8 Types of Woodpeckers in West Virginia (Pictures and Facts)

Discovering the unique and special birds that reside in your state can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but in order to know what to look for, you need to know which birds are out there!

Woodpeckers are favorites of bird watchers everywhere, beloved for their bright colors, specialized feeding methods, and their trademark loud pecking noises as they bore holes in trees. Woodpeckers in West Virginia are no exception.

Male Downy Woodpecker on a branch with a blue sky background.
Male Downy Woodpecker

If you’re in West Virginia, there are eight different woodpeckers you might come across:

  1. Hairy Woodpecker
  2. Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
  3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  4. Red-headed Woodpecker
  5. Black-backed Woodpecker
  6. Downy Woodpecker
  7. Pileated Woodpecker
  8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Some of these woodpeckers look similar to others, so in this post, we’ll describe each of West Virginia’s eight woodpeckers, so you know just what to look for on your next bird-watching outing!

Hairy Woodpecker

Male Hairy woodpecker bird on a log.
Male Hairy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker Size: 7 to 10 inches
  • Hairy Woodpecker Diet: Ants, nettles, larvae, and caterpillars are the most common insects that Hairy woodpeckers seek out.
  • Where To Spot A Hairy Woodpecker: Almost anywhere in West Virginia with large enough trees. They enjoy habitats ranging from the forest to suburban backyards.

Despite being dubbed “hairy,” the Hairy Woodpecker, like every other woodpecker on this list, has feathers. They may be little birds, but don’t let their small size fool you. These little woodpeckers are still quite loud!

A female Hairy Woodpecker clinging to a suet feeder.
Female Hairy Woodpecker

With their black mask stripes, hairy woodpeckers resemble robbers. These birds are entirely black and white, with spots and streaks of white breaking up the black of their wings. The male Hairy woodpecker has a little patch of red on his chest, while the female does not.

Like their cousins, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers love to eat a lot of suet and black oil sunflower seeds from bird feeders. Because these birds are little, they thrive best with a feeder designed to keep large birds and squirrels away.

Northern Flicker

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker Woodpecker on tree branch.
Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker Woodpecker
  • 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 West Virginia, but they aren’t very common. They are usually seen lower to the ground than other woodpeckers.

The Northern Flicker is one of the only woodpeckers with yellow in its plumage, despite its unassuming appearance. Northern Flickers are brown and gray in color, with black polka dot patterns on their chests and a shield-like marking on their backs.

Northern Flickers with yellow shafts in their tail plumage are called Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers. Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers are the only variety found in West Virginia.

Northern Flickers aren’t big on bird feeders, but if you grow a lot of berry bushes, they’ll stop by to say hello! Birdbaths and nesting areas are other favorites of these woodpeckers. If you really want to keep your Northern Flickers happy, invest in a heated bird bath, so it never freezes over during the winter.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker perching on a tree branch.
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker Size: 9 to 11 inches
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker Diet: Insects, seeds, fruits, nuts, and spiders are all examples of a Red-bellied Woodpecker’s diet.
  • Where To Spot A Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Almost anywhere in West Virginia, and they are quite common. They also stay in the state year-round.

Even though they are difficult to notice, this well-hidden woodpecker has a broad range in the United States of North America and is one of the first woodpeckers people imagine when they hear a bird tapping on a tree.

The Red-bellied woodpecker blends in nearly perfectly with the bark of the trees they feed and nest in, with pale bellies, black and white backs, and red caps. Only the splash of red on the tops of their heads stands out.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker perching on a branch of a maple tree.
Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Males have a red stripe that starts between their eyes, continues on the top of their heads, and ends at the back of their necks, while females only sport red on the back of their necks and a trace between their eyes.

Unlike many larger woodpeckers, the Red-bellied woodpecker will eat from both bird feeders and trees, and they are particularly fond of suet feeders. You can make your own suet or use prepackaged suet. Red-bellied woodpeckers don’t seem to mind either way.

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker perched on an ice-covered branch following winter storm.
Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker Size: 7.5 to 9 inches
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker Diet: Insects, berries, seeds, and nuts are all edible and delectable for the Red-headed Woodpecker.
  • Where To Spot a Red-Headed Woodpecker: Since Red-headed Woodpeckers fly south during their winter migration, this relatively common bird will be seen during warm months.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is easily identified by its vivid, solid red head, which contrasts dramatically with its white abdomen and black and white wings. Both males and females look the same.

Red-headed woodpeckers aren’t as easily spotted as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, but their brilliant color makes up for the effort.

You may also see Red-headed Woodpeckers storing their food in a tree for later use, and they, like other woodpeckers, may pluck insects out of cracks, using their hard beaks and sticky tongue to fish them out.

Collage of 9 Images of the Red-headed Woodpecker.
Red-headed Woodpecker collage

Red-bellied woodpeckers are considered medium-sized birds. They are insect hunters who prefer beetles, honey bees, and grasshoppers, and can even grab flying insects right out of the air!

