Of all of the bird species to see while birdwatching, woodpeckers are some of the most entertaining. Unlike other birds that you only hear when they vocalize to one another, the famous tap tap tap of the woodpecker is unmistakable and can be heard throughout the forest.
There are over 300 species worldwide, and eight of those woodpecker species live in Michigan. While you might think Michigan would be too cold and inhospitable, it is actually a beautiful, lush environment that is perfect for woodpeckers and the insects they love to eat.
There are eight woodpecker species in Michigan:
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Red-headed Woodpecker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Black-backed Woodpecker
Some of these woodpeckers might resemble each other in size and appearance, but once you look closely, you can see all the unique aspects of these eight woodpeckers and learn exactly what sets them apart from the rest.
In this post, we’ll review the eight species of woodpeckers in Michigan and discuss their size, diet, where to spot them, and other interesting facts about Michigan woodpeckers!
8 Species of Woodpeckers in Michigan
1. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker Size: 9 to 11 inches
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker Diet: Insects, seeds, fruit, nuts, and spiders.
- Where To Spot A Red-Bellied Woodpecker: All throughout Michigan during most of the year, but more in Southern Michigan during the coldest parts of winter.
Our first Michigan woodpecker is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. This well-hidden woodpecker has an extensive range in the United States, even if they are hard to spot.
With their pale bellies, black and white backs, and red caps, the Red-bellied Woodpecker blends in almost flawlessly with the bark of the trees they feed and nest at, only noticeable from the splash of red on the top of their heads.
Males have a red patch that runs from their beak to the nape of their neck, while females have a red patch on the back of their neck that starts at the top of their head and a splash of red above their beak.
Unlike many larger woodpeckers, the Red-bellied Woodpecker will frequent backyard feeders as well as trees to eat, and they are especially fond of suet feeders.
2. Red-Headed Woodpecker
- Red-Headed Woodpecker Size: 7.5 to 9 inches
- Red-Headed Woodpecker Diet: Insects, berries, seeds, and nuts.
- Where To Spot A Red-Headed Woodpecker: Technically, the Red-headed woodpeckers can be found all throughout Michigan, but they are only found in the Northern part of the state during breeding time, preferring to stay South during the rest of the year.
The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of the most striking woodpeckers not only in Michigan but in the entire United States.
With a bright, solid red head that contrasts sharply with its white belly and black and white wings, the Red-headed Woodpecker is unmistakable, even though it is becoming more uncommon around Michigan.
Red-headed Woodpeckers display sexual dimorphism, which is when males and females look alike.
These gorgeous birds are medium-sized woodpeckers and aren’t big fans of bird feeders. They are insect connoisseurs, love beetles, honeybees, and grasshoppers, and can even catch insects mid-flight!
You might also spot Red-headed Woodpeckers stowing their food away in a tree for another time, and they will also peck insects out of crevices like other woodpeckers. But visiting a tree might have a more sinister meaning for some Red-headed Woodpeckers.
Red-headed woodpeckers are extremely territorial and will sometimes destroy the eggs of other birds, and have even been observed killing and eating nestlings to rid their territory of other birds.
3. Pileated Woodpecker
- Pileated Woodpecker Size: 16-20 inches
- Pileated Woodpecker Diet: Insects like beetles, carpenter ants, and termites. Pileated woodpeckers also enjoy fruit and nuts.
- Where To Spot A Pileated Woodpecker: All throughout the state, but only in the northern part of Michigan when the weather is temperate. Pileated woodpeckers like to move south during the winter.
The Pileated woodpecker is one of the biggest woodpeckers in the United States and is the biggest overall in the state of Michigan. It isn’t just their size that makes them so striking, though. It’s their unmistakable red mohawk.
Also known as a crest, this scarlet headpiece and the huge woodpeckers make it easy to spot, and with their range all over Michigan, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to see one, too! You can spot a male with a red mustache.
Pileated woodpeckers love to make their nests in dead trees, and their old nesting sights will also be used by others birds once they finish. These woodpeckers also leave unique rectangular holes in these dead trees.
4. Hairy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker Size: 7 to 10 inches
- Hairy Woodpecker Diet: Mostly insects like ants, nettles, larvae, and caterpillars.
- Where To Spot A Hairy Woodpecker: All over Michigan in large trees.
Despite its name, the Hairy woodpecker has feathers just like every other woodpecker on this list. They are small birds, but they don’t let their diminutive stature get the best of them.
Hairy woodpeckers resemble burglars with their black stripe of a mask. Besides a small patch of red on the male Hairy woodpecker, these birds are completely black and white, with spots and streaks of white breaking up the black of their wings.
