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Woodpeckers In Virginia: 8 Knockers Knocking At Old Dominion

Last Updated on: June 9, 2024

The Old Dominion is one of the most beautiful American states, with more than enough to offer in terms of appeal to nature lovers.

And the best part is…

One of the few things that stand out for bird enthusiasts is the wide range of bird species in this state, including the beautiful woodpeckers. So in this article, we’ll focus on the most common woodpeckers in Virginia. We’ll elaborate more on how to differentiate them in terms of appearance, habitat, and even population rate, so let’s dive right in…

The 8 Woodpeckers Of Virginia

Other than being known as the Mother of Presidents, since eight presidents were born in Virginia, this state is home to over 400 bird species. These birds can be found in all the 39 state parks found all over Virginia, but did you know that some birds, including woodpeckers, can be seen in the suburbs?

Regardless of where you live in Virginia, you will see a huge flock of woodpeckers, but about eight common woodpeckers call Virginia home. Together with these woodpeckers, you will also see a wide variety of birds flocking this state. So here are some of the most common woodpeckers in Virginia:

1. Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Unlike most woodpeckers which are identified by their white and plumage, the Northern Flicker comes with brown feathers, black barring on their back, and some black dots on their bellies. But this is just the tip of the iceberg since there are two variations of the Northern Flickers: the Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers.

Fortunately, only the yellow-shafted northern flickers can be found in this state, so we will focus more on it. The Yellow-shafted one can be differentiated from the other birds by the yellowish feathers situated below their tail and wings.

There are a number of woodpeckers in Virginia, but one of the easiest to sport is the Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker. Thanks to their unique color combination, this bird can be spotted in all the state parks and around the residential areas.

Both male and female Yellow-shafted woodpeckers have yellow shafts; therefore, the only way you can differentiate them is by the black mustache on the males. They have a wingspan of about 20.1 inches and weigh about 5.6 oz,

Like most woodpeckers, they love open spaces with trees, so you should expect to find them around the edge of mature forests or parks.

Even though they have not been declared endangered, their population has been reducing thanks to habitat destruction by human beings.

The Northern flicker is the only woodpecker in Virginia that feeds from the ground.

They prefer a wide range of insects, including caterpillars, beetles, and ants. They can also consume nuts, seeds, and fruit on backyard feeders.

2. Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers

Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers

First and foremost, this is not actually a red woodpecker, so don’t let its name fool you. In fact, what makes the Red-cockaded woodpecker unique are the white and black patterns on its back, white cheeks, and black cape.

The “red” part of their name, “Red-cockaded woodpecker,” came from the red splash on the side of the male’s black cape, which is barely visible.

But the female Red-cockaded woodpeckers don’t have the red patch, while their young ones have it at the center of their head. The red-cockaded woodpecker has a 16 inches wing span and is about 9.1 inches long; therefore, you can easily spot it while flying.

They feed on arthropods and insects like wood roaches, beetles, and ants. The red-cockaded woodpecker can also be found consuming seeds and fruit.

Initially, the red-cockaded woodpeckers were only spotted in a pine forest with an understory, but currently, they are deemed endangered. And that is because their natural habitats are usually affected by fires every now and then, so currently, you can only find them in protected national forests and wild refuges. 

Another reason they’re currently considered endangered in Virginia is due to excessive logging, resulting in habitat loss. 

3. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Despite being quite popular, most bird lovers confuse the hairy woodpecker for the downy woodpecker. But the main difference between the two is that the hairy woodpeckers are a bit bigger and have an erect posture. Plus, they tend to be close companions of the pileated woodpeckers as they follow them while foraging and exploring what they leave behind.

Like most woodpeckers, the hairy woodpecker has black and white wings, but what makes it stand out is the red splash on the top side of its head, which is one of the key resemblances between them and the downy woodpeckers.

But the obvious difference between the two is that the hairy woodpeckers have a wingspan of about 10.2 inches compared to the downy’s at 6.7 inches.

If differentiating between the two is an issue, then you should examine their whitish outer tails. You will notice the Downy woodpeckers have black barring on the outer parts of their tail feathers, while the hairy woodpeckers have plain white feathers.

You can find them in some of the deciduous forests in Virginia with some huge trees. They are also known for occupying suburbs, orchards, and burned forests.

Like most birds, the hairy woodpecker mostly feeds on insects, but you may find them targeting the larvae of wood-boring and bark beetles. Currently, their population is believed to be over 9 million; therefore, they’re not considered endangered.

4. Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers

Unlike the hairy woodpecker, the downy woodpeckers are quite easy to spot in the old dominion state; after all, they love visiting any backyard with bird feeders filled with suets.

The downy woodpecker is considered one of Virginia’s smallest woodpeckers that loves flying down and up and balancing on sycamore seed balls.

They’re considered as typical woodpeckers; thanks to their black and white colors, but what makes the downy woodpecker stand out is its black back with whitish stripes, blackheads, and black wings, just like the hairy woodpeckers. Another key feature that can help you identify the downy woodpecker is the red patch on the back of the male’s head.

