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Woodpeckers In PA: 7 Species You Can Find In Pennsylvania

Woodpeckers are unique species of birds in the family Pleidae. They are most easily spotted, not by their look, but by their sound. They drum on the wood of the trees they rest on and that drumming can designate territory or even signal the desire for a mate.

There are 7 species of woodpeckers in Pennsylvania and just 23 species of woodpeckers in the entire country. Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, so they’ll build their nest inside the dead or dying trees they drill into foraging for insects and larvae.

This also means that they don’t build the traditional nests on branches like other bird species are known to build. The cavity nest that they build and lay their eggs in ensures that their offspring have the greatest chance of survival by lending the nest an extra layer of protection because it’s hidden away inside of a tree that they’ve hollowed out.

Here is a brief look at the seven species of woodpecker found in Pennsylvania, and a quick description of what makes these woodpecker species unique.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker

The redheaded woodpecker is an interesting species that can be found year-round in Pennsylvania. They are typically easy to spot with their vibrant redhead and bright white underparts making them easily identifiable. Red-headed woodpeckers prefer to nest in rotting wood, so they’re generally found where older, dead, or dying trees can be found.

You’ll most often find the redheaded woodpecker perched in open woodlands, or flying low in wooded areas. The redheaded woodpecker is a frequently spotted species of woodpecker and is one of the most easily recognizable of all of the species of woodpecker in Pennsylvania.

Red-headed woodpeckers are interesting when it comes to foraging for food. They are incredible insect hunters and can catch many flying insects in midair to consume them.

Expert Tip: Unlike most other woodpeckers, the redheaded woodpecker will store food inside rotted wood in order to preserve it to consume during the winter.

They are known to defend their food stashes against squirrels and other creatures and are quite mindful of the food that they have stashed away for winter. Even if the redheaded woodpecker has plenty of food from many different sources that would feed it through the winter, it will still store away large stashes of food.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is a black and white striped version of the redheaded woodpecker, with a red cape and a white bottom. Also found in Pennsylvania year-round, the red-bellied woodpecker prefers dense forest for foraging and nesting.

They fly low to the ground and look for nuts and berries to eat, which is a much different tactic than the redheaded woodpecker uses. In addition, the red-bellied woodpecker would rather munch on nuts and berries instead of the traditional grubs and insects that are the favorite of the other woodpecker species.

Some of the red-bellied woodpecker’s favorites are beech nuts, hickory nuts, and acorns. However, the red-bellied woodpecker is omnivorous, so it will eat insects, grubs, and larvae in addition to nuts and berries.

The call of the red-bellied woodpecker sounds like a hoarse rattling noise that is unique to this species of woodpecker. Like most species of woodpecker, it is easy to identify the species simply by listening to their call, as it is different than the calls of other woodpeckers that have a similar appearance to the red-bellied woodpecker.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker

Another species of woodpecker found year-round in Pennsylvania is the northern flicker. Northern flickers are typically grayish-brown with black dots, and yellow coloring in their tail feathers.

The northern flicker is an interesting and unique species of woodpecker because instead of drumming on trees to search for insects inside the wood, they actually dig in the ground for insects and larvae. They also forage around on the ground for bugs, nuts, and berries to eat.

Much like the red-bellied woodpecker, the northern flicker likes to eat different varieties of nuts and berries native to the Pennsylvania forests the northern flicker calls home. That doesn’t mean the northern flicker won’t eat insects and grubs, because they are omnivorous and enjoy both insects and plant life.

They are also well known for their ringing call which helps easily identify them. Much like other species of woodpeckers, the northern flicker woodpecker is quite easy to identify if you are familiar with their call.

The call is unique to the northern flicker and enables most birdwatchers to be able to spot the northern flicker with ease simply by listening for their call. An interesting fact about northern flicker woodpeckers is they won’t use the same nesting cavity twice.

After they lay and hatch their eggs, they will relocate to another nesting cavity and build their home in a new location as a precaution against predators.

