Woodpeckers in Virginia: 8 Types & Where To Find Them

northern flicker perched

Last Updated: April 30, 2022

You can never ignore the noise woodpeckers make as they drum trees. That's why many homeowners want to keep them away.

But then… 

Because you're a birder, and you love all species equally, we know you'd love to see woodpeckers in Virginia. 

This state has eight of them, one being a migrant without a resident population. Some species, such as the northern flicker, love dead tree trunks. Others like the red-cockaded prefer live cavity trees. Let's find out more about these avians.

8 Woodpeckers To See in VA

1. Pileated Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker clinging to the side of a tree

A red crest is outstanding on a bird with black and white plumage.

Therefore, the first thing you'll notice about this species is the upright crest that matches the red stripe on its face.

But, the red stripe is only on male birds.

You'll hear it drumming trees even before you see it. If you still can't find it, look for a trail of rectangular holes on tree barks. It drills deep holes to reach carpenter ants and extracts beetle larvae and termites with its long tongue.

Pileated birds love woodlands, whether deciduous or mixed deciduous and coniferous forests. They eat carpenter ants most of the time, but they also hunt other insects like flies and caterpillars.


2. Downy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker perched on a branch

It measures between 5.5 and 6.7 inches long, and though it looks tiny, it's longer than a house finch or an American goldfinch. However, it's still the smallest woodpecker species in the U.S. It reaches insect larvae inside tree stems where other woodpeckers cannot drum.

It's a resident bird in most regions of North America except the northern and southernmost regions.

If you want to see a downy woodpecker in the wild, you don't have to go too far from your home as this bird inhabits woodlots and parks. On top of that, your suet feeder can bring a flock of downy woodpeckers when you offer black-oil sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Listen for a high-pitched pik to know there's a downy in your area. You'll know it by its white back, short bill, brownish-gray underparts, and black wings with a pattern of white spots. The male bird has a red nape.

A downy woodpecker in the western states is darker with fewer white spots on its wings than an eastern bird.

3. Hairy Woodpecker Hairy Woodpecker perched on a branch

It's larger than the woodpecker above as it measures between 7.1 and 10.2 inches.  

A hairy woodpecker perches on tree trunks, often looking for the holes left by a pileated woodpecker or the sap wells tapped by a yellow-billed woodpecker. Sometimes, it feeds on the ground or fallen logs.

This woodpecker species lives in diverse habitats, from oak and pine woodlands to parks.

A male hairy woodpecker from the eastern region has wider stripes across the face and spotted wings. It also has a long bill, a red patch on its nape, and unmarked outer feathers. A female bird has spotted wings and a white patch down the back like the male bird.


4. Northern Flicker Northern Flicker perches in a Russian olive tree

It's about the size of a mourning dove, as it's between 11 and 12.2 inches long, while a mourning dove measures 9.1 to 13.4 inches. 

Unlike the other birds we've looked at so far, a northern flicker doesn't have black and white plumage. Instead, it has a stunning combination of colors.

Since Virginia is in the eastern region, you'll come across the yellow-shafted birds as the red-shafted ones inhabit the western states.

A male bird has a red nape, brown plumage, a black whisker, underparts with black spots, and a black bib. A female bird has a gray crown, a red patch on its nape, and a buffy underbelly with black marks.

This bird's diet consists of insects, fruits, and seeds.

It's a short-distance migrant that winters in the southern states. You'll seldom see a northern flicker in your backyard unless you have a birdbath or a dead tree trunk.

Lastly, a breeding pair can reuse its nest or inhabit one belonging to a belted kingfisher or a back swallow.


5. Red-Headed Woodpecker Red Headed Woodpecker clinging to a branch

As its name suggests, it has a red-colored head. Unlike other woodpeckers with spots or stripes, an adult red-headed woodpecker has a white belly and a black back. Its black wings have a white patch. In contrast, a juvenile has a brown head and a black-brown back.

This avian is between 7.5 and 9.1 inches long, so it's almost the size of a hairy woodpecker. But, it even picks fights with the pileated species that is almost twice its size.

Despite its chisel-like bill that can drum large holes in tree barks, this avian prefers to hunt insects in the air like a flycatcher. You'll see it leap into the air. It also has a habit of stashing nuts and acorns for later consumption. 

But that's not all it eats because a red-headed woodpecker also fancies mice and adult birds. It forages on the ground or up to 30 feet during the hot months and perches higher in winter.

Bird feeders are also food sources for a red-headed woodpecker if you have black-oil sunflower seeds. But, it'll bully every blue jay that crosses its path.

