Woodpeckers are some of the most fascinating and fun birds to watch. Often it is possible to attract these birds to your home birdfeeders, and they may even nest in your own backyard.
There are an impressive 7 species of woodpeckers in Ohio, the buckeye state, and in this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about them and how to see them.
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Woodpeckers In Ohio – Here Are 7 Species To Look For
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What Are Woodpeckers?
Woodpeckers are interesting birds of the Picidae family. These birds are best known for their amazing ability to climb around on the trunks of trees and branches, often upside-down. To help them cling so securely while climbing, these birds have what is known as zygodactyl feet, where 2 toes face forward and 2 face backward, unlike many other birds that have 3 forward and 1 back.
Woodpeckers use their sharp beaks to peck at wood, pecking right into it to excavate nest holes and catch their insect prey. Many woodpeckers also use their pecking ability to create knocking and drumming sounds that are used to advertise territories and attract mates. This interesting behavior is great fun to observe.
Ohio Woodpeckers That You Can Find
Red-headed Woodpecker- Melanerpes erythrocephalus
The Red-headed Woodpecker is probably the most boldly marked and easily identified woodpecker in Ohio. These woodpeckers measure about 8 or 9 inches long and weigh 2-3 oz. They are unmistakable, with all red heads, pure white underparts, and black backs with large white patches on each wing.
These birds feed on insects and nuts, and interestingly, they are sometimes known to store food like beech nuts in crevices in trees for later use. They catch insects either on the ground or in the air.
These birds will sometimes visit backyard bird feeders and will feed on seeds, corn, and fruit, although their favorite is definitely suet. They breed in cavities in dead trees and may nest in natural cavities or excavate their own holes. Resident in Ohio, they can be found in open woodlands and forests.
Red-bellied Woodpecker- Melanerpes carolinus
The red-bellied woodpecker is another striking and easily identifiable Ohio woodpecker. Strangely, these woodpeckers don’t actually have red bellies, but rather plain pale cream underparts. These birds have black and white patterned backs and red on the backs of their necks, extending to the top of the head in males. These birds are about 9 inches long and weigh 2-3 oz.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed mostly on insects but also feed on wild fruits and nuts, acorns, and pinecones. These birds will feed on suet and sometimes also peanuts and sunflower seeds from feeders. These birds nest in holes about a foot deep, excavated in dead trees, dead branches of living trees, and poles.
These common woodpeckers can be seen in woodlands, forests, and well-wooded suburbs. They are widespread in the state of Ohio and occur there throughout the year.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker- Sphyrapicus varius
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are small woodpeckers that measure between 7 and 9 inches long and weigh between 1.5 and 2 oz. These black and white birds have red foreheads and in the case of males, red throats as well. The chest and belly of the bird is whitish to yellowish, which is where the birds get their names from.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers can be found in a variety of woodland and forest habitats, including areas with mostly young trees. Since these birds feed on sap from living trees, they do not require dead trees for feeding. Unfortunately, these little woodpeckers are not very frequent visitors to bird feeders, but they will occasionally snack on suet.
These birds usually breed to the north of Ohio and can be seen in the state during their migration and as non-breeding visitors to the south of the state.
Downy Woodpecker- Dryobates pubescens
The downy woodpecker is a small bird of about 6 inches long and 1oz in weight. These birds are checkered in black and white with a large white patch on their backs and boldly marked faces. One of the key features of this bird is its very small beak. Male downy woodpeckers also have a small red patch on the back of the head.
Downy woodpeckers feed mostly on insects, but they also eat some seeds, nuts, and berries. They can be found in a variety of woodland habitats and are common visitors to backyard bird feeders where they particularly enjoy feeding on suet but will also eat seeds and sometimes even nectar.
Downy woodpeckers excavate their own nest holes of 6-12 inches deep in dead trees and branches. Downy woodpeckers can be seen throughout Ohio at any time of the year.
Hairy Woodpecker- Dryobates villosus
The hairy woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker that measures as much as 10 inches long and can weigh over 3 oz. Apart from the size difference, these birds look very similar to the Downy Woodpecker. While they do have very similar markings, they do also have visibly larger bills.
These woodpeckers hunt for food on trunks and tree branches but can also be found feeding quite low to the ground or even on the ground. They feed mostly on insects like beetle grubs that they excavate from dead wood. These birds are very happy to visit bird feeders where they will feed on suet and sunflower seeds.
Hairy Woodpeckers occur in mature woodlands and forests throughout Ohio and are present there throughout the year.
Northern Flicker- Colaptes auratus
The Northern Flicker is a large woodpecker that can reach about 12 inches in length and almost 6 oz in weight. These birds have an overall brown coloration with black speckling on the belly and a large black patch across the chest. Males have a black ‘mustache’ like stripe and a red patch on the back of their heads. Females lack these markings on the face and head.
Northern Flickers mostly eat ants and other insects that they catch on the ground, often pecking at the dirt as other woodpeckers do to wood. They also feed on seeds and fruits. Northern Flickers are not typical visitors to bird feeders but they will feed on suet and are a lovely bird to have in the yard.
Northern Flickers will excavate their own nest holes in dead wood but are also quite happy to use old cavities excavated by other birds, sometimes even those dug into earth banks rather than trees. These birds can be found in forest and woodland habitats throughout Ohio and are present there all year long.
Pileated Woodpecker- Dryocopus pileatus
Of all the types of woodpeckers in Ohio, the Pileated Woodpecker is by far the largest, growing to a hefty 19 inches long and 12 oz in weight. At this size, Pileated Woodpeckers are difficult to confuse with any other species of woodpecker you may spot in Ohio. Pileated Woodpeckers appear black, with white markings on the face and a bright red crest. The undersides of the wings are white.
These large birds feed mostly on ants but also feed on other insects, fruits, and nuts. Excitingly, these magnificent birds do occasionally visit backyard bird feeders to eat suet and nuts. These birds nest in cavities in large dead trees that are mostly excavated by the males.
Pileated Woodpeckers can be seen in mature woodlands throughout most of the state of Ohio and are present throughout the year.
Do woodpeckers come to feeders?
Many species of woodpeckers visit bird feeders. There are several bird feeders that are specifically designed for woodpeckers. You should set your feeders out on a good quality bird feeder pole and protect the food from squirrels if you have them in your yard.
What can I feed Woodpeckers?
Suet feeders are usually the favorite amongst woodpeckers but they will also visit feeders offering mealworms, seeds, fruit, nuts, and sometimes even nectar put out for hummingbirds and orioles.
Do woodpeckers stay in the same area?
Most woodpeckers are residents and spend their time in the same areas. Some species, however, are more nomadic in nature, and some like the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker are migratory within North America.
What time of day are woodpeckers most active?
Woodpeckers are diurnal birds which means they are active during the day and sleep at night. Although these birds can be seen at any time of the day, mornings and late afternoons are usually the best time of day for birdwatching.
Ohio is a great state to look for woodpeckers. If you live in the buckeye state, it’s definitely possible to have many of the 7 Ohio woodpeckers visit or even feed and breed (especially if you put out a nest box) in your own backyard. Now that you know more about these wonderful birds, I hope you enjoy feeding and watching them even more. Happy birdwatching!