This ensures they don’t lose their hatchlings to a sneaky predator who has located their nest last spring and gives the northern flicker offspring an opportunity at survival that isn’t provided to other hatchlings.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

The smallest species of woodpecker found in the United States is the downy woodpecker. These woodpeckers are usually somewhere between five to seven inches long, so they are easy to identify by their small stature. The downy woodpecker is black and white with a tiny red cap on its head.

Downy woodpeckers are year-round residents of Pennsylvania, and they nest in dead or dying trees versus drilling into live trees to create a nesting shelter. Downy woodpeckers forage in the tall grass and weeds for food. They will eat plant material, nuts, and berries in addition to insects.

The downy woodpecker is also a frequent sight at backyard feeders all year long. They are known to enjoy suet feeders and traditional seed feeders and are often spotted in birdbaths enjoying a dip in the warmer weather.

Of course, they enjoy plenty of insects in their diet, and the fact that they nest in dead trees ensures that they have easy access to plenty of insects and their larvae. They are known to fly low so that they can see in the tall grass and weeds where their food sources are usually hidden.

The downy woodpecker is often mistaken for the hairy woodpecker, but there is a substantial difference in size between these two species. They also have subtle coloring differences that should enable most people to distinguish between the two species.

They also have very different call sounds, so hearing both of these species of woodpecker call would help you tell the difference between the two bird species.

Expert Tip: Much like other species of woodpecker, both the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker have a call that allows people to hear and identify the exact species of woodpecker without having to lay eyes on the bird.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

The largest species of woodpecker in North America is the pileated woodpecker which is generally the same size as the crow. With a bright red crest on its head and large, white patches on the underside of its wings, the pileated woodpecker’s size and coloring are simple ways to tell the species apart from other woodpecker species.

The pileated woodpecker is a year-long resident of Pennsylvania and prefers to nest in the coniferous forests where it searches inside dead, rotted trees for insects and larvae to eat. Pileated woodpeckers create distinct rectangular holes when they drum into trees, so it’s quite easy to tell if they’re visiting.

In addition, pileated woodpeckers create multiple entrances to their nesting caverns, so there may be holes on multiple sides of the tree that they live inside. It is generally fairly easy to tell if the species of woodpecker living in your yard is a pileated woodpecker simply by looking at the damage to the tree they’ve been drumming on.

As they prepare their nesting cavity, they will remove the dying or dead tree tissue from several different entry points so that they may have multiple entrances to their nest. This is due to their size, as they are the largest species of woodpecker in North America and require a great deal more room to nest than other species of woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

The hairy woodpecker is often mistaken for the downy woodpecker, they are so similar in coloring. However, the hairy woodpecker is about a third larger than the downy woodpecker. It is named for the long, hair-like feathers along its back that actually do resemble hair.

The hairy woodpecker is closer to ten inches in size, as opposed to the downy woodpecker, which is typically between five and seven inches in length. Known for their distinct, high-pitched call, they can be found drilling into dead and dying trees searching for insects.

Like many other species of woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker will also dine on nuts, berries, and seeds, and it is also a common sight at feeders in Pennsylvania. It also has a longer bill than the smaller downy woodpecker, so it is able to reach into bigger trunks looking for insects and larvae.

The hairy woodpecker prefers to forage along tree trunks and main branches looking for food versus ground scavenging. They also enjoy suet feeders and will eat other sweet treats from backyard feeders as it is offered.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is quite an interesting species of woodpecker, and its name tells half of the story. They bore into trees by drumming with their beaks, then when they’ve drilled deep enough to draw sap from the tree, they lick the sap from inside the bark.

They also roll insects around in the sap that they get from the tree, oftentimes feeding the coated insects to their young. They aren’t that particular either, because they’ll drink the sap from nearly any species of tree, but they are believed to prefer the sap from birch and maple trees.

They supplement the sap that they consume with berries, nuts, and insects as the need arises. Their call sounds like a mewing call, almost nasally. It is a very unique call and makes them easily identifiable by listening for their distinct sound.

Although they breed in Pennsylvania in the spring and summer seasons, they migrate to the southern United States in the winter. Once the cold has left for spring weather they migrate north and return to the same general location that they left the winter before.

