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A Guide to Identifying 5 Common East Coast Woodpeckers

Cassidy is an author, a scientist, and a new father facing the world of parenting head-on with his lovely wife.

Eastern Woodpeckers

There are a number of woodpeckers that frequent areas of the east coast of the United States, appearing on trees and even at bird feeders. Their characteristic drumming noise on the bark of trees is difficult to miss. This article describes how to identify five of these woodpeckers. To be clear, the information and pictures in this article describe the woodpeckers of western Maryland, but these woodpeckers are common on much of the east coast and elsewhere.

1. Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers; it's almost as big as a crow. It is easy to identify because of its striking, red crest. It has a black body and wings and white stripes along the sides of its head and neck. It is typically seen from afar, though it will occasionally come to a bird feeder.

2. Red-Headed Woodpecker

The red-headed woodpecker is the only woodpecker with a fully red head, making it easy to identify. Juveniles have grey heads. The wings are black with white sections, and the underside is white. Red-headed woodpeckers do come to bird feeders, and they seem to appear more commonly in the spring.

3. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Contrary to its name, the red-bellied woodpecker does not have a visibly red belly. Instead, it has a red stripe on the back of its neck. On males, this stripe continues along the back of the head to the beak, but on females, it is only on the back of the neck. The red-bellied woodpecker has a zebra-like pattern on its wings and a white stomach. It is known to visit bird feeders.

4. Downy Woodpecker

The downy woodpecker is the smallest of the common woodpeckers. It has a black back, zebra-like wings, and a white stomach. It also has white stripes on its head. Males have a red spot on the back of their heads. The downy woodpecker has no qualms about approaching a bird feeder and often feeds while other birds are present.

5. Hairy Woodpecker

The hairy woodpecker looks like a large downy woodpecker. It too has zebra-like wings, a white underside, and white stripes on its head, and males have a red spot on the back of their heads. However, the hairy woodpecker has a large, white patch on its back and a longer beak. It is more reclusive and is a less common sight at bird feeders.

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Read More From Owlcation

How to Increase the Chance of a Woodpecker Sighting

In order to attract woodpeckers, consider buying a suet feeder or woodpecker-geared birdseed. Woodpeckers are much more likely to come to a bird feeder if they find the food desirable.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


John Domville on March 09, 2018:

We have a red bellied Male woodpecker that frequents our feeder in Rougemont , NC

Cassidy Cornblatt (author) on June 09, 2012:

The red-bellied is a fantastic-looking bird. I'm glad to hear it has been seen in other areas. The species must be doing well.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 09, 2012:

This is a great hub!

geoffclarke from Canada on June 05, 2012:

Interesting hub. I have recently started to get visits from a red-bellied woodpecker. Unlike the hairy and downy which just eat from the peanut feeder, I've actually seen him eat from the seed tray and hanging mixed seed feeder.

Thanks for sharing!

Barnsey from Happy Hunting Grounds on June 04, 2012:

I have a few red bellied woodpeckers hanging around my area. I was surprised at how big and solid a bird they are. Until your hub I was unaware which breed they were and of the variations that exist hereabouts in South Jersey, thanks for the education!

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