Woodpeckers peck between 8,000 – 12,000 times a day, but their beaks do not wear out due to their perfect design and continuous growth.
There are 8 species of woodpecker in Alaska that have been spotted. Of these, 6 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, and 2 additional species are considered rare or accidental.
Going out birding in the woods and forest is the best way of seeing woodpeckers in Alaska. However, some such as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers can regularly be seen on backyard feeders.
This guide will help you identify the species of woodpecker in Alaska according to avibase.
Woodpeckers make distinctive drumming sounds, especially in the spring when they are looking for a mate. Both male and female woodpeckers make drumming sounds.
Some woodpeckers migrate, such as Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers.
The most common woodpecker in winter in Alaska is the Downy Woodpecker.
There are some gross woodpecker facts if you want to understand more about these fascinating birds.
You can print out a free bird identification photo guide for Alaska to help you identify all birds that visit your backyard.
Read on to find out all about the woodpeckers in Alaska, with pictures, videos, and what sounds they make.
There are 8 species of woodpecker in Alaska:
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-breasted Sapsucker
- Northern Flicker
- American Three-toed Woodpecker
- Black-backed Woodpecker
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Lewis’s Woodpecker
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The 8 Types of Woodpecker in Alaska
1. Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpeckers can be found all year round in Alaska, especially during winter.
The Downy Woodpecker has black and white patterning, mostly black with a white patch on their backs. The males also have a red patch on the back of their heads.
- Length: 5.5-6.7 in (14-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (21-28 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)
Although visually very similar to the Hairy Woodpecker, it is a third smaller and with a smaller beak compared to other woodpeckers. It is usually a Downy Woodpecker that you see at feeders as they are more common.
Downy Woodpeckers are very common throughout the US and Canada. They are not found along the southern border with Mexico or the North of Canada.
Downy Woodpeckers can be found on backyard bird feeders. They make a high-pitched pik sound and the descending whinny call and are very active, so fun to watch. Downy Woodpeckers nest in dead tree cavities and lay between 3-8 small (0.8 in) white eggs.
Downy woodpeckers eat mainly insects, especially larvae, nuts and they also eat berries, acorns, and grains. They will sometimes be seen drinking from hummingbird feeders.
Downy Woodpecker sound
Downy Woodpeckers are the most common woodpecker. They make a slightly slower drumming sound, so you can hear more of the individual drums than the Hairy Woodpecker, to which they look and sound similar.
Credit: www.xeno-canto.org Aiden Place
Where to spot Downy Woodpeckers:
Downy Woodpeckers are often seen mixed in with other small birds such as nuthatches and chickadees. They can be found in open woodlands and parks, orchards, and backyards and are commonly seen at feeders. They can also be seen amongst tall weeds.
How to attract more Downy Woodpeckers to your backyard:
An upside-down suet feeder is excellent for smaller woodpeckers such as Downy Woodpeckers as they offer protection from the rain and help stop bully birds. A bulk pack of suet cakes is a more economical way of buying them.
Also, black oil sunflower seeds attract more Downy Woodpeckers to your yard, and if you combine them with suet in great combination suet and hopper feeder, you get two feeders in one.
2. Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpeckers are more commonly seen between September and April, but they can be found in Alaska all year.
Hairy Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers with a black and white pattern and a large white patch on their backs. The males have a flash of red towards the back of their heads.
Length: 7.1-10.2 in (18-26 cm)
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz (40-95 g)
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in (33-41 cm)
Hairy Woodpeckers are visually similar to the Downy woodpecker but larger, and they have a longer bill. As it is often found in the same areas, it is hard to tell them apart.
They can be found across all US states and most of Canada and into Mexico. They can be seen on backyard feeders and are powerful small birds that make a whinnying sound or explosive peak calls.
Hairy Woodpeckers’ diet is mostly insects such as beetle larvae, ants, and bark beetles, but they will also eat bees, caterpillars, spiders, moth pupae, and millipedes.
This Woodpecker nests in the cavities of dead trees or dead parts of trees and lay between 3-6 white eggs.
Hairy Woodpecker sounds
The hairy Woodpeckers drum sounds similar to the Downy Woodpecker, but it is faster, and you cannot hear the individual drums as clearly.
