In your day-to-day life, you might see a woodpecker every once in a while and think that they all look the same. While most woodpeckers might all have that trademark black, red, and white coloration and loud, tree-boring habit, there are actually many unique woodpecker species!
In fact, there are 23 woodpecker species in the United States in North America! But what about woodpeckers in Kansas?
If you live in Kansas, there are eight unique species of woodpeckers you can spot in your home state. They are:
- Downy Woodpecker
- Red-headed Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Ladder-backed Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Spotting a woodpecker can be as easy as looking into your backyard and high up into the treetops, but other times these well-camouflaged birds can take some effort to find, and even harder to determine which woodpecker is which!
In this post, we’ll review the eight species of Kansas woodpeckers, how big they are, their preferred diet, and where to spot these sometimes-elusive birds. Read on to discover everything you ever wanted to know about all the woodpeckers in Kansas!
8 Types of Woodpeckers in Kansas
Kansas, a state that is right in the very center of the United States, is known for things like being in tornado alley, having the honor of being the setting of The Wizard of Oz, and rolling plains, but did you know Kansas is also a great place to spot woodpeckers?
There are eight kinds of woodpeckers in Kansas, so let’s review them in detail so you know exactly what you’re looking at next time you hear a woodpecker rapping on a nearby tree.
1. Downy Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker Size: 5.5 to 7 inches
- Downy Woodpecker Diet: Mostly insects, along with nuts and berries
- Where To See A Downy Woodpecker: Tall weeds, parks, forests, orchards, and backyard feeders. Unlike other more solitary woodpeckers, the Downy woodpecker will often hang out with other small birds.
Incredibly common and easily attracted to your backyard bird feeder, the Downy woodpecker is one woodpecker that most Kansas residents have seen at least once before.
Downy woodpeckers are small compared to other woodpeckers and are the familiar red, black, and white color patterns that many woodpeckers share. It can be hard to tell the Hairy woodpecker and the Downy woodpecker apart, but the Downy woodpecker is by far the more common of the two.
If you’re looking to bring these diminutive birds to your yard, they adore black oil sunflower seeds and suet cakes. Downy woodpeckers can easily be scared off by bigger, more aggressive birds, and they will especially avoid bird feeders frequented by squirrels.
2. Red-headed Woodpecker
- Red-headed Woodpecker Size: 7.5 to 9 inches
- Red-headed Woodpecker Diet: Insects, berries, seeds, and nuts.
- Where To See A Red-headed Woodpecker: In Eastern Kansas all year long, but only in the Western portion during the breeding season.
Beautiful and striking, the Red-headed Woodpecker is a coveted sight by many birdwatchers. Red-headed woodpeckers are easily identified by their solid scarlet heads, white undersides, and black wings. Males and females look alike.
Red-headed woodpeckers are fiercely territorial, driving other woodpeckers from their territory and even destroying the nests of other birds. Some have even been seen taking nestlings from nests.
Unfortunately, the Red-headed woodpecker has experienced a sharp decline in population over the last 10 years, so they may be harder to see than ever, despite their bright plumage.
3. Hairy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker Size: 7 to 10 inches
- Hairy Woodpecker Diet: Mostly insects like ants, nettles, larvae, and caterpillars.
- Where To See A Hairy Woodpecker: They are present year-round and are most often seen on tree trunks.
Similar in appearance to the Downy woodpecker, it might require careful examination to identify the Hairy woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker is larger and has a longer bill than the Downy woodpecker, but otherwise, their markings are almost identical.
As you can see in the image above, female Hairy Woodpeckers lack the red patch on the back of their head that males have.
The Hairy Woodpecker prefers dead trees to both nest in and hunt for insects but will come to bird feeders if they have black oil sunflower seeds. They also adore suet but watch out for greedy squirrels that might drive these small birds away.
These woodpeckers have the familiar black, white, and red color palette for their plumage, and even though the name might make you think otherwise, there is no hair on any Hairy woodpecker.
4. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Red-bellied Woodpecker Size: 9 to 11 inches
- Red-bellied Woodpecker Diet: Insects, seeds, fruit, nuts, and spiders.
- Where To See A Red-bellied Woodpecker: All throughout Kansas in both the summer and the winter. They are often seen frequenting bird feeders.
Did you know that not all birds migrate south in the winter? Red-bellied woodpeckers are one such bird, which is why they can be spotted in Kansas all year round.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are one of the more common woodpeckers in the United States and are named as such because of their pale, red bellies.
This species of woodpecker won’t turn away from a good bird feeder, especially if it’s placed near some dense forest.
Red-bellied woodpeckers can sometimes be mistaken for Red-headed woodpeckers because of the red cap on their scalps, but it is a small marking compared to the complete red head of the Red-head woodpecker.