In fact, experienced bird lovers can differentiate between the two by examining the bill-to-body ratio. Therefore, you should be ready to explore woodlands, clearings, and gardens if you plan on seeing this woodpecker; luckily, it’s not as shy as most birds.

The downy woodpecker feeds on caterpillars, grapes, berries, acorns, ants, and larvae. Plus, they’re a popular enthusiastic drummer in spring.

5. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

As aforementioned, woodpeckers are identified by their back and white feathers. But when looking for the Pileated woodpecker, you will have to look out for the black and white stripes on their throats and cheeks. In fact, the most distinguishing feature of the Pileated woodpecker is the red mustache and red chest.

Generally, if you’re very keen, you’ll notice that the male and female Pileated woodpeckers resemble each other, with the key differences being the black forehead and mustache on the females. Plus, the red crest on the female Pileated woodpecker is shorter than that of males.

As one of the largest woodpeckers in Virginia, the Pileated woodpecker has a 19.3 inches wingspan; spotting it can be a bit easy.

They love exploring and building their nests in young deciduous forests, both in the cypress swamp and the maple forest. In fact, the Pileated woodpecker prefers building its nest in the deciduous forest and searching for food in decaying or dead tree.

They feed on insects, mostly caterpillars, larvae, and fly carpenter ants. They can also consume fruit and nut-like hackberry and blackberry.

6. Red-Headed Woodpeckers

Red-Headed Woodpeckers

Virginia is home to a number of bird species, but very few of them can be found all year round in this state, including the Red-headed woodpecker. This medium-sized has a strong beak that can easily penetrate the bark of any tree when foraging for food.

And if you think it’s just any other common bird with a black back and redhead, you should wait until the red-headed woodpecker spreads its wings and bless you with its whitish underside. But their young ones have a grey head that turns red once they mature.

They are known to feed on wood-boring larvae and even catch some insects while they’re flying. In some cases, the red-headed woodpeckers can consume grains, nuts, seeds, grapes, small rodents, and even younger birds.

The red-headed woodpecker is known for competing with other birds for the nest cavities, and in some cases, they have been known to become very aggressive and can even peck the eggs of other bird species.

Fortunately, the population of the red-headed woodpeckers has been increasing at a constant rate in the last few years.

7. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Mistaking a Red-headed woodpecker for a Red-bellied woodpecker can be quite common; after all, they do have the same color combination. But you should understand that this woodpecker species doesn’t have a redhead; instead, it has a red nape and cape. 

Kindly note that while the females have a splash of red on their bills and red nape, the males have stark red napes and capes.

An interesting fact about the Red-bellied woodpecker is that they have some barbed-like tongues that they use to get larvae from the trees’ crevices.

In fact, it’s quite easy to spot this woodpecker species in Virginia, as the red-bellied woodpeckers inhabit the forests, grooves, and woodlands near water bodies.

Unlike the Red-cockaded and red-headed woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpeckers are quite flexible. Their flexibility has made it possible for these birds to increase in population with the reduction in their habitats, which is the main reason they are not considered extinct.

They’re known for consuming seeds, grains, and nuts, as well as small amphibians. Plus, they’re known and loved for carrying some food from the bird feeders and storing them for later.

8. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Even though they’re known as yellow-bellied sapsuckers, the white stripes on their faces and red crest make them special. The Yellow-bellied sapsucker has a black back, tail, and wings, plus a white underside with a hint of yellow.

Unfortunately, the young yellow-bellied sapsucker looks very different from the adults with brown plumages instead of the common white and black ones. In fact, you can differentiate between the male and female Yellow-bellied sapsucker by looking at their throats. The females have white throats while the males have red ones.

Unlike most of the woodpeckers in Virginia, the yellow-bellied sapsucker doesn’t need a dead tree to survive. Therefore, you can find them in a wide range of woodlands, whether it is on pastures, forest edges, or orchards where they can easily get sap. In fact, you can find them making holes in the tree trunks where they consume the sap.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Largest Woodpecker In Virginia?

Despite being one of the less common woodpeckers in Virginia, the Pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in Virginia. It is about 16-inches tall and can cause more damage to any wood-sided house than the smaller woodpeckers like the Downy woodpecker.

Is It Good To Have Woodpeckers In Your Backyard?

Yes, other than gracing you with their beautiful colors and exquisite sounds, they do have a crucial ecological role. These woodpeckers can help control the population of pests in your yard; plus, their nests can be used by some of the non-drilling species.

What Can I Do If A Woodpecker Starts Pecking My House?

Without proper control, woodpeckers can damage your wooden house; therefore, you should hang bird netting or chicken wire and leave a space of about 3 inches between them and the siding. These materials will make it hard for these birds to access the walls of your home.


Other than its history, Virginia has more than enough attractions for visitors. And one of the most colorful attractions is its huge population of different woodpeckers. Therefore, before planning your bird-watching trip, you should find out how you can differentiate them from each other.

Don’t forget to bring your binoculars!

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