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Woodpeckers In New York: 10 Species Pecking At The Big Apple

New York Woodpeckers

When someone mentions New York, the first thing that often comes to mind is the concrete jungle. New York is a large state. It has dense forested natural areas with over five million trees. Unsurprisingly, there is a wide variety of woodpeckers in New York. 

Curious about the types of woodpeckers in NY? Read on and we’ll share some of the species that you can spot in The Empire State. 

Identifying The Characteristics And Behaviors Of The Woodpeckers of NY 

1. Pileated Woodpecker 

Pileated Woodpecker

It is almost impossible to miss pileated woodpeckers when you see them in New York. The size is almost the same as a crow! 

With a length of up to 19 inches and a wingspan that can extend approximately 30 inches, the pileated woodpecker is the largest amongst the woodpecker species in the state.

Aside from its large body, another easy way to identify a pileated woodpecker is through its color. Most of its body will be black, although you will find white stripes on its neck and face. 

The flaming red crest is another defining characteristic of a pileated woodpecker. Plus, males will have red stripes on their cheeks while females will have black stripes. 

Beyond their appearance, you can also determine the presence of pileated woodpeckers through their sound. They are vocal, making rising and falling pitches that you can easily hear. 

If you are looking for pileated woodpeckers in the state, check out large and mature forests with an abundance of dead trees. Look for rectangular-shaped holes. They will retrieve their food from rotting wood, including carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles. 

2. Red-Headed Woodpecker 

Red-Headed Woodpecker 

The name alone is already a giveaway of what the red-headed woodpeckers look like. Its most noticeable characteristic is its large bright red head. It has a black back, which creates a beautiful contrast between its pure white belly and the white patches on its wings. With such colors, it is also often called a flying checkerboard. 

While you will find most red-headed woodpeckers in southern and central America, they go to New York in the spring and summer. Still, their sightings are rare and not as common as that of a red-bellied woodpecker.

A red-headed woodpecker is known for being fierce defender of its territories. They will destroy the eggs that they find in their nests. 

In terms of habitat, you will find most of these types of woodpeckers in New York in open woodlands. A red-headed woodpecker likes acorns, so they are abundant in places with oak trees.

Because of their love for nuts, it is easy to attract red-headed woodpeckers to backyard bird feeders. Add sunflower seeds and suet to encourage their presence. 

Lastly, red-headed woodpeckers are gregarious eaters that will catch even flying insects. They will also look for food in deep crevices. A red-headed woodpecker has a habit of storing food for later consumption. 

3. Red-Bellied Woodpecker 

You will find red-bellied woodpeckers in the Empire State throughout the year, like Northern flickers. They are easy to recognize and are among the most common woodpecker species that you can attract to backyard feeders. 

It is easy to confuse a red-bellied woodpecker with a red-headed woodpecker. They both have a red patch on their caps. 

As the name implies, red-bellied woodpeckers will have a red coloration in their belly. Nonetheless, it is often pale and will be hard to spot. 

Being adaptable birds, you will see a red-bellied woodpecker in diverse habitats. They are most common in forests, groves, and woodlands. It is also possible to spot them in urban settings, such as city parks. 

Like most species on this list, you can also attract red-bellied woodpeckers in nest boxes and backyard feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds and suet seeds are some of the best foods that will attract these woodpeckers in upstate NY yards. 

It is also common that you will see these woodpeckers in hummingbird feeders where they will be feasting on fruits. 

4. Downy Woodpecker 

At approximately 5.5 to 6.7 inches long with wings extending about ten inches, downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpecker species not only in New York but also in North America.

If you see downy woodpeckers and hairy woodpeckers for the first time, it is easy to confuse the two. They have identical black and white coloration. 

The main difference between the two, however, is that a downy woodpecker is a lot smaller with a shorter bill. A downy woodpecker also has black spots on its white tail, which you will not find in hairy woodpeckers. 

When looking for downy woodpeckers, make sure to check out open woodlands and young deciduous forests. They are regular visitors to backyards, orchards, and parks. Downy woodpeckers will also be common in dead tree cavities, which is where they lay their eggs. 

The diet of a downy woodpecker in NY will be mostly insects. It will feast on beetle larvae hiding under tree bark. They will also consume caterpillars. Beyond insects, it will eat acorns, grains, and berries. 

5. Black-Backed Woodpecker 

Black-Backed Woodpecker 

While this is an uncommon woodpecker in New York, it deserves a spot on this list. It is dark and inconspicuous, which you will find mostly in coniferous forests with dead trees. 

Like most woodpeckers in NY State, it has a black and white pattern. It has a black body with white spots below its body. Their heads are almost all-black but adult males will have a yellow crown patch. 

Black-backed woodpeckers are known for foraging in forests with burnt and dead trees. Compared to other woodpeckers, they spend a long time in the same spot before moving to the next. They are also known for their habit of excavating, which is how they access wood-boring beetle larvae. Aside from insects, they will also eat fruits and nuts. 

Among the other species on this list, the black-backed woodpeckers are mostly like American three-toed woodpeckers. They have almost the same black and white plumage, making it difficult to differentiate one from the other. Both like foraging in burnt forests where they will peel dead tree bark. 

