Woodpeckers of North Carolina - Complete Guide 2024

Hammad Tariq

· 12 min read
Woodpeckers of North Carolina

Woodpeckers are iconic birds known for their distinctive drumming sounds and unique behaviors. In North Carolina, these fascinating birds play a vital role in the ecosystem, contributing to forest health and biodiversity. With their chisel-like beaks, woodpeckers excavate holes in trees to find food, create nests, and communicate with other birds.

North Carolina's diverse habitats, including forests, woodlands, and urban areas, provide suitable environments for various woodpecker species to thrive. In this exploration of woodpeckers of North Carolina, we delve into the different species found in the state, their habitats, behaviors, and the importance of conserving these remarkable birds for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

9 Types of Woodpeckers of North Carolina:

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is one of the most common and smallest woodpeckers found in North Carolina. Recognizable by its black and white plumage, the Downy Woodpecker features a distinctive black-and-white striped head pattern, a white throat, and a small bill. They measure around 6-7 inches in length, making them notably smaller than their close relative, the Hairy Woodpecker.

These woodpeckers inhabit various habitats, including forests, woodlands, parks, and suburban areas throughout North Carolina. They are often spotted foraging on tree trunks and branches in search of insects, larvae, and tree sap. With their strong, chisel-like bills, Downy Woodpeckers drum on trees to excavate small cavities for nesting and foraging purposes.

In addition to insects, Downy Woodpeckers also consume seeds, berries, and suet, making them adaptable feeders. During breeding season, males engage in drumming and tapping behaviors to attract mates and establish territories. Their drumming sounds are often used for communication and territorial defense.

Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker, a close relative of the Downy Woodpecker, is another common woodpecker species found across North Carolina. With a similar black and white plumage pattern, the Hairy Woodpecker is slightly larger, measuring around 7-10 inches in length. It possesses a more robust bill compared to the Downy Woodpecker, which helps distinguish between the two species.

These woodpeckers inhabit various wooded habitats, including forests, woodlands, parks, and residential areas throughout North Carolina. Like the Downy Woodpecker, they forage for insects, larvae, and tree sap by drumming on tree trunks and branches with their powerful bills. Their drumming sounds are distinctive and often heard echoing through the forest.

Hairy Woodpeckers also consume seeds, nuts, and berries, making them adaptable feeders. They play a crucial role in forest ecosystems by controlling insect populations and creating nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker, a colorful and charismatic species, is a common sight in the woodlands and suburban areas of North Carolina. Despite its name, the red coloration on its belly is often difficult to see, with its pale underparts featuring a faint blush of red. Instead, it's the bold red cap on its head that makes this woodpecker easily recognizable.

Measuring around 9-10 inches in length, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has a striking black and white barred pattern on its back and wings. Its sturdy bill is well-adapted for drilling into tree bark in search of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. Additionally, it feeds on nuts, seeds, berries, and fruits, displaying a diverse diet.

These woodpeckers are known for their acrobatic foraging behavior, often clinging to tree trunks and branches while probing for food. Their distinctive "churr" calls and drumming sounds resonate through the forest, especially during the breeding season when males establish territories and attract mates.

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in North Carolina. With its striking appearance and distinctive call, this bird is often considered a symbol of the wild forests it inhabits. Measuring around 16-19 inches in length, the Pileated Woodpecker boasts a striking black body with bold white stripes on its neck and a prominent red crest on its head.

These woodpeckers are often observed in mature forests with plenty of large trees, where they use their powerful bills to excavate deep, rectangular-shaped holes in search of insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. Their foraging activities leave behind distinctive rectangular holes in trees, providing important habitat for other wildlife species.

Pileated Woodpeckers are adept at climbing tree trunks and branches, using their strong claws and stiff tail feathers for support. Their drumming sounds, akin to rapid hammering, can be heard from afar as they communicate with other woodpeckers and establish their territory.

Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker, a common sight in North Carolina, is a unique woodpecker species known for its distinctive appearance and behavior. Unlike other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are often found foraging on the ground for insects, making them stand out among their tree-dwelling relatives.

