8 Fantastic Woodpeckers of North Carolina to watch

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Woodpeckers of North Carolina

Woodpeckers are beloved birds that can be seen in many places around the world. North Carolina is no exception! There are eight woodpeckers of North Carolina you can see throughout the year.

These range from the iconic Pileated Woodpecker to the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker. From coast to mountain peak, these feathered friends can be spotted pecking away at tree bark and foraging for food.

What Are The Most Common Woodpeckers In North Carolina?

The most common woodpeckers in North Carolina include the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

Of the eight woodpeckers of North Carolina, the first three species are more commonly observed than the last five, and all but one can be seen in the state all year round.

In this blog post, we’ll explore these eight woodpecker species and learn more about their unique characteristics, such as size, calls, plumage, and feeding behavior.

For your convenience, we have organized our list from the most likely to be seen to the least likely to be seen.

North Carolina Woodpeckers

According to the latest data from ebird, there are eight observed species of Woodpeckers in North Carolina. This data has been collected from over 38,100 dedicated bird watchers throughout North Carolina.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers are the most commonly observed species in North Carolina
  • Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are the least widely observed species in North Carolina
  • The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest Woodpecker in North Carolina
  • Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest species in North Carolina
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers are common backyard birds of North Carolina and are most likely to visit backyard feeders.

8 Types Of Woodpeckers In North Carolina

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a mid-sized woodpecker found in the eastern United States. They are non-migratory and are year-round residents of North Carolina.

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

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.

2. 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 North Carolina 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

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

The downy woodpecker is a very vocal bird 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 bird feeders that offer suet, sunflower seeds or peanuts.

The downy woodpecker is a cavity nester, 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.

3. Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is a medium-sized woodpecker found across North America and is a year-round resident of North Carolina.

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

The Northern flicker has 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 bird 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.

4. Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker found in North America. These beautiful birds can be seen in North Carolina 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

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 – insects

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.

5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker found across North America and can be seen in North Carolina during the colder non-breeding season.

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

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 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.

6. Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker is a mid-sized woodpecker found in the eastern United States. They are non-migratory and can be seen in North Carolina 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

The hairy woodpecker has 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.

7. Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker found across eastern North America. They can be seen in North Carolina all year round.

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

The Red-headed woodpecker has 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 and are 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.

8. Red-cockaded Woodpecker

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a small woodpecker found in the southeastern United States. They are a rare sight in North Carolina and can be seen in the eastern half of the state all year round.

They are primarily black and white with a white cheek patch and visible black and white bars on the backs. Males have a small red streak (“Cockade”) at the top of their white cheek patches.

  • Length: 20-23cm (7.9 to 9.1 inches)
  • Weight: 42-52g (1.5 to 1.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 36cm (about 14 inches)
  • Size: About the size of a Robin

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker uses a high-pitched “tsick or sklit” call which sounds raspy when it has been disturbed, and also has a rough “sripp or churt” call heard when nesting.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers primarily eat insects such as ants, cockroaches, termites, and beetles but will also eat wild fruit and seeds. Very rarely seen at bird feeders but may eat suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts if given a chance.

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

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers also drill extra holes around their nest cavity to protect their nests from climbing snakes. The extra holes cause the tree to leak sap, making it difficult for the snakes to reach the nest.

Females will lay between 3-4 eggs per clutch and incubate them 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.


Frequently asked Question (FAQs)

What Kind Of Woodpeckers Are There In North Carolina?

There are eight observed species of woodpeckers in North Carolina. The most common woodpeckers include the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

What is North Carolina’s largest woodpecker?

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker found in North Carolina.

What is the rare woodpecker in North Carolina?

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is the rarest woodpecker found in North Carolina. It is considered a species of conservation concern due to its declining numbers across their range.

What is a small black and white woodpecker North Carolina?

The Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker are small black and white woodpeckers found in North Carolina.

What is the protected woodpecker in NC?

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a species of conservation concern in North Carolina and is protected by the endangered species act. It is illegal to harm, hunt, or disturb this species under federal law.

Keep an eye out for the woodpeckers of North Carolina

Woodpeckers are a colorful and exciting group of birds found in North Carolina. They vary in size, color, and habits and can be seen year-round across the state.

In this article, we have identified the eight commonly observed species of woodpeckers in North Carolina you can spot on the trails or in your backyard.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is the rarest in North Carolina and is a species of conservation concern. If you are lucky enough to spot one, remember that it is protected by federal law and should not be disturbed or harassed.

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

So if you ever find yourself in North Carolina, keep an eye out for these beautiful creatures! They will surely bring some excitement to your day!

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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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