6. Hairy Woodpecker 

The hairy woodpecker is one of the most familiar woodpeckers in New York State. Like the Northern flicker, they are present year-round, so there is a high chance of spotting these medium-sized birds if you look in the right places. 

You will find hairy woodpeckers in mature woodlands with medium and large trees. They are also in deciduous and coniferous forests, as well as parks and suburbs. 

As it is common with other woodpecker species, such as the downy woodpecker, it has a contrasting black and white pattern. It has checkered wings while two white stripes adorn its head. A hairy woodpecker also has a large white patch that runs in the middle of its black back. 

Up to 75% of the diet of a hairy woodpecker is insects. It will eat bark beetles and carpenter ants. They will also consume codling moths, making them important for pest control. 

In backyard bird feeders, you can attract a hairy woodpecker by having sunflower seeds and suet. 

Aside from its physical appearance, you can easily detect the presence of a hairy woodpecker by listening to its sound. It will have a whiny call, which is loud given its size. 

7. Williamson’s Sapsucker 

Williamson’s Sapsucker 

Williamson’s sapsucker is a visually striking woodpecker NY that will make a good subject if you are into bird photography. It is velvety black on the top while its wing has a white patch. It also has a sharp face pattern that makes its eyes stand out. 

These birds are known for drilling small and shallow holes in coniferous trees. After excavating the bark, they will eat not just the inner bark and sap, but also insects that are trapped. During their breeding season, these birds will also eat ants. 

For their habitat, they thrive in mature forests, especially those with an abundance of aspen and Douglas fir. In the winter, they prefer habitats in lower elevations in riparian forests

While they have a flashy appearance, they are some of the most inconspicuous species in the state. Aside from their looks, you can also identify their presence by listening to their loud calls, which will sound like a cat. 

8. American Three-Toed Woodpecker 

American Three-Toed Woodpecker 

One of the most uncommon woodpeckers of NY, the concentration of the population of these birds is in the north-eastern part of the state. 

If you are lucky enough to see American-three-toed woodpeckers, you will find their coloration highly like the other birds on this list. Its face has black and white stripes while the rest of its body has a black and white pattern. 

More so, American three-toed woodpeckers are known for scaling or flaking the bark of tree trunks when they are foraging. They have short but strong bills, which they will use for peeling even tough bark. 

It is rare that they will be excavating deep into the wood. They will spend a long time working on a single tree before they will move to the next target. 

In the wild, they are most common in disturbed areas, including burnt forests and those with bark beetle outbreaks. 

9. Northern Flicker 

You will see Northern flickers in most parts of New York throughout the year, similar to a downy woodpecker. However, at the state’s northern tip, they are present only during the breeding season

A northern flicker is unique compared to most of the other species on this list because it does not have a black and white coloration. Instead, it has a gray-brown plumage. 

You will find an abundance of dark markings under the body of the northern flicker. Meanwhile, those from the west will have red feathers and yellow for those from the east.  

Like the pileated woodpecker, this woodpecker in NY is one of the largest in the state. Despite such, the head of a northern flicker is slim and round. 

Aside from its coloration, another thing that differentiates northern flickers is that they often forage on the ground. This is where they will look for ants and insects, which northern flickers can easily retrieve using their long and slightly curved bills. 

10. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker 

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker 

Despite its name, a yellow-bellied sapsucker does not have a predominantly yellow belly. It has yellowish markings on the undersides, but such is pale and can be almost difficult to notice from afar. 

A good way to identify these woodpeckers in NY is through the forehead, which is bright red. Meanwhile, the yellow-bellied sapsucker will have white stripes on its neck. Its body has black and white plumage. 

As for the size, a yellow-bellied sapsucker is small, almost the same size as a robin. The average length ranges from seven to nine inches. 

You can see a yellow-bellied sapsucker in the Empire State from spring to summer. In the winter, they will fly south. 

You will find a concentration of yellow-bellied sapsucker population in coniferous and hardwood forests. Most of them will stay in areas with aspen trees where they will be nesting in the cavities. 

Birdhub Speak: We're going on a wild adventure in searching for states where woodpeckers mostly frequent their visit! Follow the trail here -- Woodpeckers in Virginia.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

Where can you find New York woodpeckers?

Gifted with 18.6 million acres of forested land, New York offers an abundance of places if you want to go birdwatching, especially if you want to see woodpeckers.  Some of the best places to check out are Central Park, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Jones Beach State Park, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, and Pelham Bay Park. 

Are woodpeckers in NY protected? 

Yes, woodpeckers in New York are federally protected. You are not allowed to keep them as pets. They are also not for hunting. Woodpecker species in the state are wild birds that should be left living freely in their natural habitat. 

What kind of woodpeckers are in New York? 

New York is home to ten types of woodpeckers. The most common species you will find in the state are pileated woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, black-backed woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, Williamson’s sapsucker, American three-toed woodpecker, Northern flicker, and yellow-bellied sapsucker. 


New York is more than just the buildings. It is greener than most people initially thought. No wonder, it is also home to many woodpeckers. From pileated woodpeckers to red-bellied woodpeckers, you will find many species in The Empire State. It has a rich urban forest that provides attractive habitats for the woodpeckers of New York State.

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