Virginia Woodpeckers: Pictures and ID Help

The popularity of Virginia woodpeckers partially comes about because they enjoy living in and around residential areas. That fact, along with the fact that they don’t spook so badly if you approach them slowly and quietly, makes them great photography and video subjects. The video, for example, shows the very common male Downy woodpecker doing the spring thing, nest building. Standing quietly, at a distance, with the sun at your back, might be all anyone needs to get a similar video clip.

picture of a Pileated Woodpecker, part of the Virginia woodpeckers collection

Formally, irginia woodpeckers consist of species from all five genera. Three of the genera, Dryocopus, Sapsuckers and Flickers, have only one species.

The first picture shows the Pileated Woodpecker, the only representative of the Dryocopus genus. They are the state’s largest woodpecker, and easily identified by the red crested head and white stripes across the face.

Identifying the state’s remaining seven species is equally as easy by following a few woodpecker identification rules of thumb. Here’s a quick run down. The specific topic button on the left leads to information suited to answering basic bird identification questions.

Virginia Woodpeckers: Sapsuckers

picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
For example, it’s very easy to identify the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Males have a red crown and throat. Females have a red crown. It’s the only sapsucker species of four native species in Virginia.

It’s mostly a winter resident because the population breeds in the north, as far as Canada. They migrate to Virginia during the winter months.


picture of a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, Virginia woodpeckers
Virginia also only hosts one flicker species, the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. Residents who witness a woodpecker walking on the lawn can immediately think flicker because they are also the only species that are ground feeders. They forage along grassy areas in search of ants and other small insects.

They are year round residents and in many areas experiencing food stress they will also make visits to back yard feeders. With a five year life span, the Flickers that visit a back yard feedercan be expected to return on a regular, long term basis.

Males have the black mustache on the face. Both species have yellow under wings, explaining the color in the common name.

Virginia Woodpeckers: Melanerpes

picture of a red-bellied woodpecker
Virginia host the two most common eastern Melanerpes species, the Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers. They both have red feathers on the head, so any beginning woodpecker fans might initially get the two birds confused.

Red-bellied woodpecker are larger than average birds with an outgoing personality. They easily adapt to backyard feeders and their loud vocalizations can often be heard through the neighborhood.

Physically, the name red-bellied can be a bit misleading because the stomach feathers have only a hint of red to them. The back and top of the male’s head is red. Females lack the red patch of feathers on the head. However, the back of the neck does have the red feathers.

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, on the other hand, have an entire head covered in red feathers. There’s no mistaking them after an initial identification.

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.

Virginia Woodpeckers: Picoides

picture of a Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
Virginia also hosts three of the nine native Picoides species, including the least common and the two most common.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers rank as the least common species and the only woodpecker species on the Endangered Species List. Habitat encroachment severely limited their range and breeding capabilities.

Identifying them is easier than finding them. 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.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

DGIF has supported management and monitoring of RCWs at Piney Grove Preserve, Virginia’s only documented RCW population, as well as the recent reintroduction efforts of RCWs into Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (which is hoped will result in the Commonwealth’s second RCW population).

picture of a downy woodpecker
Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are the most common woodpeckers in the United States, and possibly all of Virginia.

They also look very similar. Downy Woodpeckers, the smaller of the two, also have a smaller bill.

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.

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