Discover 11 Woodpeckers in South Dakota you can observe

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Woodpeckers in South Dakota

Woodpeckers are fascinating birds you can observe throughout the year in South Dakota. They are known for their distinctive beaks and unique drumming calls, and spotting them in action can be a thrilling experience for backyard birdwatchers. 

Eleven woodpeckers of South Dakota can be seen throughout the year. Of the eleven woodpeckers in South Dakota, the first four are more observed than the last seven, and seven can be seen in the state all year round. 

What Are The Most Common Woodpeckers In South Dakota?

The most common woodpeckers in South Dakota include the Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, and American Three-toed Woodpecker.

The four most observed woodpecker species are often in gardens and backyard feeders around South Dakota.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or just curious about what kind of woodpecker species live in your area, here’s all you need to know about the Woodpeckers of South Dakota.

We have organized our list from most likely seen to the least likely to be seen for your convenience.

South Dakota Woodpeckers

According to the latest data from ebird, there are eleven observed species of Woodpeckers in South Dakota. This data has been collected from over 8,200 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Downy Woodpeckers is the most commonly observed species in South Dakota
  • American Three-toed Woodpeckers are the least widely observed species in South Dakota
  • Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest in South Dakota
  • Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest in South Dakota
  • Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, are common backyard birds of South Dakota and are most likely to visit backyard bird feeders.

11 Types Of Woodpeckers In South Dakota

1. Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest member of the woodpecker family in North America. They are found in wooded areas throughout North America, are non-migratory, and can be seen in South Dakota all year round.

They are primarily black with white stripes running down their backs and white spotted wings. The males have a red patch on the back of their heads, while the females have a white patch.

  • Length: 14-17cm (5.5 to 7 inches)
  • Weight: 21-28g (0.5 to 1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 25-30cm (10 to 12 inches)
  • Size: Smaller than a Robin but larger than a sparrow
  • Downy Woodpecker Scientific name: Picoidis pubescens

Their bills are short, straight, and chisel-like, which they use to drill into trees to find insects to eat.

Downy woodpeckers are very vocal birds and will often be heard before they are seen. Their calls consist of a sharp “pik” sound followed by a softer “pik”. They also have a drumming call used to mark their territory or attract a mate.

These birds are most active during the day and can be seen crawling up tree trunks, hopping from branch to branch, or hanging upside down from branches while foraging for food.

Downy woodpeckers primarily eat insects, but they will also eat fruits, berries, and nuts. They are also frequent visitors to backyard feeders that offer suet, sunflower seeds or peanuts.

Downy woodpeckers are cavity nesters, which means they will drill a hole in a tree to make their nest. Both the male and female will take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 3-6 white eggs per clutch. They incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

2. Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers are medium-sized woodpeckers found across North America and are year-round residents of South Dakota.

There are two color groups, but all have brown plumage with black bars on their wings and tails, a black crescent mark on their cheeks, and spotted underparts.

The yellow-shafted species have yellow underwings and undertail, a grey crown, red patch behind their heads, and males have a black whisker on their face. The yellow-shafted species can be found in North America’s eastern and northern parts.

The Red-shafted species have pinkish-salmon color underwings and undertail, brown crown, lacks the red patch behind their heads, and the males have a red whisker mark on their face. The red-shafted species can be found in western North America.

  • Length: 28-31cm (about 11 to 12 inches)
  • Weight: 110-160g (3.9 to 5.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-51cm (about 16.5 to 20 inches)
  • Size: Larger than a Robin but smaller than Crow
  • Northern Flicker Scientific Name: Colaptes auratus

Northern flickers have a loud “wick-a-wick-a-wick” sound. Both males and females make a loud, rapid drumming sound on trees or metal objects to mark their territories, attract mates, or warn off other Northern flickers.

Unlike most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers prefer to forage on the ground and use their long bills to dig in the ground for ants and other insects. You often see them “wicking” their bills on the ground after they catch an insect.

Northern flickers also eat fruits, berries, and nuts in the fall and winter. They will also eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from backyard feeders.

The Northern flicker is a cavity nester, and the male and female take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 5-8 eggs per clutch and incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

Tip: If you want to find a Northern Flicker, look for them feeding on the ground.

3. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers found in the eastern United States. They are non-migratory and can be seen in the South Dakota all year round.

These birds have black with white stripes running down their backs and wings and white underparts. The males have red on the back of their heads, while the females have no red.

They appear similar to Downy Woodpeckers, except they are larger and have longer bills.

  • Length: 18-26cm (7 to 10 inches)
  • Weight: 40-95g (1.4 to 4 oz)
  • Wingspan: 33-41cm (13 to 16 inches)
  • Size: About the size of a Robin
  • Hairy Woodpecker Scientific Name: Picoides villosus

Hairy woodpeckers have a sharp “peek” sound similar but lower pitched to a Downy Woodpecker call. They also have a drumming call to mark or defend their territory, attract a mate, or respond to an intruder.

They are active foragers probing tree trunks and limbs, scaling off the bark, and drilling into the wood for their preferred food.

Hairy woodpeckers primarily eat insects but will also eat fruits, berries, and nuts. They will also eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from bird feeders.

The hairy woodpecker is a cavity nester, so they will drill a hole in a tree to make their nest. Both the male and female take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 3-6 eggs per clutch and incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another four weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

4. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are a medium-sized woodpecker found in the eastern United States. They are non-migratory and can be seen in the southeastern regions of South Dakota all year round.

These birds have black with white stripes running down their backs and wings. The males have red running from their bill to the back of their heads, while the females only have red on the back of their heads. 

Both males and females are white below, and the belly of these birds is typically a pale pink or salmon color.

  • Length: 23-25cm (9 to 10 inches)
  • Weight: 56-91g (2 to 3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 33-42cm (13 to 17 inches)
  • Size: Larger than a Robin but smaller than a Crow
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker scientific name: Melanerpes Carolinus

The red-bellied woodpecker is also a very vocal bird, and its calls consist of a shrill, rolling “kwirr” sound. They also have a coughing “cha cha cha” call used to mark their territory or attract a mate.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers rarely drill into trees to find their food but instead forage for food from trees, the ground, and the air.

Red-bellied woodpeckers primarily eat insects but will also eat fruits, berries, and nuts. They will also eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from bird feeders.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a cavity nester, so they will drill a hole in a tree to make their nest. Both the male and female will take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 4-5 eggs per clutch and incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

5. Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers found across North America. They can be seen in South Dakota during the warmer summer and spring breeding season.

They are all black with a white chest and belly, white patches on their wings, and a red head, neck, and throat.

Males and females look alike, but juveniles have brownish heads without a red hue.

  • Length: 19-23cm (7.5 to 9 inches)
  • Weight: 56-91g (2 to 3.2 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42cm (16.5 inches)
  • Size: Larger than a Robin but smaller than Crow
  • Red-headed Woodpecker Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocepphalus

Red-headed woodpeckers have a shrill “tchur” call, similar to that of a Red-bellied Woodpecker but with a higher pitch. They also drum on trees or metal objects to warn off other birds.

Red-headed woodpeckers are omnivores adept at catching flying insects such as moths and grasshoppers while in flight. They will also eat fruits, berries, and nuts in the fall and winter. They will also eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from bird feeders.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of the few woodpeckers that store food in crevices for later feeding.

The red-headed woodpecker is a cavity nester, and the male and female take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 4-7 eggs per clutch and incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

6. Red-naped Sapsucker

The Red-naped Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker found in western North America. They are rare in South Dakota but may be seen on the western border during the summer and spring breeding season.

These birds are black with white stripes on their back and wings. They have a reddish cap, nape, and throat. Males have a full red throat, and females have some white feathers under their throats.

  • Length: 19-21cm (7.5 to 8.3 inches)
  • Weight: 32-66g (1.1 to 2.4 oz)
  • Wingspan: 41-43cm (16 to 17 inches)
  • Size: Similar in size to a Robin
  • Red-naped Sapsucker Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis

The Red-naped Sapsucker is a very vocal bird, and their calls consist of a whining “waa waa” sound, and a harsher “waa” sound used to alert their mates. They also have a drumming call to mark their territory or attract a mate.