This partial migrant has a breeding range in the north and western states. Eastern states have resident populations, and that's why you'll see it in Virginia.


6. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Red Cockaded Woodpecker perched on branch

This small species measures 7.9 to 9.1 inches long; thus, it's smaller than a mourning dove. It has distinct plumage compared to other Virginia woodpeckers because it has white cheeks and a white throat separated by a black stripe. Further, its back has horizontal black and white barring.

The United States (U.S) Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as a federally endangered species in 1970, and by 2002, the state had only two breeding pairs. Several interventions, such as planting longleaf pine savanna, translocation, and artificial nest cavities, are changing the situation.

Due to its endangered status, the red-cockaded lives in restricted areas in Virginia. More of this bird's population is in southeastern states like North Carolina. You won't see it even in the neighboring West Virginia state.

7. Red-Bellied Woodpecker Red Bellied Woodpecker sits in tree of yellow autumn leaves

A red-bellied bird's diet comprises seeds and insects. It's also a known nest predator that goes after the eggs of the indigo bunting or the nestlings of species like the Carolina chickadee.

A red-bellied woodpecker is about 9.4 inches long, so it's smaller than an American robin. Its belly is pale, and its back has a unique pattern of white and black bars. A male bird has a red crown and nape, while a female has a red nape and a red patch above its bill.

You'll only see it in the eastern states, in woodlands and wetlands. It's almost in the same range as the Carolina wren. If you have wooded areas near your backyard, they can attract a red-bellied woodpecker to your suet or nectar feeder.


8. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Yellow Bellied Sapsucker being photographed by researcher

This bird is smaller than a red-bellied avian as it measures 7.1 to 8.7 inches long.

You only need to look for sap wells on tree barks to know there's a yellow-bellied woodpecker in the area you're birding. The Cornell Lab notes that this woodpecker species drums circular and rectangular holes. 

The shallow rectangular holes form sap wells, but the circular ones need probing until sap flows. The bird's bill does that meticulously. You'll see it lap up fresh sap together with the insects trapped therein as the tip of its tongue resembles a brush.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker migrates short to long distances. It leaves its breeding range in Canada and some northern states to winter south. That's why it's a migrant bird in Virginia.

It's not a regular backyard visitor, but it may come for suet or to drum your birch and maple trees.

Lastly, it has similar plumage colors as a downy or pileated bird. A male yellow-bellied sapsucker has a red crown, red throat, and white, vertical wing patches. In contrast, a female bird has a whitish to yellowish belly and a white throat.


Where To See Virginia Woodpeckers

You don't have to visit all parks or refuges since you'll be looking for eight species only, and you may spot most of them in one place. Some of these woodpeckers will come to your backyard feeder. If they don't, visit:

Greensprings Nature Trail

This trail runs for 3.5 miles, taking you through different habitats, from wetlands to beaver ponds. Plan a tour there as it's home to the pileated and red-headed birds.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

There are over 100,000 acres to explore, and you'll see the same woodpeckers as the attraction above.

Dutch Gap Conservation Area

It has wetlands, woods, and open fields, and its trail runs for 3.5 miles. Explore this attraction if you want to see the pileated Virginia bird.

First Landing State Park

The trails of this recreational spot in Virginia Beach have higher mileage giving you more space to explore. Its woodlands and cypress swamps are excellent habitats for the red-headed, downy, hairy, red-bellied, pileated, and northern flicker birds.

To sum these attractions up, you'll not see the red-cockaded woodpecker in most parts of the state, such as northern Virginia, because it inhabits three places, all in the southeastern region. 

Of the three places, only the Big Woods WMA gives public access. Piney Grove Reserve and the Great Dismal Swamp have restricted access. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries supports the conservation efforts in these two areas.

Other key players in these conservation efforts include Virginia Tech, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and the Center for Conservation Biology.

Frequently Asked Questions

What attracts woodpeckers to your house?

They may excavate your structure to create a nest cavity, establish a territory or pull out insects in the siding. Some woodpecker species, like the red-bellied, are nest predators, so they'll come looking for prey if there are cavity-nesting birds.

Take a look at this close-up shot of a red-bellied woodpecker:

What is the biggest woodpecker in Virginia?

That's the pileated woodpecker, as it measures between 15.8 and 19.3 inches long. 

Final Thoughts

Virginia woodpeckers will come to your backyard if you have dead tree trunks for nesting or live ones that'll supply insects. Also, offer bird food and birdbath. 

But, you can also discover their habitats in various reserves and parks in VA. That's the only way you'll see the endangered red-cockaded species as it lives in restricted zones. 

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