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Everything You Need to Know About Woodpeckers in Texas

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Northern Flicker

Texas is a great state to see woodpeckers as you can also spot the birds that only just make it over the border with Mexico. Going out birding in the woods and forest is the best way of seeing woodpeckers in Texas but some such as the Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy, Downy, and Northern Flickers can regularly be seen on backyard feeders. 

There are 14 species of woodpeckers in Texas 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 Texas is the Pileated Woodpecker and the smallest woodpecker in Texas is the Downy Woodpecker.

Check out all these woodpeckers in Texas from the gruesome pantry of the Acorn Woodpecker to the prickly pear-loving Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Who migrates, where to find them and how to ID them.

There are 14 species of woodpecker in Texas:

  1. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  2. Downy Woodpecker
  3. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  4. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  5. Pileated Woodpecker
  6. Red-headed Woodpecker
  7. Northern Flicker
  8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  9. Acorn Woodpecker
  10. Hairy Woodpecker
  11. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  12. Red-naped Sapsucker
  13. Williamson’s Sapsucker
  14. Lewis’s Woodpecker

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker female

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found in Northern and eastern Texas year-round. 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.

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. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker for identification in Massachusetts MA
Downy woodpecker female

The Downy Woodpecker can be found all year in Eastern Texas. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest Woodpecker in Texas and is the smallest in North America. The Downy woodpecker in Texas is whiter than Downy Woodpeckers in the west or northwest.

  • 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.

3. Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Male Golden-fronted Woodpecker - Texas

Texas is the only state in the United States that Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are common all year. In Texas, they range west of Dallas from north to south and are most common in the southeast of the state, south of San Antonio.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers have black-and-white bars on their backs, tan breasts, yellow napes, and a yellow patch in front of their eyes. Females also have a pale yellow lower belly and males have a small red patch on the crown.  

  • Length: 8.7-10.2 in (22-26 cm)
  • Weight: 2.6-3.5 oz (73-99 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5-17.3 in (42-44 cm)

Golden-fronted woodpeckers look similar to Red-bellied Woodpeckers and fight to defend their territories against each other where their territories cross in parts of Texas. Birds further south in Mexico have more red coloring n the head and more yellow bellies.

Nicaragua is the most southerly range of the Golden-fronted Woodpecker and up through Mexico into Texas and Oklahoma. They do not migrate.

Fruit and nuts make up half of the diet of the Golden-fronted Woodpecker and the rest is insects. They especially love prickly pear cactus and will have purple-stained faces from eating them.

Where to Spot Golden-bellied Woodpeckers:

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers like open woodland and arid scrub and they are common in backyards.

How to Attract More Golden-Bellied Woodpeckers to Your Yard:

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are common around backyards and love fruit and jelly, especially oranges.

4. Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are common in Texas, to the west of Dallas, Houston and Waco, throughout the year.

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are small with a black and white ladder pattern on their backs and a checkered pattern on their wings. They are whiteish-gray underneath with faint black markings.. Males have a red crown and females have a black crown.

  • Length: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)
  • Weight: 0.7-1.7 oz (21-48 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.0 in (33 cm)

Dry deserts and thorn forests, across dry southern states from California to Texas, up to southeastern Colorado, and down through Mexico, are the usual habitats of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers do not migrate.

Feeding mostly on insect larvae and some adult insects such as ants and caterpillars and occasionally Ladder-backed Woodpeckers will also eat cactus fruit. 

Where to spot Ladder-backed Woodpeckers:

Early morning in February and March are the best times to spot Ladder-backed Woodpeckers as they are out defending their territories in preparation for breeding. Look for them in dry areas with Joshua trees, Juniper, willow or honey mesquite.

How to attract more Ladder-backed Woodpeckers to your yard:

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers love mealworms and they will also visit black oil sunflower seed feeders and eat peanut butter.

5. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker for identification in west virginia

The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest Woodpecker in Texas and can be found all year round in the far East of the State. 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 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.

6. Red-headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpeckers breed in the northwest of Texas and can be found all year in the northeast of the state. Some birds may spend the winter in Texas.

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.

7. Northern Flicker

northern-flicker-male-yellow-shafted
Northern flicker female yellow shafted

The Northern Flicker can be found all year in the northeast of the state and in winter over most of Texas. They are large brown woodpeckers with colorful black-spotted plumage.

In Texas, 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.

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.

8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

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

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is migratory and spends the winter in Texas, more commonly on the Gulf Coast.  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.

9. Acorn Woodpecker

acorn woodpecker

Acorn Woodpeckers can be found all year in Texas, more commonly in the west of the state.

Acorn Woodpeckers have distinctive clown-like faces with red caps, white faces, a black patch around the beak, and black over the back of their heads and back. Their bellies are white with black markings. Female Acorn Woodpeckers have less red on the crowns than males.

  • Length: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.3-3.2 oz (65-90 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.8-16.9 in (35-43 cm)

Acorn Woodpeckers are quite different than most woodpeckers in that they live in large groups and hoard acorns. Living in oak forests in western Oregon, California and across to Texas, and down through Mexico to Central America.

They may look like clowns but it’s no laughing matter when it comes to eating, as the gruesome Acorn Woodpecker stores dead bugs in a ‘pantry’ and even eat the eggs of their own species!

Masses of holes drilled in winter in dead trees provide the perfect pantry, known as a granary tree,  for acorns and other nuts collected by the Acorn Woodpecker. They will even check stored acorns and move them to smaller holes once they dry out and shrink.

Insects are not left out when it comes to storage but this gruesome pantry of dead bugs is often left in cracks or crevices. Fruit and sap provide other sources of food as do eggs, including of their own species. 

Where to Spot Acorn Woodpeckers:

Oak forests are the best place to spot them as looking out for their guarded pantry stash and listening for their parrot-like squawks is an easy way to find these sociable birds.

How to Attract Acorn Woodpeckers to Your Backyard:

You may find Acorn Woodpeckers an unwelcome visitor as they are known to drill holes in wood siding and utility poles as this is considered deadwood! You may still get them visiting if you live near oak forests

10. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker female

The Hairy Woodpecker can be seen in eastern Texas all year, 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.

11. Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red Cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are endangered woodpeckers that can be found in eastern Texas all year.

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 backs, paler underneath with large white cheek patches. Males have a nearly invisible red line on their cheek.

  • Length: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-1.8 oz (42-52 g)
  • Wingspan: 14.2 in (36 cm)

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. Foraging in groups on the pine stands Red-cockaded Woodpeckers 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.

Where to spot Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Georgia: 

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are rare and endangered but if you wish to see them in Texas try Sam Houston National Forest near Lake Conroe, Angelina National Forest near Ebenezer Park, or Davy Crockett National Forest.

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.

12. Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Woodpeckers are migratory and can be seen during migration in Texas especially in fall migration in late September and October. Some also spend winter in Texas. 

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 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 Texas: 

Big Bend National Park and the Davies Mountains are the best places to see Red-naped Sapsuckers in Texas. Look out for holes drilled in Aspen trees. 

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.

13. Williamson's Sapsucker

Male Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are migratory and are not very common in Texas but they can be found in the Davis Mountains during migration and a few may spend the winter here.

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 Texas but they can be found in the Davis Mountains during migration and a few may spend the winter here.

How to Attract Williamson’s Sapsuckers to your yard:

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are not usually seen at feeders in Texas.

14. Lewis's Woodpecker

Credit: Mike Bird

Lewis’s Woodpeckers migrate and are rare in Texas but they can be spotted in winter between mid-September and May.

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 in Texas:

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are rare in Texas but they can be spotted in the southwest of the state. Try the Davis Mountains.

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.

How to Attract Woodpeckers in Texas 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:

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