Woodpeckers are fascinating birds that can hit their heads with up to 1000g of force on trees. That’s a lot of force! Compare it to a human that would get brain damage at 100g of force.
There are 8 species of woodpecker in Tennessee that have been spotted. Of these, 7 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, and one additional species is considered extirpated.
Going out birding in the woods and forest is the best way of seeing woodpeckers in Tennessee. 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 Tennessee 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.
The most common woodpecker in both summer and winter in Tennessee is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. The Pileated Woodpecker is more commonly spotted in summer, while the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and several other species are more commonly spotted in winter in Tennessee.
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The 8 Types of Woodpecker in Tennessee
1. Red-bellied 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)
2. Downy Woodpecker
They are spotted in 30% of checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state in summer and 35% in 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.
3. Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers are common woodpeckers in Tennessee, especially during winter between September and May.
In winter, they are spotted in 16.9% of checklists, but they are in 8.7% in summer. In winter, they are the third most frequently spotted woodpecker in the state.
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.
4. Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpeckers are the third most frequently spotted woodpecker in Tennessee during summer. They are spotted in 14% of checklists for the state during this time.
Although they do not migrate, they are not as frequently spotted here in winter and are only in 9% of completed checklists at this time.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest Woodpecker in North America, and with its’ flaming-red triangular crest, it is very striking.
It is one of the biggest woodpeckers being nearly the size of a crow. It is mostly black with a white stripe, and when flying, the white underside of the wings can be seen. Males have an additional red stripe on the cheek.
- 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)
They live all year in Eastern US states, across Canada, and into Northwestern US states.
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.
Pileated Woodpecker call and drumming:
Pileated Woodpeckers drum is loud and booming due to their size. They also make a ‘wuk-wuk-wuk’ call and one that sounds like laughing.
Credit: https://www.xeno-canto.org/ Peter Ward and Ken Hall
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. Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpeckers are residents of Tennessee all year round, and they have been spotted throughout the state.
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.
6. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be spotted in Tennessee during winter between Late September and May. Then they fly north to breeding grounds.
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 come for suet.
7. Red-headed Woodpecker
Although Red-headed Woodpeckers are not very common in Tennessee, they have been spotted here all year.
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 can be found in Eastern and Central US states and into southern Canada. Those in the north and east of the range may migrate further east and south depending on acorn crops.
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.
8. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are extremely rare in Tennessee. They were listed as endangered back in 1970. The last recorded sighting was in Cherokee National Forest in 1994.
They are now regarded as extirpated species or locally extinct. It is believed that they no longer exist in the state.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are endangered and are small and hard to spot, being only robin-sized.
They have black and white stripes on their backs, paler underneath with large white cheek patches. Males have a nearly invisible red line on their cheeks.
- Length: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
- Weight: 1.5-1.8 oz (42-52 g)
- Wingspan: 14.2 in (36 cm)
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have a small range in Southeastern US states.
Due to habitat loss due to logging of the old longleaf pines, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are now endangered, with a decline in numbers of 86% since 1966. They forage in groups in pine trees and eat insects and larvae, such as ants, beetles, centipedes. They will also eat seeds and fruit such as pine seeds, wild cherries, grapes, blueberries, and grapes.
Nests of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker are made in pine trees that have been softened by the red heart fungus. They lay 2-5 white eggs and drill sapwells below the nest cavity, so the leaking sap deters predators.
How to attract more Red-cockaded Woodpeckers to your backyard:
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers may be attracted to your backyard with fruit such as berries if you live near pine forests. Try planting native berry-producing plants such as grape, bayberries, hackberries, or elderberries.
How Frequently Woodpeckers are Spotted in Tennessee 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 Tennessee on ebird in summer and winter.
Woodpeckers in Tennessee in Summer:
Red-bellied Woodpecker 36.1%
Downy Woodpecker 29.6%
Pileated Woodpecker 14.3%
Northern Flicker 8.7%
Hairy Woodpecker 5.5%
Red-headed Woodpecker 4.8%
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 0.1%
Red-cockaded Woodpecker <0.1%
Woodpeckers in Tennessee in Winter:
Red-bellied Woodpecker 37.0%
Downy Woodpecker 35.0%
Northern Flicker 16.9%
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 11.4%
Pileated Woodpecker 9.2%
Hairy Woodpecker 6.1%
Red-headed Woodpecker 3.1%
Red-cockaded Woodpecker <0.1%