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Florida Woodpeckers: 7 Species That Won’t Bore You To Death

Last Updated on: April 9, 2024

In Florida, birding is the second most popular outdoor recreation, next to the fun activities at the beach. Florida has a rich ecosystem and several bird nesting colonies from the sand pine forest to the swamps of cypress trees.

Which is why…

You will notice an increasing number of individuals gearing up with their binoculars and birdwatching journals to visit the Sunshine State. But do you ever wonder what woodpeckers of Florida you can encounter during your walk in the park or frequenting your backyard feeder?

Read on and learn more about these tirelessly pecking and drumming creatures in the area.

The Different Woodpeckers Of Florida

Birds are a superb example of the incredible diversity among their kind, which is why humans have the affinity to know more about them. You can find that several species from the Picidae family are in North America. 

Some of these woodpeckers could be hanging around your backyard, but you barely recognize them. As more and more people discover the joys of feeding birds, you might be in for a surprise to see yourself one of them. 

It’s no wonder if that is the case because, aside from the many splendors you know about woodpeckers, they play a vital role in our ecosystem. None of the woodpecker holes they leave behind ever goes to waste, as some other birds make good use of them. 

Who would’ve thought that the dead trees you want to get rid of are home for most of these birds? Hence, whether you live or merely visit the state, you’ll never run out of excellent opportunities to get more acquainted with these woodpeckers.

The sunshine, beaches, and excellent outdoor views make Florida a hotspot for visiting and resident woodpeckers and many birders worldwide. Not to mention the birding trails that offer spectacular viewing areas throughout the state. 

With that in mind, let’s get on a fun adventure as we get to know these Florida woodpeckers:

1. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

It’s not unusual to find the pileated woodpecker busy with cavernous excavations to gather carpenter ants from a rotting log.

Otherwise, the bird feeds on other insects if not visiting backyards around the state for suet and peanut feeders or storing some nuts for winter consumption.

You will recognize the male birds, like crow-sized woodpeckers, with black-hued backs, a large white patch across the back’s lower part, and long tapered bills. The males have vibrant red foreheads, crests, and mustaches; the females look similar but with white foreheads.

The pileated woodpecker, or Dryocopus Pileatus, is a year-round resident in Florida, non-migrating but occasionally moving around when searching for food.

It is the largest native woodpecker in North America, where both sexes are responsible for excavating a nesting cavity. Furthermore, this bird is among the cavity nesters that benefit from large trees and likes inhabiting a dead tree.

Some birders came across a pair of the pileated in Fort Myers, finding them unmistakable for their recognizable appearances and jackhammering sounds.

Pileated woodpeckers have an extensive range from the eastern United States’ southern regions to the east coast of Canada and south to California. The red-crested woodpecker is the inspiration for the famous cartoon character Woody Woodpecker for their close resemblance.

2. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

The downy woodpecker could be that tiny bird visiting your orchard sometimes. It undoubtedly is the smallest, most friendly of all the woodpeckers in the northern hemisphere.

This amicable fellow is a little, spotted, black-and-white bird, like his larger cousin the hairy, except for the barred outer tail feathers instead of plain. Another striking feature is the small red patch in the adult males’ heads, while their young has it on the crown.

Nearly everything is identical about these two woodies except their sizes, from the similar looks, behaviors, their nests, and even their eggs look so much alike.

The hairy woodpecker is more sizable than the downy, although that would only be noticeable if you can see them side by side. A better way of comparing these two would be with their bill sizes, as the downy woodpecker has a proportionally smaller bill than its head size.

The downy’s a native cavity nester that you might chance upon bringing food to its nestlings. Such a bird leads a dynamic lifestyle; you might be in awe to see it throwing woodchips out while working on its nest hole.

Moreover, the tiny tree holes it makes are well-suited habitats for chickadees and nuthatches. The downy can even help you get rid of the pests, leaving the Sugar Maple in relief while the woodpeckers delightful with their insect meal.