The variety of trees that produce sap for the yellow-bellied sapsucker to consume ensures that they have a plentiful food source even if they don’t return to the same geographic location in the spring, however, they typically return to the same general area year after year.

What is the biggest woodpecker in Pennsylvania?

The largest species of woodpecker in both Pennsylvania and North America is the pileated woodpecker, which is generally the same size as the crow. The pileated woodpecker has a bright red crest on its head and large, white patches on the underside of its wings.

The pileated woodpecker’s size and coloring are simple ways to tell the species apart from other woodpecker species. The pileated woodpecker is a year-long inhabitant of Pennsylvania, preferring to nest in the coniferous forests where it searches inside dead, rotted trees for insects and larvae to eat.

Expert Tip: Pileated woodpeckers create distinct rectangular holes when they drum into trees, so it’s quite easy to tell if they’re visiting.

Due to the shape of the pileated woodpecker’s bill, extensive damage can be caused to the trees they drum on when they’re foraging for food. In addition, pileated woodpeckers prefer to create multiple entrances to their nesting caverns, so there may be holes on multiple sides of the tree that they live inside.

What does it mean when a woodpecker is in your yard?

What does it mean when a woodpecker is in your yard?
What does it mean when a woodpecker is in your yard?

If a woodpecker is in your yard, especially if he is drumming on a tree in your yard, he has most likely claimed your yard as his territory. Although woodpeckers don’t typically have confrontations with woodpeckers of the same species, they will confront another species of woodpecker, usually about territory disputes.

A woodpecker can drum for many reasons, including to claim ownership of an area, to call for a mate, and also to ward off any predators that may be near. Of course, they could also simply be looking for food in the tree, or they could be trying to build a nest in one of the trees in your yard.

If they are able to build a nest in a cavity in a tree, they may stay and hatch their eggs, and perhaps even raise their hatchlings within your line of sight. Woodpeckers love native fruits and seeds, so if you have a yard with fruit trees or a tree that seeds, you’ll most likely attract woodpeckers to your yard.

That is actually a great addition to your yard because woodpeckers eat many pests that can be harmful to houseplants and fruit trees. Also, because most species of woodpecker aren’t migratory, you’ll likely have the same visiting birds return to your yard throughout the year, and they may even decide to nest there.

Although some people are bothered by the drumming that the woodpecker does, most times they find that the service the woodpecker provides by ridding the trees and plants of insects is worth the noise that the woodpecker makes. The easiest way to attract woodpeckers to your yard is with a suet feeder.

Suet is a blend of fat and nuts, berries, or seeds. You can purchase feeders specifically for suet. Woodpeckers also like nectar, seed blocks, and jelly, which can be fed to them in a traditional bird feeder. Be certain to keep the suet feeder clean, and don’t allow the suet to go bad, as it will smell rancid.

The birdbath needs to be kept clean as well because the woodpeckers will bathe and drink from the bath if it is available to them.


There are seven species of woodpecker that can be found in Pennsylvania, and they are well adapted to the landscape. Although the majority of the woodpecker species in Pennsylvania aren’t migratory, the few species that do travel south for the winter seem to return to the same general locale year after year.

This is due to the fact that the forests and suburbs of Pennsylvania are well suited to the existence of the woodpecker species who call Pennsylvania home. The woodpecker species found in Pennsylvania consume the insects, berries, nuts, and plant material that are native to the area.

Most of the woodpecker species in Pennsylvania are cavity nesters, so they are typically well hidden from predators, and well protected from the elements because they’re inside a hollow tree trunk or branch Woodpeckers in Pennsylvania range from around five inches in length to over a foot in length, with different bill lengths and shapes.

The woodpeckers are as diverse as their diets are.

Thank you for reading up on woodpecker species in Pennsylvania. Please comment if you have any questions, and I will be sure to get back to you with an answer.

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About Grace Hocker

Hi, my name is Grace and I am a pet lover. Ever since 5 years old, I've owned some sort of pet from Bearded Dragons to Rabbits. I have dedicated my life to helping pets, and am here to help you get the best for your pet!