The Woodpeckers in NC: 8 Types, Facts, & Habitat

With over 200 species of woodpeckers in the world, only eight species are found in North Carolina. Woodpeckers in NC are found throughout the year with few migratory species.

While woodpeckers are quite popular in the state, the cardinal took the crown as the state bird of North Carolina. But for birders looking to identify woodpeckers in NC, this article covers the common species of woodpeckers in North Carolina, their habitats, and their identifying features.

The 8 species of woodpeckers in NC are the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Where To Find Woodpeckers in NC

North Carolina boasts amazing birding spots all year round—from spring to fall. Because of the mountainous landscape, many wetlands, and rivers, plus old forests, North Carolina is a haven for hundreds of species of small and large birds.

You can find woodpeckers in NC throughout the beautiful state right from your backyard to open fields and old forests. For the best birding trails in the state, you can choose the Coastal, Piedmont, or Mountain North Carolina birding trail.

The coastal trail will take you right through where the Wright Brothers first made their flight. Here, you’ll spot many shorebirds, waterfowls, and even woodpeckers, especially the Red-Breasted Sapsucker.  

The Piedmont birding trail in NC will take you along with gorgeous landscapes and scenic views. Here, the old and tall pine trees are home to various species of small birds, including sparrows, finches, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers.

You can as well explore the mountain trail if you’re not only an avid birdwatcher but also a hiking enthusiast. In this trail, you’ll spot many species of woodpeckers ranging from the Hairy Woodpecker to the Red-Headed Woodpecker.

Types of Woodpeckers in NC

Let’s discover the 8 species of woodpeckers in NC, and learn where they live, what they eat, how they breed, and their defining characteristics.

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is the most popular type of woodpecker in NC. You can identify this small bird by its red belly, red-tinged crest, and chisel-like beak. Unlike other woodpeckers, these woodpeckers mostly drum during the mating and breeding season.

It feeds on fruits, nuts, seeds, and insects and you can find them throughout the Tar Heel State. This woodpecker has a unique call that is a rolling “kurr” sound.

These birds are frequent visitors to bird feeders, but most birders mistake it for the Red-headed Woodpecker, which is larger and lacks the red tinge on the belly.

2. Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Largest species of woodpeckers in NC

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest species of woodpecker in NC and the entire of North America. Unlike other woodpeckers, they don’t frequent suet bird feeders but enjoy flourishing in woodlands and old forests.

It’s about the same size as a crow and has a prominent red crest on its head, and a long, black beak that it uses to drill into tree trunks to find insects to eat. The Pileated Woodpecker has a white stripe on its neck and a white line on its wings.

This woodpecker primarily feeds on insects, seeds, fruits, and nuts. It’s nonmigratory species and stays in North Carolina all year round. You can spot them in forests near swamps, as they love large trees to nest and drum.

3. Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

With a distinctive deep crimson-red head, a black back and wings, and a white breast and belly, the Red-headed Woodpecker is among the most common types of woodpeckers in NC. You can find them across the state all year round in the state, except during the breeding season when they confine themselves to Western North Carolina.

During the breeding season, these woodpeckers flock together, with the males performing elaborate courtship display in which he fluffs up their feathers, spreads their wings, and drums loudly on a tree trunk to attract a female. Both the male and female Red-headed Woodpecker work together to build a nest in a tree cavity, and the female lays a clutch of 4-7 eggs.

The Red-headed woodpeckers like frequenting bird feeders with suet, nuts, and fruit. They can also be attracted to nest boxes that provide nesting cavities. They are very aggressive and territorial and fight other birds that intrude into their space.

4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus various)

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a small to medium-sized woodpecker in NC with a yellow underside and a black-and-white striped back. This woodpecker also has a pointed and straight bill, which is adapted to drilling neat holes in trees to produce sap.

They nest on cavities in old trees, whereby both male and female birds contribute to making the nests and raising the hatchlings. You can find these birds in North Carolina’s forests, woodlands, orchards, and fields.

The sapsuckers feed mostly on tree sap, but you can occasionally spot them in backyards, feeding on suet, nuts, and seeds. This mostly happens in winter, when food is scarce. They’re often spotted in the eastern areas of North Carolina.

5. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Most common woodpeckers in NC

Being the smallest woodpecker in NC, the Downy Woodpecker is about the same size as a house sparrow. It has a black-and-white striped upper part, a white underside, and a black cap and bib. Males have a small red patch on the back of the head, while female has a white patch.

The Downy Woodpeckers is one of the most common woodpeckers in NC, as well as North America. They stay in this state all year round and you can locate them in wooded habitats, including deciduous and coniferous forests.

These small birds in NC feed on insects, fruits, seeds, and suet at bird feeders. In the winter, they may visit bird feeders more regularly in search of food.

6. Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus)

Very similar to the Downy Woodpecker, except that it’s larger and has a longer beak, the Hairy Woodpecker has a black-and-white striped back, a white breast, and a black cap and bib. They have muscular legs and sharp claws to cling to tree trunks and branches while drumming on them for food.

The Hairy Woodpecker is common throughout North Carolina and they are permanent residents in the state. They feed on insects, fruit, seeds, and suet are often seen visiting bird feeders in search of food. Females lay 3-8 eggs, which hatch in 11 to 14 days.

These woodpeckers are commonly sighted in deciduous forests and areas where you can find many old trees, as well as parks and gardens.

7. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Quite distinctive because it’s larger than most woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker has a white breast and a red or yellow patch on the underside of the wings. Males have a red mustache, while females do not.

Unlike other woodpeckers, you’d mostly find the Northern Flicker in the ground foraging for beetles and ants. Its bill is curved to allow it to dig the ground.

The Northern Flicker is not a habitual birdfeeder visitor, but putting nest boxes in your backyard can attract them. It’s one of the few woodpeckers in NC who migrate to search for food and better breeding grounds.

8. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis)

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Endangered woodpeckers in NC -Credits Andy Reago & Chrissy McLarren

Small, black, and white, the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is woodpecker gets its name from the small, red stripes on the sides of the male’s head, which are known as “cockades.” However, females don’t have these red cockades.

The Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers thrive in mature pine forests, where they nest and roost in cavities that they excavate in the trunks of live pine trees. They depend on these trees for their survival and are therefore abundant in areas of North Carolina with plenty of pine trees.

These woodpeckers have been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of habitat loss and other factors. Conservation efforts to protect Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers range from habitat restoration to proper management of their breeding and nesting sites.

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