9 Types of Woodpeckers in Michigan - Happiestbeaks

Hammad Tariq

· 11 min read
Types of Woodpeckers in Michigan

Michigan, known for its diverse habitat ranging from dense forests to expansive lakeshores, is home to a variety of bird species, including several types of woodpeckers. These distinctive birds play crucial roles in maintaining ecosystem balance and are fascinating subjects for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

In this exploration of the types of woodpeckers found in Michigan, we'll delve into the unique characteristics and habitats of these birds, shedding light on their importance in the state's rich avian biodiversity. Whether drumming on tree trunks or searching for insects in the woodlands, woodpeckers contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Michigan's wildlife.

9 Types of Woodpeckers in Michigan

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker, a familiar sight across Michigan's woodlands, is one of the most common and smallest woodpecker species in North America. Recognizable by its black and white plumage and small size, the Downy Woodpecker measures around 6-7 inches in length with a wingspan of 9-12 inches.

Despite its diminutive stature, this woodpecker possesses a distinctive drumming sound, created by pecking on tree trunks as a form of communication and territory marking.

Found in various habitats including forests, woodlots, parks, and suburban areas, Downy Woodpeckers are versatile foragers, primarily feeding on insects such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars, as well as tree sap and fruits. Their diet also includes seeds and berries, making them adaptable to different food sources throughout the year.

Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker, a close relative of the Downy Woodpecker, is another prominent woodpecker species found in Michigan's diverse habitats. Slightly larger than the Downy, the Hairy Woodpecker measures around 7-10 inches in length with a wingspan of 13-17 inches. It shares a similar black and white plumage pattern with its smaller counterpart, making identification somewhat challenging for novice birdwatchers.

In Michigan, Hairy Woodpeckers inhabit various environments, including forests, woodlands, parks, and suburban areas. They are skilled climbers and frequently forage on tree trunks and branches in search of insects, larvae, and spiders. Their diet also includes berries, seeds, and nuts, making them adaptable to changing food availability throughout the seasons.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker, despite its name, is a common and recognizable woodpecker species found throughout Michigan's forests and woodlands. Sporting vibrant plumage, these medium-sized birds measure around 9-10 inches in length with a wingspan of 13-16 inches. Despite its name, the red coloration on its belly is often challenging to see in the field.

One of the key identifying features of the Red-bellied Woodpecker is its striking black-and-white barred back and wings, complemented by a red cap on the head. Males typically have a larger red cap extending from the forehead to the nape, while females possess a smaller patch.

In Michigan, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlots, parks, and suburban areas with mature trees. They have a diverse diet, feeding on insects, spiders, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Their long, barbed tongues are well-suited for extracting prey from crevices in tree bark.

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the most iconic and largest woodpecker species found in Michigan. With its striking appearance and distinct drumming sounds, it's often recognized as a symbol of healthy forests. These impressive birds measure around 16-19 inches in length, making them similar in size to a crow, with a wingspan of about 26-30 inches.

Identifying features of the Pileated Woodpecker include its striking black body, bold white stripes on the face, and a prominent red crest atop its head. Both males and females exhibit this plumage, although males may have a slightly larger crest.

Pileated Woodpeckers inhabit mature forests, including both coniferous and deciduous woodlands, as well as wooded suburban areas with sufficient tree cover. They are known for their powerful drumming sounds, which resonate through the forest as they excavate large rectangular-shaped holes in search of insects, particularly carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae.

Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is a common and distinctive woodpecker species found throughout Michigan. It's easily recognizable by its unique appearance and behavior. Northern Flickers are medium-sized birds, measuring around 11-14 inches in length with a wingspan of approximately 17-21 inches.

One of the most notable features of Northern Flickers is their colorful plumage. They have a tan or beige underbelly with black spots and bars, while their upperparts are brown with prominent black bars. The undersides of their wings and tail feathers display a vibrant yellow or red color, depending on the subspecies.