One fascinating fact about the downy is its long, sticky tongue that provides the foundation for the ecological web. Woodpeckers are natural controllers of forest insect pests, especially the red oak borer beetle. 

Unlike larger woodpeckers, these active fellows often hitch around tree trunks and small weed stalks with acrobatic movements.

Downy woodpeckers dwell in open woodlands with broadleaf trees and weedy edges; if not, you can find them in city parks, backyards, and vacant lots. Besides insects, the downy also visit a bird feeder for some suet, seeds, and fruits, depending on the season.

3. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

When staring at the pictures of woodpeckers in Florida, it’s hardly surprising that many people will mistake the downy for the hairy woodpeckers. New birdwatchers often struggle to identify Downies and their larger-sized lookalike, the hairy woodpecker.

The males have black-and-white plumes with white bellies, white-spotted black wings, white-striped backs, long black bills, and a red mark at the back of their heads.

Females share the same look less the red mark, and juveniles are the females’ grayer counterparts. Additionally, hairy woodpeckers are year-round residents in the state with inactive lifestyles and non-migratory.

The medium-sized bird is a familiar sight in backyards, signaling you of its presence with a sharp chirp. You will likely hear that distinct sound it makes before the hairy woodpeckers land on a wooded backyard feeder.

Coniferous forest landscapes in Southwest Florida support this woodpecker’s population more than any other woodpecker species. Such birds as the Hairies are frequent in swamp forests, birch-oak savannas, and mature riparian habitats, but are even more common in burned forests. 

While such a woodpecker primarily feasts on forest beetles, at times, it would also eat spiders, caterpillars, berries, conifer seeds, acorns, nuts, and sap.

Likewise, the Hairies can willingly exploit peanuts from a mesh feeder, or suet balls, mainly feeding on ground feeders when visiting backyards. When not preoccupied with foraging food, you may find the hairy drilling its nest or busy with nighttime roosts in a dead tree.

4. Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker

Northern flickers are primarily ground foragers, devouring more ants than other North American birds, regardless of whether they’re red, black, or carpenter ants. This flicker traps insects with its tongue or digs in the dirt for some ants or beetles.

Such a woodpecker has two subspecies, the eastern variant or the yellow-shafted form and the western variant or the red-shafted form.

The geographical variations are typical when two bird species overlapping their ranges interbreed and produce hybrids. These distinct variations render the flickers unmistakable in flight.

Apart from such diversity, flickers are relatively large-sized woodpeckers with rounded heads, slightly curved bills, and tapered tails. Generally, with brownish-grey plumage, the Northern flicker has a white rump patch prominent during flight and more noticeable when perching. 

When nearby, you will notice that such a bird has a rich pattern of black bars, spots, and crescents that otherwise highlight its brown plumes. Further, these flickers inhabit open boreal forests, riparian woods, savanna, meadows, swamps, parks, and gardens.

It’s a widely-distributed woodpecker species with seasonal movements between the cold north and the warmer climates of the southern states. Currently, northern flickers have a declining population, especially in Florida’s southern regions.

5. Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

Together with the red-bellied woodpecker, the yellow-bellied sapsucker is also a common species you can find in the Florida Keys. Such birds are midway between hairy and downy woodpeckers in size, co-existing in the diverse cavity-producing ecosystems.

The males have checkered backs with red foreheads, crowns, and chins while their chests and bellies are yellowish to tan, with white wing patches visible in flight.

Females look similar to males except for their white chins, while their young has pale brown plumage with no red marks. Sapsuckers create cavities for swallows, and as a result, the distinction of woodpecker species contributes to bird and mammal biodiversity.

Aside from the sapsuckers, the sap wells contribute to the biological diversity of the suburbs by providing food for a host of other birds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are among the Florida woodpecker species frequenting woodlands and swamps in winter. 

Such birds have a unique foraging style, drilling trees to savor the emerging sap and investigating insects surrounding the tree. It also willingly comes to any backyard with a suet feeder.

6. Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker or Melanerpes carolinus is the Ladder-backed species with prominent red crests extending down the nape of the neck, making the male birds more recognizable.