Like the Red-bellied woodpecker, Hairy woodpeckers are big fans of bird feeders, especially suet and black oil sunflower seeds. These birds are small though, so they do best with feeders that discourage large birds or squirrels.
5. Downy Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker Size: 5.5 to 7 inches
- Downy Woodpecker Diet: Mostly insects, along with nuts and berries
- Where To Spot A Downy Woodpecker: Being the most common woodpecker in Michigan and North America, it’s safe to say you can see the Downy woodpecker anywhere there are large trees and a healthy amount of insects.
We’ve seen the biggest woodpecker in Michigan, and now it’s time for the smallest! The Downy woodpecker is not only the smallest woodpecker in Michigan, but it is also the smallest woodpecker in the United States.
These woodpeckers look similar to the Hairy woodpecker but are smaller and squatter than their larger cousins. They make up for their small size with how active they are. Downy woodpeckers are the type to skitter quickly around the tree trunk to find the perfect place to peck.
They are black and white, with predominantly black wings broken up by white stripes and spots. Males have a patch of red on the back of their heads.
Seeing a Downy woodpecker isn’t too difficult, either. They are the most common woodpecker in Michigan and aren’t picky about where they frequent, often being seen at bird feeders, in gardens, in fields of weeds, and even in busy neighborhoods.
6. Northern Flicker
- Northern Flicker Size: 11 to 12 inches
- Northern Flicker Diet: Ants and beetles, but can also be seen eating fruits and nuts.
- Where To Spot A Northern Flicker: All over Michigan, but mainly in the Southern part of the state once temperatures begin to drop.
A woodpecker that looks subtle at first, the Northern Flicker is actually one of the only woodpeckers to have yellow in their plumage. Northern Flickers are brown and gray, with black markings that resemble polka dots and a shield-like marking on their chests.
Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers, as the name suggests, have shafts of yellow feathers in their tail plumage. Male Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers have black mustaches.
The yellow-shafted species of Northern Flickers are found in the Eastern US. Northern Flickers found in the West are called Red-shafted Northern Flickers and have red on their undertails instead of yellow.
Northern Flickers most closely resemble the Red-bellied woodpecker, but once you get a glimpse of the yellow on their wings and tail, you can rest assured that it’s a Northern Flicker that you’re observing.
Northern Flickers aren’t big bird feeder fans, but if you plant plenty of bushes with berries, they might come by to say hi! These woodpeckers also love birdbaths and nesting boxes near bushes with berries from which a mated pair of Northern Flickers can eat.
7. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Size: 7 to 9 inches
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Diet: Tree sap from birch, hickory, or maple trees
- Where To Spot A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers don’t live in Michigan full time and will fly South for the winter, but during the summer, you can see them in the northern part of the state.
Small with brush-tipped tongues, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a woodpecker with a unique diet. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers will use this brush-tipped tongue to extract sap from trees, especially birch, hickory, and maple trees. Like the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has yellow in their feathers and usually on their chests and bellies.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are on the smaller side and are black with spots of red on the forehead. Males have a red throat while the female throat is white. They have mottled black and white chests, and a small, powerful beak used to get down to the sap even in large trees.
8. Black-Backed Woodpecker
- Black-Backed Woodpecker Size: 9 to 10 inches
- Black-Backed Woodpecker Diet: Larvae of wood-boring beetles, mostly from recently burned trees.
- Where To Spot A Black-backed Woodpecker: In burnt-out forests, normally in Northern Michigan around Lake Michigan.
The rarest woodpecker to see in Michigan is also the last on our list. The Black-backed Woodpecker isn’t looking to visit a bird feeder, or even a healthy forest, because the Black-backed woodpecker resides in recently burnt forests.
Black-bellied woodpeckers prefer this charred environment because it is the home to their favorite food: a wood-boring beetle and its larvae.
These unique woodpeckers are almost all black, with males having a yellow crown on their heads, as well as white bellies on both the males and the females.
Unlike some woodpeckers that return to the same nesting site year after year, the Black-backed woodpecker drills a new whole for each egg-laying season, and smaller birds like finches can use their empty nests and boreholes as secure egg-laying locations.
Woodpeckers in Michigan: Final Thoughts
We’ve learned that each Michigan woodpecker species has its own unique plumage, diet, and behaviors. While some woodpeckers are more common than others, all play an important role in Michigan’s forests and ecosystems.
If you want to attract woodpeckers and other Michigan birds to your home, be sure to plant plenty of bushes with berries or hang a suet bird feeder. You might just be lucky enough to see one of these amazing creatures up close!