Red-naped Sapsuckers primarily eat sap and insects. They drill small holes in trees to get to the sap, which they drink with their long tongues. They will also eat the insects that are attracted to the sap.

Their diet also includes fruits and berries when available.

Red-naped Sapsuckers are cavity nesters, which means they will drill a hole in a tree to make their nest. Both the male and female will take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 4-7 white eggs per clutch. They incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch.

After hatching, it takes roughly another four weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own. The parents will use this time to teach them the sapsucking technique before they leave the nest.

7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are medium-sized woodpeckers found across North America. They are a common migratory woodpecker and can be seen throughout South Dakota during their migration periods in September and May each year.

They are primarily black and white with a striped face, white wing patches, and yellowish underparts. Males have a red forecrown and red throat, and females have a red forecrown and white throat.

  • Length: 18-22cm (7 to 8.5 inches)
  • Weight: 43-55g (1.5 to 1.9 oz)
  • Wingspan: 34-40cm (13 to 16 inches)
  • Size: About the size of a Robin
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus varius

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a squeal-like call that sounds like “weeah” and a cat like “meeow” call. They also make a drumming sound on trees or metal objects to warn other birds away from their territories, but it is slower and less regular than other woodpeckers.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are unique among woodpeckers in that they drink the sap of trees. They make small holes in the bark of trees and return to these holes to feed on the tree sap, and the insects attracted to it.

They also eat flying insects, fruits, and seeds. In the winter, they will also eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from bird feeders.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a cavity nester. The male and female take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 3-7 eggs per clutch and incubate them for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own. Before the fledglings leave the nest, their parents teach them the sapsucking technique.

8. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers found in western North America and can be seen in small areas of western South Dakota during the summer and spring breeding months.

These birds have glossy greenish-black upper parts with a pale gray breast band that wraps around the neck. Their bellies are a pinkish color, and their face is a deep red color.

  • Length: 26-28cm (10 to 11 inches)
  • Weight: 88-138g (3 to 4.9 oz)
  • Wingspan: 38-43cm (15 to 17 inches)
  • Size: Larger than a Robin but smaller than a Crow
  • Lewis’s Woodpecker Scientific Name: Melanerpes lewis 

Lewis’s woodpeckers are not as vocal as other woodpeckers but have soft calls consisting of a short but harsh “chur” sound and a clicky “yick” sound. Males will also drum on trees during courtship.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are acrobatic birds that can be seen perched high in the trees or circling high in the air. 

They are aerial foragers, meaning they prefer to catch their food in flight by either swooping down to catch insects on the ground or by gleaning insects from trees. 

They will also eat fruits, nuts, and berries when available.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are cavity nesters and will use the same nest cavity each year.

Females will lay between 6-7 white eggs per clutch. They incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another five weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

9. Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker found in North America. They can be seen along South Dakota’s eastern border with Minnesota all year round.

They are primarily black all over with white stripes running down their necks and wings and have a red crest on their heads. The males also have a red forecrown and red whisker near their bills, while the females have a black forecrown and black whisker.

  • Length: 40-49cm (about 16 to 20 inches)
  • Weight: 250-350g (8.8 to 12 oz)
  • Wingspan: 66-75cm (29 to 30 inches)
  • Size: Large; about the size of a crow
  • Pileated Woodpecker Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus

The Pileated woodpecker has a loud, echoing “kuk” sound similar to laughter. Both males and females drum on trees to mark their territories, attract mates, or warn off other Pileated woodpeckers.

They are powerful foragers that use their long bills to chisel away at tree bark to find their favorite food, carpenter ants, and beetle larvae.

Their chiseling leaves extensive excavations in trees that provide shelter for other smaller birds and mammals.

Pileated woodpeckers also eat fruits, berries, and nuts. They will also eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from bird feeders.

Like other woodpeckers, the Pileated woodpecker is a cavity nester, and the male and female take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 3-5 eggs per clutch and incubate their eggs for about three weeks before the chicks hatch. 

After hatching, it takes roughly another four weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

10. Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpeckers are a medium-sized birds that is found across North America. They are non-migratory, and their range stretches from Alaska to Newfoundland.