Where to spot Hairy Woodpeckers:
You can find Hairy Woodpeckers in woodlands on trunks or main branches of large trees, but they are also found in a wide variety of habitats, including woodlots, parks, and cemeteries.
How to attract more Hairy Woodpeckers to your backyard
Hairy Woodpeckers benefit from squirrel-proof suet feeders with a cage to stop larger birds from taking all the turns. Also, black oil sunflower seeds attract more Hairy Woodpeckers to your yard, and if you combine them with suet in a great combination suet and hopper feeder, then you get two feeders in one.
3. Red-breasted Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsuckers are not that common in Alaska, but they can be found in the south of the state all year.
Red-breasted Sapsuckers are medium-sized woodpeckers with dark red heads and breasts. They have a white line down the wing when folded and a white spot in front of their eye. Males and females look the same, but juveniles are darker and without the bright red head. Red-breasted Sapsuckers are redder on the head in northern areas than those in California.
- Length: 7.9-8.7 in (20-22 cm)
- Weight: 1.9-2.2 oz (53.1-63.5 g)
- Wingspan: 14.6-16.0 in (37-40.6 cm)
Red-breasted Sapsuckers can be found in Canada along the Pacific Coast in British Columbia and in the southwestern corner of Alberta.
Red-breasted Sapsuckers migrate towards the coast from inland breeding areas in British Columbia and California but they remain all year along the whole Pacific Coast from the British Columbia to Baja Califonia.
They feed on sap from trees but also insects and fruit.
Where to find Red-breasted Sapsuckers:
Red-breasted Sapsuckers can be found in conifer forests, so look out for rows of shallow holes in the bark of trees.
How to attract Red-breasted Sapsuckers to your yard:
Sapsuckers do not as often come to backyards unless you have lots of conifer trees, but they may be tempted with cut fruit.
4. Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers migrate and are found in Alaska in summer. However, a few birds may stay around for winter.
Northern Flickers are large brown woodpeckers with colorful black-spotted plumage with a white patch on its rump in flight plus a red nape of the neck in the males.
Northern Flickers have red or yellow flashes in the wings and tail depending on where they originate. Red-shafted birds live in the west, and yellow-shafted birds live in the east.
Length: 11.0-12.2 in (28-31 cm)
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz (110-160 g)
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in (42-51 cm)
They can be spotted across all of the US and Canada, but those that breed in Canada migrate south for the winter.
Northern Flickers make a loud ringing call with a piercing yelp. They nest in tree cavities, and they lay 5-8 white eggs. They mainly eat ants and beetles and fruits and seeds and can often be seen on the ground digging them up with their curved bill.
Northern Flickers call and drumming:
Northern Flickers are quite large woodpeckers, and so their drumming is loud compared to smaller woodpeckers. They also make a long call that sounds like ‘flick – flick-flick’.
Where to spot Northern Flickers:
Northern Flickers can be seen in open woods, forest edges, and parks, and suburbs. They are often on the ground foraging for food.
How to attract more Northern Flickers to your backyard feeders:
Northern Flickers do not come as often to bird feeders, but they can be seen at a birdbath, so adding an attractive pedestal birdbath or a heated birdbath for the winter is your best bet. You can try to encourage them by having black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, suet, cracked corn, peanuts, and millet on suet cages, large hoppers, or platform feeders.
You can also put up a nest box suitable for flickers to attract a breeding pair and plant berry-producing plants like grape, bayberries, hackberries, or elderberries.
5. American Three-toed Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpeckers are not very common but they can be found in Alaska all year. However, some birds may move further south in winter.
American Three-toed Woodpeckers have a yellow patch on the forehead, with black backs with white barring and white spots on the wings. They are white underneath with black barring on their sides.
They look similar to Black-backed Woodpeckers, but they are smaller. Females lack the yellow patch and have black foreheads.
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm)
- Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz (44.8-67.9 g)
- Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
Although small, they are very powerful as they have three toes instead of the usual four, which allows them to lean back further.
Mostly found in Canada and Alaska, but American Three-toed Woodpeckers are also found further south down the western mountains down to Oregon and Nevada and as far as Arizona and New Mexico. Further east, they can be found in Michigan and Minnesota. They may move to lower elevations and from the far north in winter.
They prefer forests damaged by fire, flood, or storms that have lots of insects. They do not migrate and nest in May and June, laying up to 4 eggs.
