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Woodpeckers In Indiana: 7 Species Found In The State Of Indy

Last Updated on: April 9, 2024

No one can forget the sound of a woodpecker whacking a tree.

The first few times you hear it, you might not make much out of it as all birds have distinctive calls and sounds.


When woodpeckers in Indiana settle in your backyard and drum trees all day long, it’ll be something else. 

If you don’t know which ones live in Indiana, let’s discover together as we discuss their plumage color, behavior, and habitats.

Later, we can talk about places to go birding if you’ve not yet seen woodpeckers. 

Woodpecker Species In Indianapolis

1. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

Though Indiana has a resident population that you can see any time of the year, there are no pileated woodpeckers in northern Indiana, more so on the northeastern edge. You’ll have to move south or west to see them.

It’s a large bird, and anytime one comes to a wooded area near your backyard, you’ll either see it or hear a loud, whinny call. 

However, it’s not a regular backyard visitor that you can tempt with suet. The most you can do is prepare a nest box so that when a breeding pair flies into your backyard, it doesn’t have to drum dead trees to build a nest.

You’re likely to see pileated woodpeckers in young forests. A row of rectangular holes on dead trees confirms that a pileated woodpecker was hunting insects like carpenter ants and flies.

Even though a woodpecker ranks as one of the largest bird species you’ll see in North America, it’s not nearly as large as a bald eagle. But, it’s still worth birding to see it because of its stunning black and white stripes across its face, a prominent red crest on males, and a heavy bill. Males even have a red stripe across the cheek.

2. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker

It’s as common as the American robin, so you don’t have to go birding away from home to see it. However, if you do, most hairy woodpecker sightings happen in coniferous, mixed, and deciduous forests as long as they are not over 6,500 feet above the ground. You can also search for them in forest edges and orchards.

Searching for these Indiana woodpeckers guarantees you’ll see the downy woodpecker as they live in the same habitats.

Insects make about 75% of a hairy woodpecker’s diet, and that’s why it follows a pileated woodpecker to catch the remaining insects in the holes drilled recently. You’ll also see it following a sapsucker to drink sap mixed with insects.

Winter birds visiting your yard look for suet and black-oil sunflower seeds. Further, a breeding pair can build a nest in a living tree in your yard. Its nests, usually in a dead part of a living tree, only have a wood chip lining like the one preferred by the bird above.

This bird makes abrupt peek calls. If you don’t hear its call, listen for its lively tapping as it forages.

3. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

We mentioned that a downy lives in the same range as a hairy. Additionally, both have the same black and white stripes across the face and a black and white back. We’ll give you three ways to tell them apart. 

First, check the bill of the black and white bird that comes to your backyard. If there are two that you suspect belong to different species, the one with a larger bill is a hairy avian. 

Secondly, compare the body lengths when two woodpeckers perch on your suet feeder. The smaller one is a downy, about 5.5 to 6.7 inches long, almost the size of a tufted titmouse or a scarlet tanager. The larger one is a hairy bird, about 7.1 to 10.2 inches long. It’s the size of a mourning dove. 

Thirdly, you’ll see a hairy woodpecker in trunks as a downy hunts insects on the smaller branches.

Here’s a bonus ID point! You’ll have to listen to tell the difference between the peek calls of a hairy and the pik from a downy.

A downy loves many feeder foods, such as millet and peanut, but its favorite is suet. You’ll also see it enjoying nectar like a Baltimore oriole.

4. Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker

They’re migratory birds, often flying short or long distances from breeding to wintering grounds.

The migration starts north, in the breeding range in Alaska and Canada. These birds then fly south as far as California and Texas. 

Even as they migrate, many more inhabit most of the U.S. as resident populations. That’s why you’ll see northern flickers in Indiana. You’ll know these eastern birds by their yellow shafts, black whisker, and red nape. Female birds don’t have whiskers.

We’ve talked about drumming and how woodpeckers catch insects in tree barks. This one doesn’t like such hard work and instead gathers insects like ants and beetles on the ground. If it must, it hammers the soil to excavate insects, even if it means trapping beetles in cow patties.

But it isn’t a picky eater because it would suffer in winter when only berries and seeds are available. Therefore, thistle seeds, hackberries, and sunflower seeds also make up its diet.

5. Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-Headed Woodpecker
Red-Headed Woodpecker

It’s not as colorful as the yellow-shafted bird above, but it grows from a brown head as a juvenile to a stunning bird with a red-colored head, black back, white wing patches, and a white belly.

A red-headed woodpecker also migrates south like a northern flicker. It’s only in the eastern states with a breeding range north and wintering grounds around east Texas and Louisiana.

This species stashes food in numerous places like tree barks and fence posts. Even the surface under roof shingles can be a store for insects and seeds, and it visits backyard feeders in winter to enjoy suet. 

But, a red-headed woodpecker has aggressive habits like European starlings, sometimes removing the eggs of other birds from nest boxes.

6. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

The western states don’t have this lively sapsucker. The breeding and wintering grounds lie in the eastern states, Central America, and the northwestern edge of the continent. The southern side of Idianiana marks the northern edge of this bird’s wintering grounds.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker has the most intriguing drilling pattern as it leaves a row of shallow holes tapping sap from trees in forest edges. It also eats spiders and other insects it finds on tree trunks.

Its drumming has a bit of a stutter, and its calls are loud mews. These two sounds will help you ID it. You’ll use other ID details like white wing patches and a whitish or pale yellow underside when you get closer. A male’s throat and crown are red, but a female has a white throat and a red crown.

7. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Last but not least, Indiana is home to the colorful red-bellied woodpecker. This bird inhabits the eastern states only, and these habitats have a resident population. You’ll know this species by its red cap and barred back. A female red-bellied woodpecker only has a red crown, but a male’s crown and nape have red plumage.

A backyard near a wooded area can attract this species when you offer suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. It also enjoys nectar.

When it gathers a large nut, it whacks it open by wedging it in a crevice on a tree or a fence post. These cracks also serve as a store. You may come across red-bellied woodpeckers in forests with oaks, pines, and maple trees. They also visit wetlands.

Let’s talk more about birding destinations in Indiana below.

Where To See Woodpeckers Of Indiana

Birding at home is more rewarding and cost-effective because you only need nest boxes, a bird feeder, and bird food. However, sometimes, it doesn’t work. For instance, you have to stop feeding backyard birds when there’s a bird disease

This happened in Indiana after many sightings of sick songbirds in 2021. Infected species included the northern cardinal and the blue jay. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources asked birders to remove feeders as it collected data about sick birds. Because of this incident, the State of Indiana assigned official birding spots where better avian management was implemented.

Some of them are listed as follows:

1. Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge

This wildlife area is in the southeastern region, and it has habitats like cropland, scrub, and hardwood forests.

It has an observation platform for those who don’t want to explore it by car. Species to see include the wood duck, red-headed woodpecker, marsh wren, barred owl, and the sandhill crane.

2. Indiana Dunes State Park

If you’re looking for Indiana birding trail options near Lake Michigan, this is one of them. It has several trails, some with dunes and others with a marsh boardwalk.

3. Pokagon State Park

It’s in the northeastern area of the state, next to Lake James. Birds that nest there include the red-headed and pileated woodpeckers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of woodpeckers are in Indiana?

There are seven types of woodpeckers in Indiana, and we discussed them above. The yellow-bellied sapsucker has a migratory and wintering range, so you’ll see it occasionally compared to other species with a resident population.

Can you shoot woodpeckers in Indiana?

No, the Migratory Bird Act protects them. You need a license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before taking action against this bird.

Popular strategies to prevent woodpecker damage include hanging plastic owls, mounting suet feeders, and roost boxes. These are quick solutions to stop the damage, but you need a permanent solution. 

The Cornell Lab found that colored aluminum and vinyl are better than wood siding. You can also offer nest boxes to stop downy woodpeckers from drilling nests in your buildings or trees.


Indiana has many birding spots, from the trails of Yellowwood State Forest to the shores of Lake Michigan. Even though some woodpeckers are common at feeders as the American robins, you’ll still have to go birding to see them in natural habitats.

The largest woodpecker you’ll see is the pileated bird, and the smallest is the downy woodpecker, which measures about the size of an American goldfinch or a Carolina chickadee. 

What are you waiting for? Gather pictures of woodpeckers in Indiana, find a birding trail, and explore.

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