Measuring about 11-12 inches in length, Northern Flickers have a brownish-gray body with black bars and spots, along with a prominent white rump patch that is visible when they fly. Their wings display a flash of bright yellow or red when in flight, making them easily recognizable.

Northern Flickers are opportunistic feeders, consuming a variety of insects, berries, seeds, and fruits. They use their long, slightly curved bills to probe into the ground or tree bark in search of ants, beetles, caterpillars, and other invertebrates.

During the breeding season, Northern Flickers excavate cavities in dead or decaying trees to build their nests. They are known to create relatively shallow nests compared to other woodpecker species. They may also use artificial nest boxes if suitable natural cavities are scarce.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker, a striking bird with vibrant plumage, is a distinctive resident of North Carolina's woodlands and open habitats. Recognizable by its bold black-and-white body contrasted with a brilliant red head, this woodpecker is often spotted perched on trees or utility poles, or flying with its characteristic undulating flight pattern.

Measuring about 7-9 inches in length, the Red-headed Woodpecker boasts a wingspan of 16-18 inches. Its plumage is unmistakable: a snowy white belly and tail, jet-black back and wings, and a fiery red head and neck. Even in flight, the flash of red on its head is easily visible.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are versatile foragers, feeding on a diverse diet that includes insects, fruits, nuts, seeds, and occasionally small vertebrates. They are adept at catching insects in flight, probing for insects under bark, and even capturing flying insects with their agile aerial maneuvers.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a unique woodpecker species found in North Carolina's forests, especially during the winter months. Despite its name, its belly is not always yellow and can often appear whitish. This woodpecker is distinguished by its striking black and white plumage, with males exhibiting a red throat patch.

Measuring about 7-8 inches in length, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a slightly smaller size compared to other woodpeckers. Its wingspan ranges from 13 to 16 inches. Its black-and-white striped head, combined with its barred back and wings, makes it easily recognizable.

As its name suggests, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a unique feeding behavior. Unlike other woodpecker species that primarily feed on insects, the sapsucker drills holes in tree bark to feed on sap. These holes often appear in neat rows encircling the trunk or branches of trees. While feeding on sap, the sapsucker also consumes insects attracted to the sticky substance.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a small, black-and-white woodpecker species native to North Carolina's pine forests, particularly the longleaf pine ecosystems. It is distinguished by its unique black-and-white barred back and wings, with a small red patch on the side of its head, known as a cockade.

Measuring about 7 inches in length, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is slightly larger than the Downy Woodpecker and has a wingspan of approximately 15 inches. Unlike most woodpeckers, it has a white cheek patch and lacks any red coloring on its head.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are known for their cavity-nesting behavior, often excavating nesting cavities in live pine trees, particularly longleaf pines. These cavities are essential for their survival, providing shelter from predators and suitable nesting sites for raising their young.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker is a striking bird found in North Carolina, known for its unique appearance and behavior. It is named after Meriwether Lewis, who first documented this species during the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis's Woodpecker is larger than many other woodpecker species, measuring around 10 inches in length with a wingspan of about 18 inches.

What sets Lewis's Woodpecker apart is its distinctive plumage. It has a dark greenish-black back, a pinkish-red belly, and a gray collar around its neck. Its face is dark with a red crown, making it stand out among other woodpeckers.

Unlike typical woodpeckers, Lewis's Woodpecker has a more flycatcher-like foraging behavior. It often perches on exposed branches or wires, sallying out to catch insects in mid-air.


The woodpeckers of North Carolina contribute to the state's rich avian diversity, each species playing a unique role in its ecosystem. From the common Downy Woodpecker to the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the striking Lewis's Woodpecker, these birds exhibit fascinating behaviors and characteristics.

They inhabit various habitats across the state, from forests to woodlands and even urban areas. However, many face challenges such as habitat loss and fragmentation. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving and restoring their habitats are crucial for ensuring the continued presence of these woodpeckers in North Carolina's natural landscapes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the rarest woodpecker in the United States?

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is considered the rarest woodpecker in the United States. With only a few unconfirmed sightings in recent decades, it is possibly extinct or critically endangered.

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.