6. Black-backed Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpeckers are rare, but they can be spotted mostly in the southeastern part of Alaska all year.
Black-backed Woodpeckers are small, so they are hard to spot, as they are only robin-sized, with a black back helping them to blend in. They have black and white stripes on their sides and a mostly white underbelly. The male has a yellow cap.
- Length: 9.1 in (23 cm)
- Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz (61-88 g)
- Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in (40-42 cm
Black-backed Woodpeckers do not migrate, and they predominantly live in Canada and Alaska and some down parts of the Western US as far as California. They occasionally move south looking for food especially after fires leave lots of dead trees, which are perfect for them.
It specializes in eating wood-boring beetle larvae, especially in newly burned forests. It does this by flaking the bark off the dead trees, so burnt forests are your best bet on seeing the Black-backed Woodpecker. They make a single sharp pik call.
They are one of the less common woodpeckers with three toes rather than most species that have four. They are similar to the American Three-toed Woodpecker but without the white patch on their backs.
Black-backed Woodpeckers make a new nest hole for every nesting attempt, which is great for other birds that rely on ready-made nest holes, and lay 3-4 white eggs.
Where to spot Black-backed Woodpeckers:
The Black-backed Woodpecker is found in forests that have had fires in the last 8 years.
How to attract more Black-backed Woodpeckers to your backyard:
Black-backed Woodpeckers are not usually seen at backyard bird feeders as they eat mostly beetle larvae in burned forests.
7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are considered an accidental species in Alaska but they have been spotted in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are relatively small and are about the size of a robin. They are mostly black with red foreheads, and the male has a red throat.
Length: 7.1-8.7 in (18-22 cm)
Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz (43-55 g)
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in (34-40 cm)
They migrate from Canada and Northeastern US states after breeding in the summer and spend the winter in the Southern US and Mexico.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers make holes in trees and use their brush-tipped tongues to get the sap out. They make neat rows of holes in horizontal rows, so look out for these in young paper birch, yellow birch, red or sugar maple, and hickory trees.
The holes need to be maintained to ensure a flow of sap. They make a loud mewing call, and they nest in tree cavities and usually have 5-6 white eggs.
Where to spot Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers:
Young deciduous forests often on birch or maple trees where they make neat rows of sapwells to feed.
How to attract more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to your backyard:
Although not usually found at bird feeders, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers sometimes will come for suet.
8. Lewis’s Woodpecker
Credit: Mike Bird
Lewis’s Woodpeckers are considered an accidental species in Alaska and according to records, they had only been spotted in Petersburg back in 2016.
Lewis’s Woodpeckers look like a completely different bird species, catching insects on the wing rather than hammering on trees. Then there is the pink belly, gray collar, and dark back with a dark red face to set it apart from its family.
- Length: 10.2-11.0 in (26-28 cm)
- Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz (88-138 g)
- Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in (49-52 cm)
Lewis Woodpeckers can be found from as far north as British Columbia and down to California and Texas. They tend to breed further north in British Columbia, east to Wyoming, and south to Nevada before migrating south to southwestern states. Those on the Pacific Coast tend to remain all year, as do those in the southeast of their range.
As well as eating flying insects, Acorn Woodpeckers also eat nuts and fruit, and they will store them in crevices of cottonwood trees in winter.
Lewis’s Woodpeckers do not make their own nests, preferring instead to us those created by other woodpeckers, and they lay 5 – 9 eggs.
How Frequently Woodpeckers are Spotted in Alaska in Summer and Winter
Checklists for the state are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted. These lists show which woodpeckers are most commonly recorded on checklists for Alaska on ebird in summer and winter.
Woodpeckers in Alaska in Summer:
Hairy Woodpecker 3.1%
Red-breasted Sapsucker 2.8%
Downy Woodpecker 2.6%
Northern Flicker 2.0%
American Three-toed Woodpecker 1.2%
Black-backed Woodpecker 0.2%
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker <0.1%
Woodpeckers in Alaska in Winter:
Downy Woodpecker 12.0%
Hairy Woodpecker 8.5%
Northern Flicker 1.7%
American Three-toed Woodpecker 1.1%
Red-breasted Sapsucker 0.4%
Black-backed Woodpecker 0.3%