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Woodpeckers in Virginia – 8 Species To Look For

Woodpeckers in Virginia

Do woodpeckers live in Virginia? Yes, and most of the eight woodpecker species recorded for the state are common birds!

Watch birds in Virginia, and you’ll probably hear the loud calls of Northern Flickers, and see cute Downy Woodpeckers hitching up tree trunks!

If you have watched birds in Virginia, we bet you’ve seen woodpeckers. However, how many could you identify?

This list of the most common woodpeckers in Virginia will help you identify more of these beautiful birds!

 

Most Common Woodpeckers in Virginia

After reviewing eBird data, we made a list of the most common woodpeckers of Virginia.

Related: Birds of Virginia

Like our other bird lists for states, we show the most commonly seen birds first. To help identify woodpeckers in Virginia and learn more about these beautiful birds, we have also included key field marks and information about their behavior.

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus

Length: 9.25 inches
Wingspan: 16 inches

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are bold birds with a long, dark, chisel-like beak, and backs with zebra-like barring. They also have black and white bars on their long, closed wings, and a bold white rump with some black speckling.

Despite their name, it’s really hard to see the red on this bird’s underparts! Although they do have a bit of red or reddish-orange, it’s hidden on the lower part of their belly. The rest of their underparts and faces are a pale gray-buff color, and they have a bit of orange above their beak.

Male Red-bellied Woodpeckers have bright red on their crown and nape. Females only have red on their napes, and young birds only show a bit of orange on the back of their heads.

We see pairs of this common woodpecker species in all sorts of woodlands. As long as big trees are present, they can even live in urban areas and often come to feeders.

Key identifications:

  • In most of their range, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are the only woodpecker species that has zebra-like, black and white barring on their back and wings.
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a pale face and red on their nape.
  • This species has plain buff-gray underparts.

 

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens

Length: 6.75 inches
Wingspan: 12 inches

Downy Woodpeckers are small, cute woodpeckers with black and white plumage. They have bold, black and white markings on their heads, black and white wings, and white underparts.

Male Downy Woodpeckers have a small red patch on the back part of their head. Females look like males but lack this red patch, and young birds have red on the top of their heads.

This small bird is common in all sorts of wooded habitats. They like to use their small beaks to peck into twigs and often forage with flocks of chickadees and other birds.

This beautiful little woodpecker is also a regular visitor to backyards and can live in urban areas with lots of trees. They also come to bird feeders, especially ones that offer suet and peanuts.

Key identifications:

  • Downy Woodpeckers are smaller than all other woodpeckers in North America. They are nearly as small as a House Sparrow.
  • This species has a short and stubby beak (for a woodpecker).
  • Downy Woodpeckers have small dark markings on their white outer tail feathers.

 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus

Length: 16.5 inches
Wingspan: 29 inches

Pileated Woodpeckers are really big woodpeckers. These hefty birds are nearly the same size as an American Crow!

If the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is actually extinct, that makes the Pileated Woodpecker the biggest woodpecker in North America.

Related: Extinct birds – what happened to them?

These unmistakable woodpeckers are mostly black with a thick white line on each side of their neck, and a white throat.

They also have a red crest and a long, grayish beak. Males have a small red mustache, while females have a black line that extends from their beaks to their necks.

Pileated Woodpeckers also have a small white patch on the upper part of each wing. It’s easier to see this mark and the white underwings when the big woodpecker takes flight.

This fantastic woodpecker lives in forests and woodlands with lots of big, mature trees. For that reason, we don’t usually see them in urban areas. However, they can visit feeders at houses next to or within forest!

Key identifications:

  • In most places, Pileated Woodpeckers are the only big black and white woodpecker with a red crest.
  • This species has a small white patch near the tip of each upperwing. They also have white wing linings.
  • Pileated Woodpeckers have a lot of white on their face and a completely black back.

 

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

 

Scientific name: Colaptes auratus

Length: 12.5 inches
Wingspan: 20 inches

Northern Flickers are big, unique, gray and tan woodpeckers with bold white rumps. They have buff underparts with black spotting and a bold black patch on their chest, and fine black barring on their back and wings.

This species has some differences depending on where they live. The woodpeckers in Virginia have a small red spot on their nape and a black mustache mark (males). They also have bright yellow underwings – this subspecies is often called Yellow-shafted Flickers.

In western areas, Northern Flickers have grayer heads, and males have a red mustache. They also have reddish on their underwings, which gives them the name Ted-shafted Flickers.,.

Northern Flickers love parks, golf courses, and other semi-open habitats. In such places, we often see them in bounding flight, or perched on the ground as they forage for ants. These noisy birds also make laughing calls and “wicka-wicka” vocalizations.

Since this species eats ants, it rarely if ever comes to bird feeders.

Key identifications:

  • In most of their range, Northern Flickers are the only woodpecker with gray and brown plumage.
  • This species has a gray crown and fine black barring on its tan-colored back.
  • Northern Flickers also have a black chest patch and black spotting on their underparts.