Besides the red belly and scalp, you can identify this woodpecker by its black and white striped wings and back. Males have a red stripe that starts at their forehead and extends to the back of their neck, while females have a red patch on the nape of their necks and a small red spot on their bills.
5. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
- Ladder-backed Woodpecker Size: 6.5 to 7.5 inches
- Ladder-backed Woodpecker Diet: Mostly insect larvae and other types of insects. Sometimes they will take cactus fruit for a snack.
- Where To See A Ladder-backed Woodpecker: Southwestern Kansas in early January, February, and March during the morning. They prefer drier areas and trees, such as the Joshua and Mesquite trees.
Diminutive and quite rare, seeing the Ladder-backed woodpecker in Kansas is quite the accomplishment. They aren’t considered one of Kansas’s common woodpeckers, but if you look in the right place, you may spot one.
Ladder-backed woodpeckers like warmer, drier areas to live, which is why they are only found in small pockets in Southwestern Kansas. They don’t migrate, so if you find a population of them, they will probably reside in the area for a while.
True to its name, the Ladder-backed woodpecker has a black and white striped pattern on their backs. The females of the species have a black crown, while the male has a red crown.
Since they live in hotter climates than other woodpeckers, the Ladder-backed woodpecker will occasionally eat strange foods like cactus fruit, but they prefer insect larvae and caterpillars when available.
6. Northern Flicker
- Northern Flicker Size: 11 to 12 inches
- Northern Flicker Diet: Insects of all kinds, but their favorite are ants and beetles. In the winter, they switch over to eating fruits and seeds.
- Where To See A Northern Flicker: Seen on the ground more than in the trees, the Northern Flicker is in Kansas all year long, but it is most often spotted in the winter. They can be found in forests, parks, and backyards.
Northern Flickers are either gray or brown, and depending on where they live, they will spot a flashy tail plumage either in red (in the West) or yellow (in the East).
Male Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers have a black mustache, and both sexes sport red on the nape of their neck. Male Red-shafted Northern Flickers in the East have a black mustache, and males in the West have a red mustache.
Some Northern Flickers display coloring combining the plumage of the Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted species.
These woodpeckers can be found in Kansas all year, but they are easier to see in the winter. Northern Flickers that breed in Canada migrate south for the winter, while the Kansas population does not.
Since they like to feed on the ground, Northern Flickers don’t particularly like bird feeders.
7. Pileated Woodpecker
- Pileated Woodpecker Size: 16-19 inches
- Pileated Woodpecker Diet: The primary food source for Pileated woodpeckers is carpenter ants, but they will also feed on beetles, caterpillars, roaches, and grasshoppers. They also love suet feeders!
- Where To See A Pileated Woodpecker: All throughout Kansas, but especially in fallen trees or dead forests since the carpenter ants they love to feed on live in dead wood.
Some woodpeckers are rare, and others are hard to spot because of how small they are, but the Pileated woodpecker doesn’t fit into either of these categories. Large, with an unmistakable red crest on its head, the Pileated woodpecker is one of the most recognizable woodpeckers in Kansas.
These large and in charge woodpeckers can be seen all throughout Kansas, and since they don’t migrate, they are present all year long. With their huge black bodies, red mohawk-like crest, and white underside to their wings, it’s nearly impossible to mistake them for another species.
Pileated Woodpeckers are primarily black, with white on their underwings with a red crest on their head. Male Pileated Woodpeckers have a small red mustache, while females do not. Both sexes have a white chin and white markings from their beak down their necks.
If the Pileated woodpecker can’t find its favorite food, carpenter ants, they will also eat other insects, fruits, and nuts to keep themselves fed. They are attracted by suet feeders and, unlike smaller woodpeckers, aren’t intimidated by other birds. Just make sure your feeder is strong enough to hold these giant woodpeckers!
8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Size: 7 to 9 inches
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Diet: Sap from the birch, hickory, or maple tree and some insects and berries.
Where To See A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker: Find them in deciduous forests searching for their favorite meal: tree sap!
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers use a brush-tipped tongue to extract sap from trees, particularly birch, hickory, and maple trees. While Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are not common at backyard bird feeders, they have been known to visit suet feeders.
These woodpeckers are small, black, white, and yellow, and have red on their heads. Males have a red throat, while females do not. Their chests are black and white, and they have a short, powerful beak that allows them to feed at sapwells, the holes they drill in tree bark.
In the winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers will migrate to Canada and the Northeastern United States to breed, while some non-breeding birds will stay in Kansas.
Woodpeckers in Kansas: Final Thoughts
Woodpeckers are an amazing and integral part of the Kansas ecosystem. Not only are they beautiful birds, but they can play a vital role in keeping insect populations in check.
Next time you explore Kansas’s great outdoors, keep your eyes peeled for these amazing creatures. You never know when or where you might spot one!