Moreover, its chest has a tan shade, and the belly is a faint red that is barely noticeable. The females share the same look with light gray crowns and red napes; juveniles look identical to adults without red-colored heads or napes.

Part of its natural history is that such a bird is now more familiar with an extensive range from southeast America to its Canadian border.

Despite being a non-migrating bird, you can occasionally spot it in Everglades National Park, although this woodpecker has many potential predators in the surrounding areas. Otherwise, such a species could be exploiting the backyards around South Florida for a suet feeder.

Red-bellied woodpeckers prefer to inhabit shady woodlands and suburban neighborhoods. It would dig holes in tree trunks while pecking away for some insects, although the bird also eats oranges and nuts. Hence, many people call this bird the “Orange Borer” or “Orange Sapsucker.”

However, this woodpecker has noticeable predatory behaviors, feeding a fledged tufted titmouse, other nestling songbirds, and eggs of Acadian flycatcher, Eastern bluebird, and indigo bunting.

7. Red Cockaded Woodpecker

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

The Apalachicola National Forest plays a vital part in sustaining the existence of the federally endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. With the loss of this bird’s natural habitat, the national forest provides it with a secure sanctuary.

As part of this woodpecker’s population recovery plan, the Wildlife Service requires retaining a minimum number of its foraging habitat, such as the pine trees. 

Birders around the globe can view this woodpecker on foot in this area with no risk from passing traffic. The red-cockaded woodpecker is prevalent all year in Florida’s old-growth pine forests, evolving as an extreme pine specialist across the southeastern corner of the continent.

You will likely encounter this woodpecker in North Florida, where researchers study how fire interestingly sustains their kind. Its current population is rare and declining due to the loss of natural habitat.

This species would require extensive contiguous forest, a regular fire regime, and mature trees to sustain its decreasing population. Red-cockaded is also among the chattiest woodpeckers in the northern hemisphere, conversing non-stop while foraging.

Early mornings and late evenings are the best times to glimpse this woodpecker’s cluster activity. It forms small flocks and forages together by pecking into tree barks for beetles and insects.

Additionally, you will recognize such a bird effortlessly with its medium-sized body, long tail, and barred black-and-white plumage with spots and bars underneath. The red-bellied also has a large white cheek patch on its patterned head and nasal tufts. 

Being a well-known live-tree excavator, such a woodpecker takes months or years to get through the rotten interior of mature pine trees.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of woodpeckers are in Florida?

You will find several types of woodpeckers in Florida, exploiting suet in backyard feeders or any nest cavity around the state. The pileated, red-bellied, hairy, and downy woodpeckers are year-round resident woodpeckers in FL.

Other Florida woodpeckers are the migratory yellow-bellied sapsucker, the federally endangered red-cockaded, and the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. Let’s not forget the winter visitor, the red headed woodpecker, and the northern flicker familiar in winter.

What is the largest woodpecker in Florida?

With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declaring the ivory billed woodpecker as officially extinct, now the Pileated is the largest woodpecker in North America. The enormous bird, well-known for its triangular red crest, has twice the size of a red-bellied woodpecker.

Are there red headed woodpeckers in Florida?

This woodpecker is prevalent in Florida’s northern and central regions, demonstrating seasonal diversity in foraging behavior, flycatching in spring or summer, and hoarding acorns in winter. It is the only species with a red-colored head since the pileated only has a partially red head.


Conclusion

Our innate passion for avian life, including these woodpeckers of Florida, has the ultimate goal of promoting the conservation of native habitats in the state.

From the humid subtropical climate of North Florida to the tropical wet climate of South Florida, the state’s undoubtedly a haven for birds and birdwatchers alike. May our knowledge about the woodpeckers lead to supporting more of their kind.

After all, the tree cavities these woodpeckers make eventually become nesting grounds for many other species. Thus, let’s try to find ways of making valuable contributions to make the impact of climate change less frightening for every species. 

Sometimes, all it takes is re-creating a natural habitat for these birds in our backyards.

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