7 Species of Woodpeckers in Illinois (with Pictures)

Woodpeckers in Illinois

Woodpeckers are beautiful birds with amazing skills. There are more than three hundred species of woodpeckers that are known in the world. The United States inhabits twenty-two species. Out of sixteen species of woodpeckers that can be found in North America, Illinois is home to seven.

The seven species of woodpeckers that can be found in Illinois are:

  1. Downy woodpeckers
  2. Hairy woodpeckers
  3. Red-bellied woodpeckers
  4. Red-headed woodpeckers
  5. Pileated woodpeckers
  6. Yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpeckers
  7. Northern flickers woodpeckers

Species like downy, hairy, pileated, and red-bellied are pretty common and can be found year-round. Northern flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and red-headed are occasional migrators. In this article, we will go through these different species and learn more about them.


Downy woodpeckers

Downy woodpeckers


Length – 5.5 – 6.7
Weight – 0.7 – 1 oz
Wingspan – 9.8 – 11.8 in

Downy woodpeckers are the smallest species of woodpeckers that can be found in North America. They are also one of the most common woodpeckers and can be found year-round in Illinois. They are black-and-white.

The adult males have a red patch on the back of their heads, whereas the females have a white stripe on the sides. They have black wings with white spots on them.

These woodpeckers are found in open woodlands, mainly among deciduous trees. They don’t seem to mind humans and can be seen in city parks, orchards, and even backyards.

They are the most common backyard woodpeckers in North America, and you can easily attract them to your yard. These birds move quickly and have a distinct flight. They excavate their nest holes, and, in winter, they roost in tree cavities.

When it comes to food hunting, males and females look for food in different areas. Male woodpeckers search for food in higher areas of trees, while females prefer the middle or lower areas. They eat small insects that are found inside the trees or on the bark.

They help the trees get rid of destructive insects. They also feed on seeds and berries. These birds are known to produce many vocal sounds. They also make drumming noises while pecking trees.


Hairy woodpeckers

Hairy woodpeckers

Length – 7 – 10 in
Weight – 1.4 – 3.4 oz
Wingspan – 13 – 16 in

Hairy woodpeckers look a lot like downy woodpeckers, but they are comparatively larger in size and have longer bills. They are white and black in appearance, with checkering on their backs. Much like downy woodpeckers, they are found year-round and often in the same areas. However, they are comparatively lesser in number.

They prefer mature forests, particularly deciduous, as their habitat. Unlike downy woodpeckers, they are dependent on large trees. They are also found in woodlands of oak and pine. Occasionally, they can even be spotted in parks, cemeteries, and suburbs. They excavate their hole for nesting and roosting.

They mainly feed on bark-boring or wood-boring beetle larvae found in trees. Apart from the larvae, they enjoy other insects like beetles, ants, etc. They also feed on seeds, berries, and even the sap from sapsucker holes.

Although these woodpeckers are common, it has been recorded that their population is declining due to the loss of natural habitats and other forestry practices.


Red-bellied woodpeckers

Red-bellied woodpeckers

Length – 9.4 in
Weight – 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan – 13.0-16.5 in

Red-bellied woodpeckers are yet another species that can be found year-round in Illinois. These medium-sized birds can be recognized with the bright red caps.

Despite being pale, their striking black-white barred backs, wings, and tails make them fascinating. The reddish tinge on the belly, as the name suggests, is pretty difficult to spot in field identification.

They can easily be seen perching on the sides of large trees and along major branches. Though the birds usually prefer deciduous forests as their breeding habitat, they are pretty adaptable and can thrive in a wide range of habitats like swaps, woodlands, forests grove, etc. They can also be found in parks, suburbs, etc.

They excavate the holes and even nest in the decayed cavities of dead trees. When it comes to food, these birds are opportunists. They eat plenty of plant material along with insects. In fact, they are reputed for eating more fruits and berries than any other species of woodpeckers.

Occasionally, they feed on lizards, minnows, and even the eggs of other birds. These woodpeckers are noisy and make a varied range of calls. Spring and summer are the best seasons to look for these birds as they tend to be louder during these times.


Red-headed woodpeckers

Red-headed woodpeckers

Length – 7.5-9.1 in
Weight – 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan – 16.5 in

Red-headed woodpeckers are seen all year in Illinois, although some of them migrate for winter. As the name suggests, they have an entire redhead. They have a medium-sized body which is boldly patterned and gives these bird a black and white appearance.

These birds prefer open lands and are often found in a variety of habitats like groves, farmlands, orchards, etc. They don’t favor heavy forests much.

These birds feed on a variety of spiders, insects, rodents, and even eggs. They also consume seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, etc. Animals contribute to only one-third part of their diet. One of the interesting things about these birds is that they don’t act quite like most woodpeckers as they are good at catching insects in the air. They are strong fliers.

They eat a lot of plant material and even hide away their extra food in tree crevices. In fact, it is one of only four woodpeckers in North America that is known to store food. This is the only species that cover the stored food with wood or bark.

They peck into deadwood and form cavities for nesting. They occasionally visit the feeders in winters. Due to habitat loss and change to the food supply, these birds have been on the decline.

You can easily locate them with their raucous, harsh call. The funny thing about these birds is their nicknames: half-a-Tshirt, jellycoat, shirttail bird, flag bird, and the best flying checker-board.


Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers

Length – 15.8-19.3 in
Weight – 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan – 26.0-29.5 in

Pileated woodpeckers are one of the largest birds that can be found in North America. Their size is similar to that of a crow. They are a permanent resident and are found year-round in Illinois. They have a prominent red-feathered crest on their head.

The body is mainly black; however, the underwings appear white in flight. These birds have a strong and direct flight. They are highly dependent on dead or decaying trees for their survival.

They prefer mature hardwood forests, especially deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous as their habitat. These birds excavate their nesting holes. They also nest in the cavities of mature or decaying trees. They make extremely large holes.

They peck on dead and rotting woods to forage for food. They feed on insects, particularly carpenter ants, and wood-boring larvae. They also eat plant material like berries, nuts, and fruits.

These birds are extremely adaptable, which allows them to survive in a wide range of habitats. They are also able to survive the human habitation of North America.

Sometimes, they visit backyard bird feeders. Along with deep drumming sound, which is common during excavating wood, they also make loud whinnies. It is easier to locate them by paying attention to their call.


Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers Woodpeckers

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers Woodpeckers

Length – 7.1-8.7 in
Weight – 1.5-1.9 oz
Wingspan – 13.4-15.8 in

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are migratory birds and can be found in Illinois during winter. They are pretty widespread and common in North America.

They have a black-and-white body with a red cap. The red cap is brighter in males, while it is lighter in females. One can also distinguish the sexes with the help of the color of the throat.

The throat is red in males and white in females. They are inhabitants of young deciduous forests and mixed coniferous forests, especially during breeding. During the non-breeding season, they can be found in open woodlands and semi-open habitats.

For nesting, they excavate cavities. As the name indicates, they are dependent on the sap as the main source of food. These birds drill the sap wells in early spring. They usually prefer birch and maple trees for drilling the sap wells. The wells are extremely neatly organized. So, if you find spot rows of shallow and neat holes in the tree bark, just know that these birds are around.

They also feed on insects and plant material. These birds don’t usually visit regular bird feeders. They are the only birds that are completely migratory in Eastern North America. They make loud mewing calls and distinct irregular drumming.


Northern Flickers Woodpeckers

Northern Flickers Woodpeckers

Length – 11.0-12.2 in
Weight – 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan – 16.5-20.1 in

Northern flickers are large woodpeckers, which are generally brown in color. They look pretty unique as compared to other woodpeckers on the continent. They have black barring on the back and black spots on the belly. They can be spotted with their white rump patch in flight. They are one of the major migratory birds of North America. During winter, some of them move south.

They nest in tree cavities. Sometimes, they take over the old, earthen burrows vacated by belted kingfishers or other animals. You can find these birds in open woods, woodlands, or forest edges with scattered trees. Although they don’t usually visit bird feeders, they can be seen in city parks and suburbs.

While looking for them, focus on the ground as these woodpeckers tend to forage on the ground, digging for ants and beetles. Ants contribute 45% of their diet. They also feed on fruits and berries and are even capable of catching insects in the air.

One interesting fact about these birds is that their call sounds a lot like a sustained laugh, ki ki ki. They often drum on trees and even metal objects to communicate and assert their territory. Although these birds are widespread, their population is on the decline.


Ways to Attract Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

It is hard to resist attracting woodpeckers once you happen to see one. Woodpeckers aren’t typical birds. They are shy in nature. They are hard to spot and even harder to attract. However, if you know the right way, you might get lucky. Here are a few tips that will help you attract woodpeckers to your yard.

Favorite food – Who doesn’t like their favorite food? Even woodpeckers do. Many woodpeckers are known to visit the bird feeders, and if it is their favorite suet, they just can’t ignore it. You can put up a suet feeder or smear suet on the bark of the tree. Nowadays, even suet cakes are popular. Woodpeckers even love sunflower seeds, especially the downy woodpeckers. Such amazing food will definitely entice woodpeckers, and you might end up spotting a downy woodpecker in your yard.

Dead trees – You might not love dead or rotting trees, but many woodpeckers surely do, especially the pileated woodpeckers. So, if you have some dead tree in your yard, just leave it alone. Many woodpeckers nest in dead or rotting trees and feed on the larvae present inside the trees. A dead tree will definitely attract the woodpecker.

Plant fruit-bearing trees – You can’t create or preserve a snag? Don’t worry. You can plant some native fruit-bearing plants and trees. Many woodpeckers enjoy fruits and berries. There are so many trees that you can plant like dogwood, blueberries, brambles, grapes, etc. Red-bellied woodpeckers love fruits, and berries so don’t lose hope.

Nest boxes – You don’t have the patience to grow a tree or plant? Don’t worry. Many woodpeckers are known to use nest boxes. Pileated woodpeckers have a great history of accepting and using nest boxes from May to July. You can mount woodpecker houses around your yard, and if you are lucky, you will find some woodpecker in your yard.

Water – All birds love birdbaths, and woodpeckers are no different. However, they prefer isolated, natural baths. If possible, set up the bath in some shaded and quiet area so that these birds aren’t intimidated.


We hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned some interesting things. Do let us know which species in Illinois you would love to see in your yard.