Utah Woodpeckers: Pictures and Information

picture of a red-naped sapsucker, the most common of the Utah woodpeckers in the sapsucker genus

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

The Red-naped Sapsucker begins its range in the forest areas of the Rocky Mountain region, including Utah. They are a migratory species, Some take to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains during the winter months. Some of the population flies further south to winter in Mexico, and Central America. When they migrate to the valleys they are often seen in residential areas.

picture of a Williamson's Sapsucker
Williamson’s Sapsuckers also inhabit the mountain areas of the West, including Utah.

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.

Sapsuckers are common in Utah and are often the species that generates the most questions about potential tree damage. Researchers at Utah State University suggest the following:

Individual sapsuckers usually prefer one tree and continue to return to the same tree to feed. These individual trees can be protected by draping plastic or nylon netting over the entire tree. Parts of trees can also be protected by loosely wrapping hardware cloth around tree trunks or limbs. During winter months, sapsuckers may congregate in orchards and attack several trees. In these situations, it may be best to sacrifice one tree to reduce damage to others.


picture of a red-shafted Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers rank as one of the most common woodpeckers in Utah. They 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 red 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.

Woodpeckers: Melanerpes

picture of a Lewis's Woodpecker
Western states provide a very good habitat for a variety of uncommon woodpeckers. Mountains and larger tracks of old growth forest, especially Ponderosa Pine suit the Lewis’s Woodpecker needs.

The picture shows another of the woodpecker’s special features. More than any other native species, the purple to red hue on the feathers of the Lewis’s Woodpecker makes it stand out. The greenish head feathers and gray collar and chest compliment the dark wings and tail.

In the wild, they consume a variety of common insects in their territory, including ants, bees and wasps. In fall and winter, they focus on acorns and fruit, so rural homeowners in their territory might be able to entice them to the feeder. Otherwise, they are not categorized as your typical feeder bird.

Utah Woodpeckers: Picoides

picture of a Three-toed Woodpecker
When the woodpecker discussion turns to climate, the American Three-toed Woodpecker gets the nod as the most hardy of the native woodpecker species. It breeds in the northern most areas of Utah, with a population also in the central mountains.

Physically it resembles the Black-backed Woodpecker, although it’s a bit smaller with a shorter bill. Otherwise, the black and white bars on the back and presence of a yellow crown on the male are similar. Female has solid black crown.

Populations in the far north and high mountains may migrate to the valleys, and on rare occurrences even further south, during the winter. Otherwise, they are not known as a regular migratory species. Their life in the woods means they are not known as a common backyard feeder bird.

picture of a male downy woodpecker
Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are common across the United States. They are also two almost lookalike Utah woodpeckers. 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.

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, although Hairy woodpeckers normally prefer the mountain habitat in Utah. Look for them at the backyard feeder.

picture of a male ladder-backed woodpecker
Less wide ranging, the Ladder-backed woodpecker makes its home in a variety of Southwest habitats, from cacti to forest areas.

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.

Utah tourists with an interest in seeing the Ladder-backed might want to follow the advice of Utah Birds

This species is a fairly common permanent resident of desert plant communities in Washington County. This is another of the unique birds found in Utah’s Dixie. Generally this bird can be found in riparian woods (Beaver Dam Wash and Santa Clara Creek, i.e., Mathis Park and Tonaquint Park), but it also gets out into the Joshua tree forests on the Beaver Dam slope.

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