All birders know that Texas means birds, and Texas woodpeckers are no exception to that rule. The state’s thirteen species cover all five native woodpecker genera. No Texan or Texas tourist is ever far from a wonderful woodpecker experience anywhere in the state.
Texas geography explains most of the woodpecker diversity. In the west, Texas picks up some of the Southwest woodpecker spillover. In the east they pick up the Gulf Coast woodpecker spillover. The area called the Eastern Pineywoods, for example, hosts eight woodpecker species, including the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker.
To the north they pick up the Midwest woodpecker spillover. And to the subtropical south they pick up the Southern Hemisphere spillover.
Finally, in the subtropical south they pick of the Southern Hemisphere spillover. Texas Melanerpes woodpeckers provide a good example. Of the six native species, four make a home in Texas trees.
Begin with the Golden Fronted Woodpecker, pictured at the top of the page. It’s a subtropical spillover. Most of the population lives in Mexico and have subsequently migrated north through Texas, with a small population reaching Oklahoma.
They are very gregarious birds, easily adapted to residential areas. Put your basic fruit or nuts in a feeder and they are there. They also don’t mind fighting over the feeder with other birds to establish the basic feeder pecking order.
Acorn woodpeckers, perhaps the best known of the western species, also found a niche in Texas.
They inhabit the oak groves of the West Texas Trans Pecos, where they spend their days gathering acorns. Once gathered, the acorns get stored in tree holes or nearby wooden structure such as fences and telephone poles.
Unlike most woodpecker species, both the male and female have a red crown.
Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers are the two Texas Melanerpes with an eastern and Midwest influence.
The name red-bellied can be a bit misleading. The stomach feathers show only a hint red color. The back and top of the male’s head is red. Females lack the red crown but do have a red patch on the nape of the neck. Their diet also consists of in season fruit, nuts and insects, consequently they are very well known as feeder birds.
In Texas, most of the population are year round residents of forest and woodland areas of the east.
On the other hand, Red-headed woodpeckers in Texas are year round residents in both the northern Panhandle and east.
There’s no mistaking it for other woodpecker species. The head, covered in a set of distinct red feathers contrasts with white stomach feathers. 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.
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 have managed to maintain a sustainable population in the eastern Texas forests despite decades of deelopment..
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.
Except for South Texas, Northern Flickers are a common Texas woodpecker.
Interestingly, Texas hosts both subspecies. The West Coast variant is named the Red-shafted Northern Flicker, and a breeding population lives in the west. The East Coast variant is named the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, and in Texas most of the breeding population lives in the East.
During winter migration, flocks of Flickers also visit the Lone Star State, including hybridized groups. In the case of hybrid flickers, it would be difficult to say that an individual would be a Yelow-shafted subspecies solely by the presence of yellow feathers under the wings.
The only woodpecker species on the Endangered Species List, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker makes its home in the mostly longleaf pines of the Southern United States. Habitat encroachment severely limited their range and breeding capabilities. Look for it at the William Goodrich Jones State Forest or other areas in the Pineywoods of East Texas.
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.
Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are almost lookalike Texas woodpeckers, common throughout most of the state. Downy Woodpeckers, the smaller of the two, also have a smaller bill. The picture shows a female Downy without the red patch of feathers on the head.
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. In Texas they share year round residence in the eastern half of the state, with a small breeding population in the Panhandle. There’s also an anomalous small population of both in the western most areas of th Trans Pecos.
Ladder-backed woodpeckers extend their range through most of the western half of Texas, picking up where the Downy and Hairy wodpeckers end their range.
A pattern of striped feathers on the back and spots on the breast provide initial identification marks. Males, like the one in picture two also have a red cap. They are regular visitors to backyard feeders.
Texas Woodpeckers: Sapsuckers
Some states are better than others for finding sapsuckers. Count Texas in that group. Three of the four native sapsucker species can be found drilling wells in trees around the state.
Red-naped Sapsuckers are a migratory species that breed in the Rocky Mountains. Some of the population takes to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains during the winter months. Some of the population migrates south for the winter. It’s still considered a rare bird in Texas, with residents quickly photographing and/or posting a discovery location.
Williamson’s Sapsuckers inhabit the mountain areas of the West, including the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada. There’s a small population in West Texas.
Of special interest is that males and females diverge in their physical appearance. Males, like the one pictured, have distinct black feathers on the head, complimented by white striped and a red throat. Females have brown feathers on the head and and black and white barred feather pattern on the body. Both sexes have yellow bellies.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. It breeds across Canada and migrates to Texas during the winter season.
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.