As beautiful as they are, the Red-headed woodpecker has a dark habit that might disturb some bird watchers. These woodpeckers have been known to destroy other birds’ eggs and nests and even kill and eat nestlings. This is because the Red-bellied woodpecker is incredibly territorial.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Male Black-backed Woodpecker and young.
Male Black-backed Woodpecker and chick.
  • Black-backed Woodpecker Size: 9 to 10 inches
  • Black-backed Woodpecker Diet: Wood-boring beetle larvae, primarily from recently burned trees.
  • Where To Spot A Black-backed Woodpecker: An uncommon and somewhat difficult woodpecker to spot, you can find the Black-backed Woodpecker in burnt-out forests during warmer months.

One of the most truly unique woodpecker species in West Virginia is the Black-backed Woodpecker. These dark-colored birds like a living situation completely opposite of what other woodpeckers prefer. Because the Black-backed Woodpecker lives in recently burned forests, it is unlikely to visit a bird feeder or even a healthy woodland.

The burned environment preferred by Black-backed Woodpeckers is home to their favorite diet, a wood-boring insect. Black-backed Woodpeckers aren’t the only birds living in charred homes, though. Since these woodpeckers drill a new nest for every egg-laying season, these nest holes can be used as homes for other wildlife once the woodpeckers move on.

These unusual woodpeckers are almost all black, with a yellow crown on the males’ heads and white bellies on both men and females. They lack the red plumage that makes so many other woodpeckers noticeable, so you may have seen Black-backed Woodpeckers without even knowing what you were seeing!

Downy Woodpecker

Comparison between Male (top) and Female (bottom) Downy Woodpeckers. Male has a red nape and is darker overall.
Comparison between Male and Female Downy Woodpeckers.
  • Downy Woodpecker Size: 5.5 to 7 inches
  • Downy Woodpecker Diet: Mostly insects, with nuts and berries thrown in.
  • Where To Spot A Downy Woodpecker: This tiny woodpecker can be found year-round in all parts of West Virginia.

The Downy woodpecker is not only the tiniest woodpecker in West Virginia but also the smallest woodpecker in the United States.

These woodpeckers resemble the Hairy Woodpecker in appearance, although they are smaller and appear rounder. They compensate for their small size by being very active.

A male Downy Woodpecker perched on a tree branch.
Male Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is notorious for skittering about the tree trunk looking for the ideal pecking site. They are primarily black with white stripes and spots on their wings. Males have a red patch on the back of their heads.

Pileated Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker on tree.
Male Pileated Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker Size: 16-20 inches
  • Pileated Woodpecker Diet: Beetles, carpenter ants, and termites are examples of insects. Fruit and nuts are other favorites of Pileated Woodpeckers.
  • Where To Spot A Pileated Woodpecker: Only in the northern section of West Virginia when the weather is warm enough. During the winter, Pileated Woodpeckers will migrate south.

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the largest in the United States, making it also the largest of the woodpeckers in West Virginia. But it’s not just their size that makes them stand out. It’s their trademark red mohawk. Males also have a red cheek stripe (mustache) while females do not.

Female Pileated Woodpecker parent set to feed its three hungry chicks.
Female Pileated Woodpecker and hungry chicks.

This red headdress, sometimes known as a crest, and the woodpecker’s massive size make it simple to identify, and with their range across West Virginia, there’s a good chance you’ll see one, too!

Pileated Woodpeckers like to build their nests in dead trees, and once they’ve finished, their previous nesting sites will be taken by other species. In addition, these woodpeckers leave distinctive rectangular holes in the dead trees.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Woodpecker perching on a tree branch
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Woodpecker.
  • Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Size: 7 to 9 inches
  • Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Diet: Sap obtained from birch, hickory, or maple trees.
  • Where To Spot A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers do not live in West Virginia full-time and migrate south for the winter, but you can see them in the northern portion of the state during the summer.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a little woodpecker species with a brush-tipped tongue that eats a specialized diet: tree sap! This makes them quite different from their fruit and insect-loving brethren.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers use a brush-tipped tongue to extract sap from trees, particularly birch, hickory, and maple trees. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, like the Northern Flicker, has yellow feathers on their chests and bellies.

Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Woodpecker on tree.
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Woodpecker

These woodpeckers are small, black, and have red spots on their heads, generally on the forehead. Males also have a red throat. Their chests are mottled black and white, and they have a short, powerful beak that allows them to reach the sap even in big trees.

Final Thoughts on Woodpeckers in West Virginia

Woodpeckers are an important part of the ecosystem in West Virginia, and they play a vital role in the life of the forest. Be sure to give them the respect they deserve and take care not to disturb their habitat and natural resources.

If you want to attract woodpeckers to your home, you can try one (or more) of these methods:

  • Install a birdhouse designed specifically for woodpeckers.
  • Hang a suet feeder.
  • Hang a bird feeder with sunflower seeds.
  • Plant native trees and shrubs that will provide food and shelter for woodpeckers.

With a little patience and effort in setting up your backyard feeder, you’re bound to see these amazing birds up close and personal!

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