North Americans are blessed with some of the most gorgeous birds the world. Take an opportunity to get to know your local woodpeckers and impress your friends with your wildlife knowledge.
Range: Central and Eastern United States with some overlap in south Ontario.
Description: Red-Headed Woodpeckers are among only four species of woodpecker to store food. They are also fiercely territorial, and will even destroy the nests of other species.
Distinct Markings: One of the most recognizable woodpeckers, just look for the bright red head and black/white checkerboard pattern as they fly.
Range: These woodpeckers live in oak and mixed oak-conifer forests on slopes and mountains in the Southwest and West Coast.
Description: This may shock you, but these social birds love acorns, and will store hundreds of them throughout peak season. They are quite tolerant of humans, so if you have some acorns, go make a friend!
Distinct Markings: Most similar to the black-backed woodpeckers, but easy to spot because of their bright red crest.
American Three-Toed Woodpecker
Range: Northern Canada with a dip into Western U.S.A. While not rare per se, infrequently seen due to its love of mountainous, coniferous forests.
Description: Most woodpeckers have four toes on each foot. The three-toed and Black-backed woodpeckers are the only ones in North America with three
Distinct Markings: Look for a spot of yellow near their beak, as well as reverse-dappling on their wings that make them look almost white with black spots.
Range: As its name suggests, found only in Arizona and Mexico.
Description: Not a very social bird, these guys spread out widely, so keep your eyes open!
Distinct Markings: A very brown woodpecker with no laddering on its wings. Look for the spot of red on its head as well.
Range: Fairly uncommon but inhabits a wide range across Canada and Western United States. Loves areas recently burned by forest fires.
Description: These handsome birds prefer boring into burned-out wood, and strangely seldom venture into the central and southern Rocky Mountain range.
Distinct Markings: Between its black head and all-black wings, this woodpecker is hard to mistake for other species.
Range: A desert woodpecker through and through, you'll find this species mainly in Mexico and the extreme south of the U.S.A.
Description: Like the golden-fronted woodpecker, they next in cacti, but must leave the cavity they hollow out to dry for several weeks before moving in.
Distinct Markings: You can't miss this gorgeous bird, and there's virtually no chance of mistaking it for other woodpecker species. Look for spotted wings and a mainly cream-coloured body.
Range: You'll only find this bird in Mexico and select open woodlands in Texas and Oklahoma
Description: This woodpecker eats so much fruit its bill can become stained from the purple juice of prickly pear cactus fruit.
Distinct Markings: Whoever named these guys was asleep at the wheel, as their front isn't golden. Their head, however, has a bright, striking yellow that is distinct from other woodpeckers.
Range: Pretty much everywhere in North America. A very common woodpecker indeed.
Description: A common and beautiful part of the forest, you can hear these woodpeckers tapping away year round.
Distinct Markings: Very similar to the Downey Woodpecker, which is smaller in size. Watch for the long, strong bill and larger size.
Southwestern United States and Mexico.
Description: While "ladder-backed" could be used as a description for many species, these southern birds spend a lot of time foraging and nesting in cacti.
Distinct Markings: Very similar to the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but look for the black stripe across its eye, and of course, the habitat gives it away as well.
Western United States overlapping a little bit in southern Canada.
One of the most visually distinct woodpeckers, their slow, deliberate flight seems more like a Jay or a Crow than a woodpecker.
Distinct Markings: These dark woodpeckers are mssing the ladder pattern of most woodpeckers, and a bright red chest will leave no doubt that you've got the right species.
You're only going to see these little guys in the oak woodlands of California, so pack your bags!
Description: Although the Nuttall's Woodpecker is exclusively found in oak woodlands, they are not fans of acorns, preferring insects and fruit.
These small woodpeckers are easy to miss. Watch for the red on their head, and a the distinct ladder pattern on their backs and wings.
Red Cockaded Woodpeckerlton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge
Range: Endangered and found only in the south eastern United States in mature southern pine forests.
Description: It's a terrible shame that these gorgeous woodpeckers are facing extinction due to loss of habitat as old-growth forests are cut down. See one while you can!
Distinct Markings: Look for the white cheek patch and black moustache. The big patch of white on their head is a dead giveaway
Range: Mainly found in eastern United States, though you might get lucky and catch one in sourthern Ontario
Description: These beautiful, medium-sized woodpeckers tend to fish insects out of bark crevices rather than boring holes. They are a
Distinct Markings: The huge patch of red on their head is a dead giveaway, but don't mistake them for the Red-Headed Woodpecker whose entire head is red.
Range: Pretty much everywhere in North America. Possibly our most ubiquitous woodpecker.
Description: If you've ever seen a woodpecker, the Downey was probably it. These little guys are found everywhere, and their jaunty hopping and tapping can brighten any day.
Distinct Markings Watch for a bold white eye stripe, as well as dappled black wings. If you can get binoculars on 'em you'll find a little patch of red at the back of their head. They are small birds, not too much bigger than a chickadee or nuthatch. They also share many similarities with their larger cousin the Hairy woodpecker, which are substantially bigger. A good rule of thumb is Downey = diminuitive, Hairy = Huge. If there's any doubt which bird you're looking at, it's probably the much-smaller Downey.
Eastern United States and across most of Canada. Deciduous and Boreal forests. Rare in cities. This is a cottage country bird, through and through.
Description Ah, the king of North American woodpeckers (assuming you believe the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct). This fellow might look familiar if you ever watched Woody Woodpecker cartoons and is an absolutely stunning, large bird.
Distinct Markings As the largest woodpecker (up to 49cm long!), this guy is hard to miss. Watch for the red crest and "laugh-like" call.