When you think of the beauty of nature in the Southeastern United States, do you think of woodpeckers? You can find woodpeckers throughout the region. From the red-headed woodpecker to the giant pileated woodpeckers. These interesting birds have a lot to offer any outdoors enthusiast or birdwatcher. Let’s discover why woodpeckers are such an important part of this vibrant region.
What is a woodpecker?
A woodpecker is a bird that belongs to the family Picidae. You can find them all over the world. These birds are famous for their distinctive “drumming” behavior. They use their strong beaks to peck and drill into trees, posts, and other hard surfaces. They do this to find food and build nests.
- specialized feathers to keep drilling dust out of their nostrils
- incredible claws with two toes pointing forward for stability and perching
- strong neck muscles that help them be precise while drilling into surfaces
They come in a variety of different sizes, colors, and regions depending on the species. Woodpeckers in North America usually have a splash of red in their feathers. That makes it much easier to spot them.
What do woodpeckers eat?
Woodpeckers eat a wide variety food sources, depending on the species. Some woodpeckers prefer to eat insects and larvae that they find in trees. They also enjoy eating suet, seed mixes, peanut butter, nuts, and fruits. They’re also opportunistic, so they sometimes eat eggs, nestlings, and small animals. Woodpeckers even drink sap from trees sometimes! If you have woodpeckers in your trees, they’re probably eating:
- carpenter ants
- wood boring beetles and their larvae
- other beetles
- other insect larvae
- ant colonies
Keep in mind that woodpeckers mostly peck on dead trees or rotten wood. They’re trying to catch insects that are decomposers who break down dead wood.
Do woodpeckers visit backyard bird feeders?
Yes, you can often see woodpeckers visiting backyard bird feeders in search of food. They can recognize and frequent the same feeders over time. As long as the feeders offer a variety food sources like nuts, suet, and seed mixes. Woodpeckers especially backyard bird feeders near a tree or other hard surface. Then they can drill for insects or larvae.
The most frequent visitors I have to my bird feeders are the Northern flickers. They’re roughly the size of your average song bird. You can’t mistake the beautiful tan of a Northern flicker.
Where do woodpeckers live?
Woodpeckers can be found throughout the world in many different habitats, including forests, woodlands, and even urban areas. They are most commonly seen in hardwood forests or pine savannas where they can find plenty of insects and food sources. Woodpeckers often nest in dead trees or tree cavities which they create for themselves. They may also reside in empty nesting boxes that have been erected by humans. Woodpeckers are most active during the daytime and can usually be heard drumming to announce their presence.
Types of woodpeckers found in the Southeastern United States
There are eight woodpecker species in the Southeast, including the:
- red-headed woodpecker
- downy woodpecker
- hairy woodpecker
- Northern flicker
Ivory-billed woodpeckers used to inhabit the Southeast, but they’re most likely extinct.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are an interesting species primarily in the Eastern US. Red-bellied woodpeckers have a reddish belly with black and white wings. They’re also pale with a red-capped head. Their size is somewhere between a robin and a crow.
Red-bellied woodpeckers feed on insects, nuts, and fruit. They favor suet and sunflower seeds. Red-bellied woodpeckers also enjoy visiting backyard bird feeders. They’re vocal and territorial, defending their nesting sites against other birds.
Look for a red-bellied woodpecker almost anywhere in the Eastern US. They range from Eastern Texas up North to the Mid-Atlantic and even into Wisconsin.
The downy woodpecker is a small woodpecker, between the size of a sparrow and a robin. The downy woodpecker looks like the larger hairy woodpecker. But you can easily identify a downy woodpecker by its black and white streaked back and its smaller size.
The downy woodpecker roams throughout North America. They live in forests and woodlands from Alaska down through Florida. Downy woodpeckers eat insects, nuts, and fruit. They also visit backyard bird feeders for snacks. These birds make a distinctive “drumming” sound. But they’re also playful acrobats, flitting around trees searching for food.
The red-headed woodpecker is a medium-sized bird native to North America. Red-headed woodpeckers have bright red heads. They also have white bodies with black wings and tail feathers. Some call Red-Headed Woodpeckers the “flying checkerboards” because of their distinctive coloring.
Red-headed woodpecker roam open woodlands and meadows across the US. You can find them as far North as Southern Canada. Red-headed woodpeckers eat insects, nuts, and fruit. They also visit backyard birdfeeders for easy meals. They have distinctive vocal calls and courtship displays. Those displays involve a series of rapid head movements. Red-headed woodpeckers build nests in dead trees, like most woodpeckers.
Hairy woodpeckers are larger than their lookalikes, the downy woodpeckers. They have longer bills and larger heads which are generally darker in color. Hairy woodpeckers make loud calls when searching for mates.
You can find hairy woodpeckers across the US and Southern Canada. They prefer deciduous forests with large trees. They feed on a variety of insects, seeds, nuts, berries, and also visit birdfeeders.
The pileated woodpecker looks like a dinosaur in the sky. They’re the largest American woodpecker, up to 19 inches long. They have a red crest on their heads and white stripes down their necks. pileated woodpeckers live in deciduous and coniferous forests, East of the Rocky Mountains. But you can also find them throughout Western Canada and along the Western seaboard as well.
Pileated woodpeckers feed on insects like carpenter ants. The holes they make in search of prey can break smaller trees right in half! If the bird you’ve spotted is giant with a red head, chances are, it’s a pileated woodpecker.
Northern flickers are one of the larger woodpeckers in North America. Their size is between a robin and a crow. They have black and white plumage with a bright yellow underside of the wings. There’s a large red patch on the back of their heads. You can hear their distinctive call from quite some distance away.
Northern Flickers are throughout much of North America. But if you’re in the West, that yellow on their underwings turns to red.
The Red-cockaded woodpecker is a specialist of longleaf pine trees. So their population has declined drastically due to extensive logging in the 1900s. This bird was declared endangered in 1970. Wildlife professionals have been working ever since to bring them back to prominence.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers are barely red. The “cockade” is a tiny, nearly invisible red streak on male birds. The rest of their bodies are a patchwork of white and black. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are roughly robin sized.
They live in live pine trees. They prefer ones infected with the “red heart” fungus, which makes the wood easier to excavate. Seeing a Red-cockaded woodpecker is something special for most birdwatchers. That’s because you can usually find them only in protected lands. Like national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other large areas of protected habitat.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are a bit larger than red-cockaded woodpeckers. They have striking black, white, and red markings. They’re named for their tendency to drill holes in tree bark to sip up the sap that oozes out. These holes end up as rows of shallow holes in tree bark.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers aren’t regular bird feeder visitors. But if you have sap-producing trees (like maples), then you might just get a visit. “Yellow” is in the name of the yellow-bellied sapsuckers, but you need binoculars to spot the yellow.
Woodpeckers need your help
Like many birds, woodpeckers rely on healthy natural forests to live and reproduce. A healthy natural forest has living and dead mature trees. It has logs, snags, and other habitats for woodpeckers.
Unfortunately, many of these natural forests are under threat. The threat comes from aggressive industrial logging practices. If you want to help woodpeckers, join us in advocating for proforestation. Proforestation means stewarding healthy natural forests towards old-growth status.
Tell EU legislators to adopt proforestation practices TODAY. We must prevent further habitat loss for woodpeckers like the red-cockaded woodpecker.
Our forests and our woodpeckers need YOU to thrive. Will you meet the challenge?