Everything You Need to Know About Woodpeckers in Canada

Northern Flicker

Do you know the difference between a Hairy and a Downy Woodpecker? Are you trying to identify a woodpecker you have seen on a walk? Well, you have come to the right place to find out about all the woodpeckers in Canada and see photos to help you identify them.

Going out birding in the woods and forest is the best way of seeing woodpeckers in Canada but some such as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy, Downy, and Northern Flickers can regularly be seen at backyard feeders. 

There are 14 species of woodpeckers in Canada and those that migrate are Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Red-naped Woodpeckers, Williamson’s Woodpeckers, and Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

The biggest woodpecker in Canada is the Pileated Woodpecker and the smallest woodpecker in Canada is the Downy Woodpecker.

So read on to find out more about all the woodpeckers in Canada.

There are 14 species of woodpecker in Canada:

This list also shows how often they are recorded on checklists for Canada according to ebird.

  1. Downy Woodpecker (22%)
  2. Northern Flicker (19%)
  3. Hairy Woodpecker (14%)
  4. Pileated Woodpecker (5%)
  5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (4%)
  6. Red-bellied Woodpecker (3%)
  7. Red-breasted Sapsucker (0.5%)
  8. Red-naped Sapsucker (0.3%)
  9. Red-headed Woodpecker (0.3%)
  10. Black-backed Woodpecker (0.3%)
  11. American Three-toed Woodpecker (0.2%)
  12. Lewis’s Woodpecker (0.08%)
  13. Williamson’s Sapsucker (0.01%)
  14. White-headed Woodpecker (0.0004%)

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The 14 types of Woodpecker in Canada

1. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker for identification in Massachusetts MA
Downy woodpecker female

The Downy Woodpecker can be found all year in Canada from east to west. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest Woodpecker in Canada and is the smallest in North America and is the most common woodpecker in Canada.

  • 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 common over most of Canada and US states.

The Downy Woodpecker has black and white patterning, being mostly black with a white patch on their backs.  The males also have a red patch on the back of their heads.  They are common over all of North America.

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.

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 but also in 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 a great combination suet and hopper feeder then you get two feeders in one.

2. Northern Flicker

Male Yellow-Shafted
Northern flicker female yellow shafted
Female Yellow-shafted

Northern Flickers Breed in Canada and can be found from east to west. They migrate south for the winter.

In Canada, Northern Flickers are mostly yellow-shafted woodpeckers that have a flash of yellow in the wings and tails. In British Columbia the red-shafted woodpecker is common. 

They 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. 

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)

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 but also fruits and seeds and can often be seen on the ground digging them up with their curved bill.  

Northern Flickers that breed in Canada and Alaska and the far north of the US  migrate south for the winter but those in the lower 48, Mexico and Caribbean tend to remain all year.

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 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 such as grape, bayberries, hackberries, or elderberries.

3. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker female

Hairy Woodpeckers are common across all of Canada, except the far north and they do not migrate. These medium-sized woodpeckers have 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 common across all of the US and Canada. They are visually similar to the Downy woodpecker but larger.  As it is often found in the same areas it is hard to tell them apart.  They can be seen on backyard feeders and are a powerful small bird that makes 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.

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.  A bulk pack of suet cakes is a more economical way of buying them. 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.

4. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker for identification in west virginia

Pileated Woodpeckers are the biggest woodpecker in Canada and they can be found all year round. With its’ flaming-red triangular crest it is very striking. 

Length: 15.8-19.3 in (40-49 cm)
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz (250-350 g)
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in (66-75 cm)

It is one of the biggest woodpeckers being nearly the size of a crow. It is mostly black with a white strip and when flying the white underside of the wings can be seen. Males have an additional red stripe on the cheek.

Pileated woodpeckers can be found mostly in eastern states but also across Canada ad down the west coast into California.

Pileated Woodpeckers mostly eat carpenter ants from dead trees and fallen logs but they also eat beetle larvae, termites, and other insects as well as fruit and nuts such as blackberries, sumac berries, dogwood, and elderberry.  They make a loud shrill, whinnying call and deep loud drumming. 

Dead trees are used for nesting sites for Pileated Woodpeckers and they usually make a new one each year so the old nest site is often used by other species of birds.  They usually lay 3-5 white eggs.

Where to spot Pileated Woodpeckers: 

They are usually found in mature forests or drowned forests with lots of dead trees but they also visit backyard feeders especially for suet. They make distinctive rectangular holes in trees so look out for these.

