhere there are trees.

Physically, the name red-bellied can be a bit misleading because the stomach feathers only show a slight 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.

picture of Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed woodpeckers are year round residents of the state. They are more common in the western part of the state than the eastern part of the state.

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.


picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
No discussion of woodpeckers in Tennessee would be complete without mention of the Sapsuckers. Tennessee hosts one species.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker. It breeds across Canada from Coast to Coast and in the winter returns to most forested areas west of the Rocky Mountains. In Tennessee it is rare to find breeding pairs. However, it does migrate to most areas of the state during the winter.

Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories. There might be some overlap with the Red-naped Sapsucker territory. The presence of red feathers on the back of the neck differentiates the Red-naped Sapsucker from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

They are not known to be common backyard feeder birds.

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