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

Everything You Need to Know About Woodpeckers in Minnesota

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Northern Flicker

There are 9 species of Woodpecker in Minnesota:

  1. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  2. Red-headed Woodpecker
  3. Pileated Woodpecker
  4. Hairy Woodpecker
  5. Downy Woodpecker
  6. Northern Flicker
  7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  8. American Three-toed Woodpecker
  9. Black-backed Woodpecker

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

Some Woodpeckers migrate from Minnesota and head south for the winter such as the Red-headed Woodpecker, Northern flicker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Lewis’s Woodpecker and Williamson’s Sapsuckers have been spotted in Minnesota but these were only a stray bird in one year.

The biggest Woodpecker in Minnesota is the Pileated Woodpecker and the smallest woodpecker in Minnesota is the Downy Woodpecker

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker female

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found in Minnesota year-round but they are more commonly seen in winter. They are more common in the south of Minnesota.

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.

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

The Red-headed Woodpecker can be found in Minnesota in summer for breeding before they head south for winter. They are more commonly seen in the south of the state.

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 Minnesota and can be found all year round, but is less common in the south-west of Minnesota.

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, and they usually make a new nest each year. 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 prefer suet feeders with tail props and enjoy suet with added mealworms.

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.

 

4. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker female

The Hairy Woodpecker can be seen in Minnesota all year round, mostly in woodlands.  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
Downy woodpecker female

The Downy Woodpecker can be found all year in Minnesota. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest Woodpecker in Minnesota and is the smallest in North America. Downy Woodpeckers are the most common woodpecker in Minnesota in both summer and winter but they are seen more frequently 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 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
Northern flicker female yellow shafted

The Northern Flicker can be found in the south of Minnesota all year and breed in the North before migrating. 

In Minnesota, 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 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
yellow-bellied sapsucker femalefor identification in Michigan MN

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is migratory and flies south in the winter but breeds in northern and eastern Minnesota. They more commonly breed in the northeast of the state.  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.

8. American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are rare in Minnesota but do live all year in the northeast of the state. They are more common in Canada.

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)

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are small black-and-white woodpeckers with a yellow patch on the forehead in the males. They are predominantly black on their backs with a white patch and white spots on the wings.  The underside is white with some black barring.

Beetle larvae are the main source of food for American Three-toed Woodpeckers but they also eat ant larvae, moth pupae, and spiders. They remove the tree bark by pecking and striking it to find the larvae and spend a long time on each tree. They sometimes drill sapwells to drink the sap.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers make nests low down in tree cavities and they lay 3 – 7 eggs. They are predominantly solitary birds except during the breeding season but they may pair with the same mate in multiple years.

Where to spot American Three-toed Woodpeckers:

American Three-toed Woodpeckers live in mature coniferous forests that have dead or dying trees. The bark stripping can sometimes be seen on the trees.

How to attract more American Three-toed Woodpeckers to your backyard:

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are not usually seen at backyard feeders.

9. Black-backed Woodpecker

black-backed woodpecker

The Black-backed Woodpecker is uncommon but can be seen in north Minnesota all year and does not migrate.

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.

This is one of the less common woodpeckers that have three toes rather than most species which 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 feeders as they eat mostly beetle larvae in burned forests.

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 Minnesota?

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

Woodpeckers in Minnesota throughout the year

Downy Woodpecker (36%)
Hairy Woodpecker (25%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (18%)
Pileated Woodpecker (10%)
Northern Flicker (3%)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (>1%)
Black-backed Woodpecker (>1%)
American Three-toed Woodpecker (>1%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (>1%)
Lewis’s Woodpecker (>1%)

Woodpeckers in Minnesota in Summer

Downy Woodpecker (19%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (13%)
Northern Flicker (13%)
Hairy Woodpecker (12%)
Pileated Woodpecker (7%)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (6%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (1%)
Black-backed Woodpecker (>1%)
American Three-toed Woodpecker (>1%)

Woodpeckers in Minnesota in Winter

Downy Woodpecker (39%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (29%)
Hairy Woodpecker (18%)
Northern Flicker (6%)
Pileated Woodpecker (6%)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (4%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (>1%)
Black-backed Woodpecker (>1%)
American Three-toed Woodpecker (>1%)

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