Unlike many other woodpecker species, Northern Flickers spend a significant amount of time foraging on the ground for ants and other insects. They have a unique feeding behavior where they use their slightly curved bill to probe into the soil and extract prey.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a striking bird commonly found in Michigan, known for its vibrant plumage and distinctive behavior. As the name suggests, this woodpecker species features a brilliant red head, neck, and throat, contrasting sharply with its black wings and white underparts. Their overall appearance makes them easily recognizable even from a distance.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are medium-sized birds, typically measuring around 7.5 to 9.25 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 16.5 to 17.7 inches. They have a sturdy, chisel-shaped bill adapted for excavating holes in trees, where they nest and forage for food.

These woodpeckers are often found in open woodlands, orchards, parks, and forest edges throughout Michigan. They prefer habitats with mature trees, dead snags, and open spaces where they can hunt for insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Their diet consists of a wide variety of food items, including beetles, caterpillars, acorns, berries, and even small vertebrates.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a unique woodpecker species found in Michigan, boasts a distinct appearance and feeding behavior. Despite its name, this bird doesn't typically display a yellow belly, but it does feature a pale yellow wash on its undersides, which can vary in intensity.

It's often recognized by its black and white plumage with red markings on its head and throat, making it an eye-catching sight among Michigan's forests.

These woodpeckers are renowned for their specialized feeding habits. Unlike other woodpeckers that primarily excavate holes for insects, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers create distinct rows of shallow holes known as sap wells on the trunks and branches of trees.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are migratory birds, spending the winter months in the southern United States and migrating north to breed in Michigan and other northern regions during the spring and summer.

Black-backed Woodpecker

The Black-backed Woodpecker is a fascinating species found in Michigan's forests, distinguished by its striking black plumage and contrasting white markings.

Its name aptly describes its appearance, with a solid black back contrasting sharply against its white underparts and bold white stripes on its face. This woodpecker's appearance helps it blend seamlessly into its preferred habitat of burned or dead coniferous forests, where it forages for insects.

It uses its sturdy bill to probe deeply into the wood, extracting beetle larvae, ants, and other prey hidden beneath the bark. These unique feeding habits make it an essential component of forest ecosystems, as it helps control insect populations and aids in the decomposition of dead trees.

In Michigan, Black-backed Woodpeckers are primarily associated with areas that have experienced recent forest fires or insect outbreaks, as these disturbances create ideal conditions for their preferred prey.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

The American Three-toed Woodpecker is a distinctive species found in Michigan's forests, characterized by its black and white plumage and, as the name suggests, three toes instead of the typical four found in most woodpeckers. This bird has a unique ecological niche, primarily inhabiting mature coniferous forests, especially those affected by disturbances like wildfires or insect outbreaks.

One of the key features distinguishing the American Three-toed Woodpecker from other woodpeckers is its specialized foraging behavior. Unlike many of its relatives, this species primarily feeds on the larvae of wood-boring beetles and other insects beneath the bark of trees.

In Michigan, American Three-toed Woodpeckers are often associated with areas of recent disturbance, such as burned or insect-infested forests.


In summary, Michigan boasts a diverse array of woodpecker species, each with its own unique characteristics and ecological roles. From the ubiquitous Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers to the striking Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, these birds play vital roles in forest ecosystems through their foraging behaviors and habitat preferences.

Additionally, the presence of specialized species like the American Three-toed Woodpecker underscores the importance of maintaining healthy, diverse forest habitats to support their populations. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving mature forests and managing disturbances are crucial for ensuring the continued presence of woodpeckers in Michigan's natural landscapes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are woodpeckers protected in Michigan?

Yes, woodpeckers are protected in Michigan under state and federal laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to harm, capture, or possess them without proper permits.

About Hammad Tariq

Hammad Tariq, the passionate founder and author of HappiestBeaks, is a dedicated bird enthusiast, caretaker, and lover. With a deep-seated affection for avian companions, he channels his expertise into crafting insightful and informative blogs on bird care and behavior.