When I started writing this article, I realized how many woodpeckers there really are. In fact, there are over 200 different species of woodpeckers all over the world. While I cannot fit all of those woodpeckers in this one article, I will list the top five I regularly see in the Missouri Ozarks.
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
The Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker are often mistaken for each other. In fact, for the first few years I lived here, I did not even realize I was taking pictures of two different species. Both birds are black and white with the males having a red occipital patch on the back of the head. The big difference in these two is the size and the length of their beak. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in eastern North America, and it has a very small beak compared to other woodpeckers. The checked body and striped head are their trademarks with a wide white stripe on the back of their head. Males have a patch of red feathers on the back of their head. Although it is true that these little birds like insects, they visit our suet bricks all day long all year. A suet brick is an extremely cheap way to feed birds since you can find them at any big-box store such as Walmart for under a dollar. I keep mine in suet cages, but you could just place it out on your porch or deck and wait. They lay four or five eggs per year, and they take about 12 days to hatch. Both mom and dad keep the eggs warm, and they both feed their young as well.
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
The Downy Woodpecker’s twin, Hairy Woodpecker, is one of the most commonly seen woodpeckers in North America. As I said before, the Hairy Woodpecker is about twice as large as a Downy Woodpecker at about 10 inches long, and the bill is about the same length as its head. Just like the Downy Woodpecker, the Hairy Woodpecker is black and white checked with white stripes on the head and back and the male has a red patch on the back of his head. Also like the Downy Woodpecker, these woodpeckers like insects, but I see a lot of them at our suet bricks all year too. The Hairy Woodpecker lays three or four eggs per year, with both mom and dad taking turns keeping them warm for 14 days until they hatch. Both parents will feed them until they leave the nest and will continue to help teach them to feed for a while afterward.
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America and can grow to more than 18 inches long. These birds are gorgeous up close and cannot be confused with any other bird. They are mostly black with white stripes and a mostly white head, but the male has a red mustache (malar) and large bright red crest. Pileated Woodpeckers are not as common as other woodpeckers, but once you see them you will know it! I had never seen one until just a few years ago after we had been here for a couple of years and even though I see them every year now, I still get excited every time I see one. These beautiful birds have three to five eggs per year that hatch in two weeks and both share the parenting responsibilities. Just like other woodpeckers, they eat insects (mostly carpenter ants), but they come to our suet bricks ever summer just like the others.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
This is the first woodpecker I had ever seen (about five years ago), and they visit here more frequently than any other woodpeckers. These medium sized birds like to eat insects like the others, but they come to eat the suet bricks and eat from the feeders as well. We only use sunflower seeds in the feeders, and they seem to like them just as much as the other birds do. These are mostly white birds with black and white checked wings and red heads, although the male’s red feathers reach all the way to the beak while the females red feathers are only on the nape. At first, I thought these birds should be called Red-headed Woodpeckers because of the red on their heads, but they do have a patch of light red feathers on their bellies. They have four to six eggs per year that take about 12 days to hatch, and both mom and dad incubate and help feed the babies.
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
The Red-headed Woodpecker really does have a red head, so its name is not as confusing as the Red-bellied Woodpecker. They are black, white, and red like the other woodpeckers, but their plumage is much more simple and bold. They have a black back and tail, white breast, black and white wings, and a bright red head and neck. The only problem is that you cannot tell a male from a female because their colors are exactly the same and they are both mid-sized birds. They like bugs too, but they visit our feeders for the sunflower seeds. I do not see as many of these and did not see my first one until we had been here a few years, but in the summer they visit daily now. They have four to five eggs per year that hatch in 12-14 days, and both sexes share parenting jobs. Although I am not sure how the experts at Cornell¹ know that since you cannot tell the male from the female. I guess that is why they are the experts.
So, if you want to see some woodpeckers, put out some bird feeders and suet bricks and see what happens. Do not expect it to happen right away, though. They have to find it first. It is not like you can send out an email or anything. But, once other birds start to visit, the woodpeckers will follow. Take pictures so that you can share them with us here at Dave’s Garden.
1) The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2016). Red-headed Woodpecker. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-headed_Woodpecker/id