 

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Scientific name: Dryobates villosus

Length: 9.25 inches
Wingspan: 15 inches

Hairy Woodpeckers are medium-sized, black and white woodpeckers with a fairly long and sharp beak. They have a bold black and white pattern on their head, white back, black rump, and black and white wings.

Hairy Woodpeckers also have white underparts and a pale front. Males have a small red patch on the back of their head, females lack this patch, and juveniles have a red patch on top of their head.

Does this description sound familiar? That’s because Hairy Woodpeckers are nearly identical to Downy Woodpeckers. The main differences can be spotted in size and the length of their bills (Hairy Woodpeckers are larger and have a longer beak).

In contrast to Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers live in places with big, mature trees. We mostly find these woodpeckers in forests, but they can also occur in parks and suburban areas that have lots of big trees.

Key identifications:

  • Hairy Woodpeckers have noticeably longer beaks than Downy Woodpeckers, and are also larger birds.
  • The Hairy Woodpecker has a big white patch on its back.
  • This species has plain white underparts and clean white outer tail feathers.

 

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Length: 9.25 inches
Wingspan: 17 inches

Red-headed Woodpeckers are beautiful, medium-sized woodpeckers with a completely deep red head. Adults of both sexes look alike and have a sharp gray bill, and bright white underparts.

Their upperparts are glossy black with a snow-white rump and big white patches on their wings. Juvenile Red-headed Woodpeckers have a similar plumage pattern but have a gray-brown head, and some dark markings on their wings and underparts.

This striking bird prefers semi-open habitats with mature oaks, snags, and other big trees. These woodpeckers are year-round residents of Virginia.

Red-headed Woodpeckers like to peck into trees like other woodpeckers, but they also catch insects in flight. With that in mind, we often see them sallying into the air from tall snags next to open areas.

Key identifications:

  • Red-headed Woodpeckers are the only woodpecker species in eastern North America with an entirely red head.
  • This species has a unique wing pattern with big white patches on the base of each wing.
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker has a black tail and an extensive white rump.

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius

Length: 8.5 inches
Wingspan: 16 inches

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are pretty, medium-sized woodpeckers with white shoulders. They have a black and white face, black chest, and uneven black and white barring on their backs.

This woodpecker species has pale yellow on its underparts, small black markings on its sides, and a red patch on its head.
Males also have a red throat bordered with black, while females have a white throat. Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers look like adults but are more dingy gray-brown, and lack red on their heads.

This migratory species likes to peck rows of small holes in deciduous trees. It drinks the sap that comes out, as well as insects attracted to the sap.

In Virginia, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers winter in parks and a variety of woodland habitats. Some can be spotted during the summer period as well.

On their breeding grounds, we often hear their distinctive tapping that starts with a few fast taps and then slows down.

Key identifications:

  • Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are the only woodpeckers in most of their range with white shoulders.
  • This species has a black chest and uneven barring on its sides.
  • The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has lots of uneven, mottled black and white barring on its back.

 

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Scientific name: Dryobates borealis

Length: 8 inches
Wingspan: 14.2 inches

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are smallish, black and white woodpeckers with black and white barring on their backs. They have a big white patch on each side of their head, a thick black moustache mark, and white underparts with small black markings on their sides.

Despite their name, it’s pretty hard to see the red on this bird! It takes a close, careful look to see the small red spot on the male’s head.

This species lives in small social groups and requires mature Longleaf Pines for nesting. Unlike other birds, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers only nest in live pines because the resin or pine sap that comes out of their holes helps protect their nests from snakes.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are locally common at scattered sites in the southeastern USA. It used to be much more common but declined as old-growth forests were logged throughout its range. Fortunately, forests in many areas are carefully managed to protect this special little woodpecker.

Virginia is part of their range, but not many are spotted. Their habitats are scattered across Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina to Virginia, and as far as eastern Texas and Tennessee.

Key identifications:

  • Each side of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s head is mostly white. Unlike several other black and white woodpeckers, it does not have a black line going back from the eye.
  • This species has black and white barring on its back.
  • Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have small black markings on their sides.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are woodpeckers common in Virginia?

Woodpeckers are common in Virginia. Several species are easily seen in most wooded areas of the state.

Do woodpeckers stay in Virginia in the winter?

Most woodpeckers in Virginia are year-round residents, so they can be spotted during the winter too.

What is the most common woodpecker in Virginia?

The most common woodpecker in Virginia is the Downy Woodpecker. This small woodpecker occurs in parks, woodlands, and even urban areas with trees throughout the state.

Are Northern Flickers common in Virginia?

Yes, Northern Flickers are common in Virginia. These pretty woodpeckers are easy to see on golf courses, in parks, and in other semi-open habitats.

 

Read next: Owls in Virginia & Hawks in Virginia

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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