Home Types of BirdsWoodpeckers Everything You Need to Know About Woodpeckers in Illinois

Everything You Need to Know About Woodpeckers in Illinois

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Pileated Woodpecker for identification in west virginia

There are 7 species of Woodpeckers in Illinois:

  1. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  2. Red-headed Woodpecker
  3. Pileated Woodpecker
  4. Hairy Woodpecker
  5. Downy Woodpecker
  6. Northern Flicker
  7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Going out birding in the woods and forest is the best way of seeing Woodpeckers in Illinois but some such as the Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers are more commonly seen at backyard feeders.

The biggest woodpeckers in Illinois are Pileated Woodpeckers and the smallest woodpeckers in Illinois are Downy Woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers of Illinois that migrate are Red-headed Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Woodpeckers in Illinois that are more commonly seen in summer are Northern Flickers. Woodpeckers in Illinois that are more common in winter are Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers.

You can find more about which woodpeckers of Illinois are more common by season at the end of the article.

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker female for identification

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found in Illinois all year. They are common all year but they are more common at backyard feeders in winter

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be mistaken for Red-headed Woodpeckers as they have red caps but this is much smaller than the Red-headed Woodpecker. 

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

They have a very pale red belly that can be hard to spot.  They have the common black and white markings over their backs. Females have a red nape but no red on the crown.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can often be seen at bird feeders, especially if you live near wooded areas. They make a distinctive loud rolling call that 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.

2. Red-headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpeckers breed in north Illinois before migrating but they remain all year in southern Illinois.

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)

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.  

3. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker for identification in west virginia

The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest Woodpecker in Illinois and can be found all year in the state.

With its’ flaming-red triangular crest the Pileated Woodpecker 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 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. They usually make a new nest each year, and the old nest site is then 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.

4. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker
Male Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker female
Female Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker can be seen in Illinois all year but they are more common in Illinois in winter.

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)

It is 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.

5. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker for identification in Massachusetts MA

The Downy Woodpecker can be found all year in Illinois. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest Woodpecker in Illinois and is the smallest in North America. They are common woodpeckers in Illinois all year but they are more commonly spotted at backyard feeders in winter.

  • 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.  

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.  

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 bird 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.

6. Northern Flicker

northern-flicker-male-yellow-shafted
Male Northern Flicker
Northern flicker female yellow shafted
Female Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker can be found all year in Illinois.  These woodpeckers are more common in Illinois in summer.

In Illinois, Northern Flickers have a flash of yellow in the wings and tails and a white patch on its rump in flight plus a red nape of the neck in the males and are known as yellow-shafted flickers. They are large brown woodpeckers with colorful black-spotted plumage.

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.  

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.

7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

yellow bellied sapsucker
Male Yellow-bellied Woodpecker
yellow-bellied sapsucker femalefor identification in Michigan MN
Female Yellow-bellied Woodpecker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is migratory and spends winter in Southern Illinois after breeding in northern states and Canada. They can be seen in the north of Illinois during migration.

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 they sometimes will come for suet so try putting up squirrel-proof suet feeders and try mealworm suet or peanut butter suet.

How to Attract Woodpeckers 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:

When are Woodpeckers in Illinois?

These are the woodpeckers of Illinois that appear most frequently on state checklists on ebird and the data is a combination of woodpeckers most frequently spotted in Illinois in summer (June and July), winter (December and January), and throughout the year. 

Woodpeckers of Illinois throughout the year

Downy Woodpecker (33%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (28%)
Northern Flicker (18%)
Hairy Woodpecker (10%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (5%)
Pileated Woodpecker (2%)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3%)

Woodpeckers of Illinois in Summer:

Downy Woodpecker (22%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (19%)
Northern Flicker (17%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (6%)
Hairy Woodpecker (5%)
Pileated Woodpecker (2%)
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker (>1%)

Woodpeckers of Illinois in Winter

Downy Woodpecker (38%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (29%)
Hairy Woodpecker (13%)
Northern Flicker (8%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (3%)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2%)
Pileated Woodpecker (2%)

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