For those who like to go out birding, going adventuring to see the woodpeckers of North Carolina can be a captivating experience. Many of the woodpeckers migrate in and out of the state during the winter and summer.
Catching them flying on a cold winter breeze, or gliding on the warm summer winds can forge memories that will never leave you. That being said, it’s never a bad time to go birding and looking for woodpeckers. Many of the rambunctious little drummers can be found in North Carolina any time of the year.
Below is a list of the different woodpeckers you can find in North Carolina and when you can find them.
1. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13-16.1 in
These medium-sized birds have made North Carolina their permanent residence and can be found by bird feeders all the time. They’ll feed on nuts, mixed seeds, or black oil sunflower seeds if you want to attract some to your own yard. You can also find them in forests, where they mostly feed on bugs, spiders, bees, caterpillars, and other creatures.
Expert Tip: Hairy Woodpeckers can be identified by their beaks, which are about as long as their heads.
Their feathers are marked by a black and white check pattern and the males have flashes of red along the sides of their heads. They also have a large patch of white that trails down their backs.
You may hear a hairy woodpecker before you see it. However, as their calls and drumming are incredibly powerful.
2. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-7 in
Weight: 0.7-1 oz.
Wingspan: 9.8-12 in
The downy woodpecker is the little brother of the hairy woodpecker. At first glance, they look exactly the same. A careful eye will notice that the downy is has smaller dimensions than the hairy. This is especially true in the beak.
As said before, the hairy’s beak is almost as long as its head, whereas the downy has a beak that is short, narrow, and sharp. The downy is also known for its straight-backed posture.
Downy woodpeckers are even more likely to show up in your backyard than a hairy woodpecker. They’ve made a home out of North Carolina as well. You can see them year-round but especially in the winter. It’s during the winter as well that you can catch them flying in mixed flocks alongside chickadees and nuthatches.
They do this in part to more easily avoid predators, and to make finding food easier for them. On the subject of food, Downys maintain the same diet as Hairy. You can put the same things in your birdfeeder and attract both birds. You can even practice telling which is which when they stop by.
3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz.
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
It can be hard to notice the pale red color of its belly at first, but it definitely is there. The red-bellied woodpeckers are the most common woodpecker in North Carolina and can be spotted by not just their bellies, but the red napes that they have and the red crest you can spot on the males.
They can also be found at all times of the year, and you can tell when they’re nearby by the sounds of their loud, rolling call. They mainly dwell in the forests, taking up residence in dead trees and laying their eggs on a bed of wood chips.
Suet cakes are a great way to attract these birds to your yard, but they do maintain a similar diet to downy and hairy woodpeckers, so nuts and sunflower seeds are an option too.
Expert Tip: They also have a unique method for catching food as their tongues are barbed and can flick out 2-inches past their beaks. They use their tongue and sticky spit to catch prey that is hiding in hard-to-reach places.
4. Red-headed Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 in
Another woodpecker that likes to stick around the whole year, the red-headed woodpecker shares some looks with the red-bellied woodpecker, though it is much easier to tell the difference here than it is with the hairy and downy woodpecker. You can point out a red-headed woodpecker by its bright-red colored head.
Their wings are half black half white and their chest a snow-white. You can tell when they’re around by their shrill call, but sadly they’re a rare sight these days. These woodpeckers’ numbers have plummeted over the past 60 years as a result of habitat loss.
Red-headed woodpeckers usually visit birdfeeders in the winter, where they will eat suet, nuts, and many fruits. In the wild, their hunting and survival tactics are unique among woodpeckers.
They enjoy eating fruits, nuts, and insects like other woodpeckers, but they also catch insects in mid-air and will hunt for them in the ground, whereas most woodpeckers simply catch them on trees.
Red-headed woodpeckers are territorial to the point that they will destroy the eggs of birds living in their territory. Beautiful birds for sure, but also scary ones.
5. Pileated Woodpecker
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
Once again the pileated woodpecker is a bird that sticks in North Carolina year-round, and they’re pretty easy to spot. They’re the largest woodpecker in the state, with a striking red, mohawk for a crest. Its feathers are mostly black but a striking, white strip of color runs down their necks on either side.
The males also have a red stripe that runs alongside their beaks like a mustache. When they take flight they reveal broad, white underwings.
Expert Tip: Pileated woodpeckers are known for drilling triangular holes in rotten wood where they can eat up carpenter ants and other bugs.
If you want to invite one to your backyard, suet, nuts, and seeds are all welcoming treats to them. Out in the wild, they make their homes in drowned and mature forests, where you can hear the steady drumming of their pecking and loud whinnying.
6. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Length: 7.1-8.7 in
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz
The yellow-bellied sapsucker marks the first of the birds on our list that doesn’t stick around for the entire year. They come to visit during the Winter and bug out as spring starts to kick in. They’re named after their pale-yellow bellies, but they can also be spotted by their red foreheads, males have red on their throats as well.
Their bodies and wings are white and black, with a long streak of white running down both of their wings. As the name suggests, these woodpeckers like to eat lots of sap. Then drill a series of small holes in a tree’s bark to create what’s called a sap well, where they gulp up the sap along with any bugs that they catch.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers nest an elevation around 6,500 feet high. You aren’t likely to attract many to your yard but with an offering of suet cakes, you might find a few visitors.
Young birch and maple trees may also attract them and you may find a few collecting saps. You can tell when they’re nearby their staccato drumming or their loud calls.
7. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Length: 7.9-9.1 in
Weight: 1.5-1.8 oz
Wingspan: 14.2 in
These birds are named for their red “cockades” or streaks of red on the upper side of their cheeks, however, this is only a feature of the males. The red streak can be hard to see among the sea of white feathers on their cheeks and the black running along their crest.
The rest of their body is marked by horizontal, black, and white strips that are faded on their stomachs and contrast strongly on their backs.
Expert Tip: Red-cockaded woodpeckers live in family-sized units inside of living pine trees in eastern North Carolina.
They specifically search for trees with red heart fungus on them. The fungus makes the wood easier for them to shape. They excavate large caverns into their trees where they keep their young and they poke holes in the tree so that they leak pitch, making it harder for tree-climbing animals to reach their nests.
You may be able to convince one to stop by if you leave berries in your backyard. That being said, red-cockaded woodpeckers are considered an endangered species, and there aren’t many around anymore.
8. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
The northern flicker leaves quite the impression with the variety of different colors that mark their feathers. Their bodies are mostly brown and decorated with black dots, crescents, and bars. Their necks are a greyish-brown hue and the underside of their tail feathers and wings are yellow.
You can spot a male by their black “mustache’’ and their red napes. These birds like to live in open expanses, especially near the mountains. They stay in North Carolina for the entire year but you can find them there in greater numbers during the winter.
You don’t find most woodpeckers on the ground but these little birds like to spend a lot of time looking for insects on the ground with their slightly curved beaks. It’s easier to attract them with a bird bather than with a birdfeeder and you can attract mating pairs with a nest box.
If you decide to, it’s a good idea to set up a guard so that you can keep predators away from them.
9. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Length: 18.1-21.1 in
Weight: 15.1-20.1 oz
Wingspan: 29.5-31.5 in
These woodpeckers haven’t been seen in a long time. Though they used to thrive across the whole of the southeastern United States, however environmental destruction from the 19th century left very few of them left by the 20th century.
A miracle occurred in 2004 where another was spotted for the first time in the 21st century in eastern Arkansas. That was the last time anyone saw one thought, and the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker continues to this day.
The ivory-billed woodpecker was huge for a woodpecker, bigger than a crow. They had long necks, a short crest, and a straight beak. Their beaks were also a pale-ivory color and they had two strips of white that ran down their backs.
Their bodies were mostly white. Males could be identified by their red crest, while the females had a white crest. To find food, they would use their beaks to strip trees of their bark, looking for large beetle larvae.
10. Acorn Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.3-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.8-16.9 in
Though they aren’t native to North Carolina, some acorn woodpeckers are watched over at the Audubon society branch in Durham, North Carolina. They’re pretty visually distinct, as their crest is bright red, contrasted by a cream-white face with a small circle of black around their beaks.
In-flight, you can notice three more spots of white, one on each wing and on their rump. The females have a much duller shade of red on their crest. As the name suggests, these woodpeckers eat a lot of acorns. They hoard them actually. When they aren’t collecting acorns, they spend time hunting for bugs as well.
Expert Tip: Unlike a lot of woodpeckers, these birds commune in very large groups and share breeding spaces.
They find their home in the trunks of trees or telephone poles. That however is part of the problem. Urbanization is a threat to acorn woodpeckers as it reduces the number of potential living spaces and creates smaller groups.
That’s why groups like the Audubon society work to ensure that these species stay safe as their environment continues to change.
So those are all of the birds that you can find in North Carolina. Some are rarer than others, and some haven’t been spotted in a very long time. Most of these little guys can be found year-round, and in your backyard with the right offerings.
For a bird-like acorn woodpecker, you might have to make a longer trip, but it’s worth the time to see such a rare and family-oriented bird.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!