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Guide to Identifying East Coast Woodpeckers

Updated on June 4, 2012

There are a number of woodpeckers that frequent areas of the East Coast, appearing on trees and even at bird feeders. Their characteristic drumming noise on the bark of trees is difficult to miss. This will describe how to identify 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.

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Pileated WoodpeckerTufted Titmouse and Pileated WoodpeckerPileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Tufted Titmouse and Pileated Woodpecker
Tufted Titmouse and Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers, 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 a white stripe along the sides of its head and neck. It is typically seen from afar, though it will occasionally come to a bird feeder.

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Red-Headed WoodpeckerRed-Headed Woodpecker
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-Headed Woodpecker

The red-headed woodpecker is the only woodpecker with a fully red head, making it easy to identify. Juveniles have a grey head. The wings are black with white sections, and the underside is white. The red-headed woodpecker will come to a bird feeder, and it seems to appear more commonly in the spring.

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Male Red-Bellied WoodpeckerFemale Red-Bellied WoodpeckerRed-bellied woodpecker spreading its wingsRed-bellied woodpecker flying away
Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Female Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Female Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker spreading its wings
Red-bellied woodpecker spreading its wings
Red-bellied woodpecker flying away
Red-bellied woodpecker flying away

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 will come to bird feeders.

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Downy WoodpeckerBlue Jay and Downy WoodpeckerDowny Woodpecker and Tufted TitmouseDowny Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay and Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay and Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker and Tufted Titmouse
Downy Woodpecker and Tufted Titmouse
Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

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 head. The downy woodpecker has no qualms about approaching a bird feeder and often feeds while other birds are present.

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Hairy WoodpeckerFinch and Hairy WoodpeckerHairy woodpecker takes flightHairy woodpecker flies away
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Finch and Hairy Woodpecker
Finch and Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker takes flight
Hairy woodpecker takes flight
Hairy woodpecker flies away
Hairy woodpecker flies away

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 head. 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 a bird feeder.

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How to Increase the Chance of a Woodpecker Sighting

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

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    • Barnsey profile image

      Barnsey 4 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      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!

    • geoffclarke profile image

      geoffclarke 4 years ago from Canada

      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!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is a great hub!

    • ccornblatt profile image
      Author

      ccornblatt 4 years ago

      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.

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