Nestled in the center of the Allegheny Mountain Range, West Virginia woodpeckers enjoy the Mountaineer state as much as the human population. In fact, with a little bit of suet at the feeder and some good luck, any West Virginian can enjoy the presence of all seven species year round.
The first two species presented here, the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, are the best examples. They are probably the most common species in the state, and a quick look at the first and second pictures shows their lookalike nature.
Physically, the Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker. In instances where size comparisons might not be available, experts suggest examining the bill size in relation to the head size. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills.
The picture of the male Hairy woodpecker highlights the longer bill. It also serves to remind everyone that Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are one of the most common woodpeckers found at backyard feeders.
Only one flicker species, the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, inhabits West Virginia. Residents know it as the woodpecker that walks on th lawn looking for ants and other small insect food sources.
They are also year round residents, and in times of food stress, they will also go to feeders.
Males differ from the females with a black mustache on the face. The color refers to the under wing color of their tail feathers.
Four sapsucker species (Sphyrapicus) drill their wells in trees from coast to coast. Sometimes they cause a bit of damage to the trees and in those cases, experts suggest wrapping burlap around the tree trunk to deter them. Otherwise, sapsucker holes normally don’t cause lethal damage to trees, and their presence in the yard adds to the woodpecker fun.
West Virginia hosts the most far ranging sapsucker species, the Yellow-bellied sapsucker. It breeds across Canada, and in the winter returns to most forested areas of the United States west of the Rocky Mountains.
Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories.
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. That fact partially explains their range. With the exception of the Rocky Mountain states and the Midwest, they can be found from coast to coast. They need some dense forested area for habitat. In the West, they prefer old growth habitat and in the East they can adapt to the younger forests.
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.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are the second of the two wide-spread Melanerpes woodpeckers. They 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 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.
Red-headed woodpeckers rank as the most wide spread of the Melanerpes species, with a presence in almost every state from the Rocky Mountains and destinations east.
Nonetheless, they are not very common in West Virginia.
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.
Look for them in open grassy areas and on the edges of woodlots, especially those with oak, 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.