North Carolina Woodpeckers
The Largest NC Woodpecker
NC Is Home To 8 Species Of Woodpeckers
NC is home to 8 species of woodpeckers. They all have some common features but no two are exactly alike. The ringing laugh of the pileated woodpecker, the brightly colored head of the red headed wood pecker and distinctive barred pattern on the back of the red cockaded woodpecker are very distinctive features that make woodpeckers easy to distinguish.
Woodpeckers can be found in every type of forest, drumming away with their pointy beaks. They perch upright on the sides of trees and use their beaks to excavate homes and hunt for food. As a group, woodpeckers have several adaptations that make living the way they do possible. For one, their brains are cushioned by an air sac that prevents them from giving themselves a concussion every time they try to eat. For another, they all have specialized tongues. This feature helps them grasp prey deep inside holes drilled into the sides of dead trees, lick sap from oozing holes and penetrate rotting logs. Many woodpecker species are commonly found in NC backyards and will readily come to a feeder, if the right treats are available.
Pileated Woodpecker Call
Woody Woodpecker Is A Classic Character
The Pileated Woody Woodpecker
There is at least one woodpecker that is unmistakable, and I don't mean Woody Woodpecker. However, the one I mean is the basis for said famous cartoon. This largest NC woodpecker is often seen high in trees banging away or flying through the air laughing away. I'm talking about the Pileated Woodpecker. The rear pointing tuft, colorful feathers and resounding call are so distinctive they inspired Walter Lantz to create his famous cartoon character and continue to inspire children and adults today.
The call of the Pileated Woodpecker is one of the most recognizable of all the NC birdcalls. I have been appreciating and enjoying the sound for more than 30 years and still feel the same amazement and joy I did as a child. It is a series of short barks or chirps that sounds like a deep belly laugh. If you hear one you will know for sure there is a woodpecker nearby. The pileated woodpecker is also one of the largest forest birds in North America and an important part of the forest ecosystem. Pileated woodpeckers can be found across eastern and northern North America all the way to the west coast anywhere there are large trees and forests. They are not found in the mid or south west.
Their preferred food is the carpenter ant. These ants are large and juicy, carving huge nests inside of trees until they eventually cause it to die. Woodpeckers drill holes into the trees hunting for the ants. PIleated woodpeckers have a chisel shaped beak and leave a very distinctive square hole. They use this beak to their advantage creating large cavities inside of dead trees to raise their young. After they leave the cavities become homes to other woodland species like woodducks, owls, bats and others.
NC Woodpecker With A Red Head
Red Headed Woodpeckers Visit Bird Feeders
If you've ever seen a Red Headed Woodpecker at your feeder you can't help but notice it's bold red head. Out of all the woodpeckers with red in their name or on their plumage this is the one most aptly named. Many of them have very little red, inconspicuous red or red in some place other than where the name says it is. Not this one. The Red Headed Woodpecker has a brilliant, ruby toned, shiny red head. This is a medium to small woodpecker about the size of a robin that can be found in lightly wooded areas and grasslands including suburban neighborhoods. The woodpeckers as a group are a spectacular bunch but I think this one is my favorite.
Another distinction from other woodpeckers is its eating habits. Red headed woodpeckers drill holes in trees like other woodpeckers but also catch insects in the air, eat small nuts and even store food in tree hollows for later use. Most woodpeckers have some form of spotted, barred or striped patterns on their feathers. The red headed does not, it is boldly colored white below with a black top and black and white wings. Red headed woodpeckers are often found visiting feeders, especially in the winter. The best way to attract them is to offer large seeds, nuts like pecan, corn, acorns and dried fruit. Suet that includes these things is a great choice to.
Downy Woodpecker Perched On A Branch
A Smallish Woodpecker With White Spots
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest NC woodpecker, about the size of a nuthatch or chickadee. In fact, the Downy will sometimes be found in mixed flocks with these birds. Downies are common visitors to feeders where they like to feast of small seeds and suet. Downy woodpeckers are skillful flyers and can be seen zipping in and around trees. They have the standard upright body plan and sharp chisel like bill of other woodpeckers and are easily confused with the much larger Hairy Woodpecker.
Downy Woodpeckers prefer open woodland and overgrown meadowland where they have their choice of food sources. They can peck away at a tree looking for insects or they can hunt on the ground for insects, seeds and small fruits. This is the most likely of all the woodpeckers to be found at a feeder. They can be attracted with sunflower seeds, suet and my favorite, chunky peanut butter.
Endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker
Not Much Red On A Red Cockaded Woodpecker
Red Cockaded Woodpeckers are a hot topic in North Carolina and other states where they can be found. This woodpecker is protected because it is being endangered by habitat destruction. Now, wherever they are found is becoming protected land. Red cockaded woodpeckers prefer the habitat of mature southern pine forests. The same forests prized by lumber companies. The destruction of the long leaf pine forest is the leading cause of Red Cockaded Woodpecker decline.
Red cockaded woodpeckers need the trees for more than just food. They dig holes in the trees in which they lay their eggs. It can two to three years for a family of woodpeckers to make one hole sufficiently sized. Because of this they usually have several holes going at once, and use the best one. Red cockaded only use live trees to build their nest cavities. The running sap that oozes from the hole helps to keep snakes and other potential threats away from the nest.
You Red Bellied Wood Pecking Bird!
The Misnamed Red Bellied Woodpecker
This is the most misnamed woodpecker found in North Carolina. The Red Bellied Woodpecker, It should be called the Red Capped Woodpecker or maybe the Red Crested Woodpecker. There is no red on the belly of this beautiful bird but there is a bright red crest on the top of its head. The rest of the body is a soft tawny color. The wings are black with distinct horizontal white bars.
The Red Bellied Woodpecker is commonly found in forests east of the Mississippi River. They can be found in all types of forests including open woodland, parks and neighborhoods. This is one of the woodpeckers you can find at a backyard feeding station. They can be attracted with the usual large seeds and suet as other woodpeckers. Unlike other woodpeckers who drill holes into the bark of trees the Red Bellied Woodpecker prefers to hunt for insects on the outside of the tree.
The Yellow Shafted Northern Flicker
The Northern Flicker
One of the best ways to identify the Northern Flicker is by the red Vee on the back of its head. This red spot, not uncommon in woodpeckers, is distinct because of it's shape. Northern Flickers can sometimes be mistaken for Red Bellied Woodpeckers but there are two differences to look for. First the red on the back of the head, the Red Bellied Woodpecker has more red. And then look at the face, the Northern Flicker has red cheeks where the Red Bellied has no red.
Flickers are often found on the ground where they hunt for beetles and ants. The bill of this woodpecker is slightly curved and suited to its task. Another striking feature, usually seen as the birds fly away, is the bright white rump. I often seen a brownish streak flying across the back yard and know it is a Flicker by the white spot staring back at me. North Carolina Northern Flickers, and all other eastern residents, have yellow shafted feathers that can be seen as the birds fly by. In the west they are red shafted.
Flickers don't often visit feeders but they do like to frequent back yards. If you have a forested, scrub or brushy edge to your back yard you may be able to find them along this edge. They are usually on the ground, hidden by the foliage, and will flush when approached. Identify them by the yellow underwings and white rump along with the classic woodpecker upper parts.
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Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers Really Suck Sap!
The Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, What A Fun Name
The Yellow Bellied Sapsucker has one of the most fun names in the birding world. The name brings up images of Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny facing off in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Fun aside this is another remarkable woodpecker found in North Carolina. As the name implies it can be identified by a yellowish belly that is complimented by black wings with white bars, a red face, black and white striped head and yellowish barred back and tail. The Yellow Bellied Sapsucker is a small to medium size woodpecker, about the size of a robin. They can be found perched on the sides of trees puffing out their chests.
Also as the name implies the Sapsucker likes to eat sap. They drill a very recognizable pattern of small holes in the sides of trees and lap up the oozing sap and any trapped insects with their specialized tongue. I find evidence of sapsuckers all the time when I'm out in the woods bike riding. They make tiny holes, called sapwells, about an 1/8 inch or larger in neat rows all over the sides trees. I see this a lot on the sides of old apple trees and sugar maples that can be found all across the NC mountains. Though not a regular at feeders they can be attracted with suet at times.
Hairy Woodpeckers In North Carolina
The Hairy Woodpecker is often a challenge to identify because of it's similarity to the Downy Woodpecker. However, I think that once you get a positive ID on both you will no trouble from that point forward. The two birds do share a close resemblance but on closer inspection the differences are plain. The Hairy Woodpecker is much larger, has less conspicuous barring on the wings and a neat red patch on the back of its head.
Hairy Woodpeckers are commonly found in mature forest across North America. They can also be found regularly at back yard feeders where they enjoy suet, large seeds, nuts and dried fruit. They like to build their homes in hollows dug out of dead trees or limbs. They feed along the trunk and main branches of deciduous trees looking for ants, beetles and signs of other insects located within. They have a much heavier bill than the Downy as well and use it to full effect.