They can be seen in a small area of western South Dakota all year round.

Adults have a distinctive black back and head with a single white stripe reminiscent of a mustache. Their underparts are primarily white, with some black barring on their flanks. The males have a small patch of yellow on their crowns.

  • Length: 22-23cm (about 9 inches)
  • Weight: 61-88g (2.1 to 3.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 40-42cm (15.8 to 16.5 inches)
  • Size: Similar in size to a Robin
  • Black-backed Woodpecker Scientific Name: Picoides arcticus

Black-backed Woodpeckers are vocal birds whose calls consist of a sharp “pik” or “kyik” sound. Males also drum on trees as part of their territorial displays.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are mostly insectivores that flake off the bark of dead trees to feed on larvae from wood-boring beetles. They also eat other insects and spiders and some fruits and nuts when available.

The Black-backed Woodpecker is a cavity nester and will excavate its nest hole or use an existing one made by another species of woodpecker. Both males and females take turns excavating their nesting cavity, with the male doing most of the work.

Both the male and female will take turns incubating the eggs and raising the chicks. Females will lay between 3-4 white eggs per clutch, and both parents will incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch.

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own.

11. American Three-toed Woodpecker

American three-toed Woodpeckers are medium-sized birds found in northernmost North America, predominantly in the forests of Alaska and across Canada to Newfoundland. They also inhabit areas in mainland USA along the rocky mountains.

They are the least commonly seen woodpeckers in South Dakota and can be seen all year round in a tiny southwestern part of the state.

These birds are primarily black and white above and white with fine black lines below. Their backs have white barring down the center, and males have a yellow patch on the foreheads.

  • Length: 21-23cm (8.3 to 9.1 inches)
  • Weight: 45-68g (1.6 to 2.4 oz)
  • Wingspan: 37-39cm (14.5 to 15.3 inches)
  • Size: Similar in size to a robin
  • American Three-toed Woodpecker Scientific Name: Picoides dorsalis

The American three-toed Woodpecker is a shy bird, but its call is similar to that of a Downy Woodpecker, sounding like a soft “pik” sound. They also drum on trees to mark their territory or attract a mate.

These woodpeckers eat insects and larvae primarily by chipping away at the bark of dead or decaying trees. They will also eat some fruits and sap from sapsucker holes.

The American three-toed Woodpecker is a cavity nester and will excavate a new cavity hole each year. Both the male and female will take turns drilling the hole and incubating the eggs.

Females will lay between 3-6 white eggs per clutch. They incubate their eggs for about two weeks before the chicks hatch.

After hatching, it takes roughly another three weeks for the chicks to fledge or grow their adult feathers and be able to fly on their own. American three-toed woodpecker parents will teach their fledglings how to find food and avoid predators for up to six weeks.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Kind Of Woodpeckers Live In South Dakota?

There are eleven kinds of woodpecker species that live in South Dakota. The most common woodpeckers include the Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, and American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Are there pileated woodpeckers in South Dakota?

Yes, there are pileated woodpeckers in South Dakota. They are not one of the most observed species but can be seen along the border of Minnesota year-round.

What’s The Biggest Woodpecker In South Dakota?

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in South Dakota.

What Is The Smallest Woodpecker In South Dakota?

The Downy Woodpecker is the Smallest in South Dakota.

Keep An Eye Out For Woodpeckers In South Dakota

Woodpeckers are a fascinating group of birds that can be seen throughout South Dakota. There are eleven Woodpecker species in South Dakota, ranging from the most commonly observed Downy Woodpecker to the least observed American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Birdwatchers will find a variety of Woodpeckers in gardens and at backyard feeders all year round, including the Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Whether you’re an experienced bird watcher or just curious about what kinds of woodpeckers live in South Dakota, we hope this article has given you some great insight into these fantastic feathered friends.

If you have questions about identifying more species of birds in South Dakota or finding out which ones live near you, let us know! We would love to help identify new bird species for our readers.

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I am an avid birdwatcher with a passion for learning all I can about these fantastic creatures. I love finding new species of birds in my backyard, neighborhood, or when I travel. I enjoy sharing everything I learn about how these creatures live their lives; feedback and experience is much appreciated!

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