How to attract more Pileated Woodpeckers to your backyard:

Pileated Woodpeckers come to backyard bird feeders, especially for suet. They also eat black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, and mealworms. Also, try putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair.

Pileated woodpeckers prefer suet feeders with tail props and enjoy suet with added mealworms.

5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

yellow bellied sapsucker
yellow-bellied sapsucker femalefor identification in Michigan MN

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are migratory and breed in Canada and north-eastern US states before flying south for winter to south-eastern US states, Mexico and Central America.

It is relatively small and is 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)

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 so try putting up squirrel-proof suet feeders and try mealworm suet or peanut butter suet.

6. Red-bellied Woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker female

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found in Southeastern Canada all year but this is the northern edge of their range. 

They can be mistaken for Red-headed Woodpeckers as they have red caps but this is much smaller than the Red-headed Woodpecker. Females lack the red cap and only have red napes. They have a very pale red belly that can be hard to spot.  They have the common black and white markings over their backs.

Length: 9.4 in (24 cm)
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in (33-42 cm)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers live across southeastern US states and do not migrate. They can be found as far north as southern Canada but are less common there.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can often be seen at bird feeders, especially if you live near wooded areas. They make a distinctive loud rolling call which means you will often hear them before you see them. 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat insects, spiders, seeds from grasses, fruit, and nuts. They will also sometimes eat nestlings. They nest in dead trees and may use the same nest year after year. They lay 4-5 white eggs on a bed of wood chips.

The tongue of the Red-bellied Woodpecker sticks out 2 inches past the beak and is barbed at the tip and along with sticky spit, this helps catch prey from deep crevices.

Where to spot Red-bellied Woodpeckers:

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common in woodlands and forests in the eastern US but can be seen on bird feeders.

How to attract more Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your backyard feeders: 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers will come to backyards for suet so try an upside-down suet feeder that can help stop squirrels and bully birds. These suet cakes come in a cheaper bulk pack.

Also, black oil sunflower seeds attract more Red-bellied 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. 

They can also be seen on hummingbird feeders and will feed on fruit.  Planting native berry trees such as hawthorn or mountain-ash.

7. Red-breasted Sapsucker

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 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 conifer forests along the Pacific Coast from Baja California to British Columbia and just into Alaska.

They migrate towards the coast from inland breeding areas in British Columbia and California but remain all year on coastal areas from 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, 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.

8. Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Woodpeckers are migratory and breed in Canada in British Columbia and Alberta before heading south for winter.

Red-naped Sapsuckers are medium-sized woodpeckers that look very similar to other woodpeckers and sapsuckers. A long white bar on the wings helps to distinguish them from the Hairy and Downy woodpeckers.  They are black and white with a red cap, nape, and throat and a black stripe through the eye with mottled bellies. Females are similar except for a white patch on the chin.

  • Length: 7.5-8.3 in (19-21 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1-2.3 oz (32-66 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.1-16.9 in (41-43 cm)

Red-naped Sapsuckers are migratory and breed in mountain forests in western US states and southwestern Canada before migrating to southern Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Northern Mexico. They feed on sap by drilling parallel lines of holes and using their tongues to lap the sap rather than suck the sap. They also eat ants, spiders, beetles, and flies.

Like most woodpeckers, they build cavity nests in trees that have heartwood fungus making them softer and they may reuse the nest in future years and lay 3 – 7 eggs.

Where to spot Red-naped Sapsuckers in: 

Found in Aspen and Cottonwood forests. Look out for holes drilled in Aspen trees.  They also make new nests each year in the same tree just higher up then next year so look for trees with multiple nest cavities. 

How to attract more Red-naped Sapsuckers to your backyard:

Red-naped Woodpeckers will visit backyards especially if you have aspen, birch, or pine trees and they visit suet feeders and they are more active in the morning.

9. Red-headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpeckers breed in Canada along the southern edge of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba and migrate from this northern area of their breeding range for winter.

With their bright red-heads and black and white bold markings, these woodpeckers are one of the easiest to identify. Red-headed Woodpeckers are medium-sized with powerful spike bills. They have white undersides, black backs and large white bands on the wings, and short tails.

Length: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm)
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
Wingspan: 16.5 in (42 cm)

Red-headed Woodpeckers live across eastern US states and into southern Canada. Those in the southeast remain all year but those in the north and west of their range migrate for the winter after breeding.

They can fiercely defend their territories, even removing or destroying the eggs of other birds or ducks.  Red-headed Woodpeckers will catch insects in flight as well as in crevices like other woodpeckers.

Insects such as beetles, midges, honeybees, and grasshoppers, make up only about one-third of their diet. The other two-thirds are plant materials such as seeds, nuts, and berries. Red-headed Woodpeckers will also take nestlings or eggs from other birds and sometimes mice.

Red-headed Woodpeckers make a shrill call and nest in tree cavities sometimes reusing a site, and lay 4-5 white eggs.  Unfortunately, huge declines of 70% of Red-headed Woodpeckers have occurred between 1966 to 2014 due to habitat loss.

Where to spot Red-headed Woodpeckers:

They can be found in open woodlots, farms, dead timber in swamps, or pine savannas. Sometimes they visit backyard bird feeders.

How to attract Red-headed Woodpeckers to your backyard feeder:

Red-headed Woodpeckers visit backyards for suet so try this suet feeder that helps stop squirrels and bully birds. These suet cakes come in a cheaper bulk pack. They will also eat seeds, nuts, and fruit such as apples, berries, and grapes.

10. Black-backed Woodpecker

Blacked-backed Woodpecker for identification

The Black-backed Woodpecker breeds in southern Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec in Canada, but they are not very common. They migrate south to the Southeastern US States from Canada.

They are small, so 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 mostly white under-belly.  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

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.

Black-backed Woodpeckers remain all year in Southeastern US states but do migrate from the north and west of their range after breeding.

This is one of the less common woodpeckers that have 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.

11. American Three-toed Woodpecker

Three toed woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpeckers can be found across Canada from east to west and do not migrate. They breed the furthest north of all the woodpeckers.

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.

Preferring 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. 

12. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Credit: Mike Bird

Lewis’s Woodpeckers breed in British Columbia in Canada and southwestern Alberta before heading south for winter.

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.

Where to Spot Lewis’s Woodpeckers:

They are usually easier to spot in the breeding season in pine forests darting through the air to catch insects.

How to Attract Lewis Woodpeckers to your backyard:

As they are rare they are not usually spotted.

13. Williamson’s Sapsucker

Male Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are migratory and are not very common in Canada but they do breed in the south of British Columbia and can be spotted from March to September.

Williamson’s Woodpecker males are more black than many woodpeckers with a glossy black back, vertical wing patches, red throat, and yellow belly. Females have the more common black and white pattern on their back and they have a brown head and black breast patch. 

  • Length: 8.3-9.8 in (21-25 cm)
  • Weight: 1.6-1.9 oz (44-55 g)

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are migratory and spend the summer breeding in the mountainous west and the winter in southern states and Mexico.

Feeding mostly on sap from conifer trees, especially in spring, and then more insects such as ants, beetles, and flies in summer. Winter food is often fruit and seeds.

Where to Spot Williamson’s Sapsuckers:

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are not very common in Canada but they have been spotted at Anarchist Mountain, Venner Larches, and Princeton in British Columbia.

How to Attract Williamson’s Sapsuckers to your yard:

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are not usually seen at feeders.

14. White-headed Woodpecker

White headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpeckers are very rare in Canada but sometimes can be seen in Southern British Columbia and do not migrate.

The white head and black body make the White-headed Woodpecker quite easy to identify. Males have a red patch toward the back of their head but females are only white and black. They have a white stripe on the wings when closed.

  • Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm)
  • Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz (55-65 g)

Living in pine forests in western mountains from California to British Columbia eating pine seeds but also some insects, which they get from flaking the bark off rather than drilling holes like most woodpeckers.

Where to find White-headed Woodpeckers:

Forests with large ponderosa pine and sugar pine trees with large cones filled with pine seeds. 

How to attract White-headed Woodpeckers to your yard:

Although they eat pine seeds they will also visit suet feeders if you live in their mountain range.

How to Attract Woodpeckers in Canada to Your Backyard

There are so many choices of bird feeders and food that can make it difficult to know what is best to buy so check out these options as the best for woodpeckers to save you time and stop you from wasting your money.

Best bird feeders to attract woodpeckers:

The best suet and birdseed to attract woodpeckers are:

Birdbaths to attract woodpeckers to your backyard:

  • An attractive pedestal birdbath will provide drinking and cleaning opportunities for woodpeckers
  • A heated birdbath for the winter is your best bet to provide drinking water that does not freeze.

Nest boxes to attract more woodpeckers to your backyard:

Native berry-producing plants to attract more woodpeckers to your backyard:

You can buy and plant these: