Minnesota Woodpeckers: Pictures and Information

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picture of a downy woodpecker, part of the Minnesota woodpeckers series

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Woodpecker popularity partially comes about because they enjoy living in and around residential areas. That makes them great photography subjects.

The button on the left leads to information suited to answering basic additional bird identification questions. Now, onto the woodpeckers.

Minnesota woodpeckers consist of a very diverse mix of birds from all five of the native woodpecker genera. For example, North America’s most diverse woodpecker genera, Picoides, records nine separate species. Minnesota hosts four of them, split evenly between the most common species and regional specialty species.

Woodpeckers: Picoides

The smallest and most common Picoides, the Downy Woodpecker adapts equally well to Minnesota’s less populated areas as well as the states residential areas. Where there are trees, chances are there are Downy Woodpeckers.

Physically, the Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker. In instances where size comparisons might not be available, experts suggest examining the bill size in relation to the head size. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills.

picture of a Hairy Woodpecker
Most everything written about the above mentioned Downy Woodpecker applies to the Hairy Woodpecker. The picture highlights the most important caveat, the presence of a comparatively larger bill than the Downy. Otherwise, the black and white striped face, white belly and back feathers look very similar. Males also have a red crown.

They are a very common species across the United States because they are adaptable to forests and residential areas alike. Look for them at the backyard feeder.

picture of a Black-backed Woodpecker
Black-backed woodpeckers start the conversation about less than common Minnesota woodpeckers. They are not your typical feeder bird. Rather their preferred habitat is the Northern Boreal forests, especially those that suffer some type of damage. That’s the case because their diet consists primarily of insects, especially wood-boring beetles that flock to large dead and moribund trees.

Black-backed woodpecker populations necessarily are links to habitat changes. In times of abundant food, populations thrive. Unfortunately in times where forest areas recover, their populations decrease.

They are cavity nesters, similar to other woodpeciers. As the picture highlights, the yellow crown on the male distinguishes them from the typical red crown of more common woodpecker species. Females have a black crown. In Minnesota, they can be found in the Northeast forest lands.

picture of a Three-toed Woodpecker
When the woodpecker discussion turns to climate, the American Three-toed Woodpecker gets the nod as the most hardy of the native woodpecker species. It breeds farther north than any other American woodpecker, including Minnesota.

Physically it resembles the Black-backed Woodpecker, although it’s a bit smaller with a shorter bill. Otherwise, the black and white bars on the back and presence of a yellow crown on the male are similar. Female has solid black crown.

Populations in the far north and high mountains may migrate to the valleys, and on rare occurrences even further south, during the winter. Otherwise, they are not known as a regular migratory species. Many instances of their presence during the Minnesota winter have been documented.


picture of a male yellow-shafted Northern Flicker at the feeder
Flickers (genus Colaptes) rank as one of the most common woodpeckers in the United States, Minnesota included.

Although instances of hybridization continues to be a subject of technical discussion, for practical purposes it’s fine to point out that only two flicker species have been documented. The Northern Flicker is the species most familiar to Americans and Minnesota hosts the eastern subspecies, the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The color designation refers to the under the wing color of their tail and wing feathers.

Males, pictured, are distinguished from females by the red patch or mustache on the face. They are typically ground feeders and in residential areas people will often find them walking in the yard in search of ants and other insects. The picture also highlights their propensity to visit feeders.

Woodpeckers: Dryocopus

picture of a Pileated Woodpecker
The red crested head and white stripes across the face makes it difficult to mistake the Pileated Woodpecker for any other species. It’s the only species in the Dryocopus genus in the United Sates and probably the largest woodpecker in any area.

Pileated Woodpeckers are habitat adaptable. That fact partially explains their range. With the exception of the Rocky Mountain states and the Midwest, they can be found from coast to coast. They need some dense forested area for habitat. In the West, they prefer old growth habitat and in the East they can adapt to the younger forests.

They are described as both shy and adapted to human environments. Their attitude toward humans probably depends on the particulars of their territory. In instances where they breed and live in non-residential areas, they can be shy. There are also ample examples of their being enticed to backyard bird feeders.

Woodpeckers: Melanerpes

picture of a red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpeckers are the second of the two wide-spread Melanerpes woodpeckers. They are larger than average birds with an outgoing personality. They easily adapt to backyard feeders and their loud vocalizations can often be heard through the neighborhood.

Physically, the name red-bellied can be a bit misleading because the stomach feathers have barely a hint of red to them. The back and top of the male’s head is red. The female’s head is buffy and the nape is red.

They belong to the same genus as the Acorn Woodpecker, and like them, they are known to store food in cracks in trees. Their diet also consists of in season fruit, nuts and insects.

picture of Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed woodpeckers rank as the most wide spread of the Melanerpes species, with a presence in almost every state from the Rocky Mountains and destinations east. In the northernmost area of their range, including Minnesota, they are summer breeding residents. They migrate south for the winter.

There is little chance to misidentify a Red-headed woodpecker. The head, covered in red feathers, along with a white stomach stands out in a crowded woodpecker field. Both males and females share this feature. Juveniles have brown feathers on the head for their first year.

They enjoy open areas with grasses and woodlands, especially oak dominated areas because the consume acorns. Their propensity for nuts also means they are easily enticed to backyard feeders with suet or other healthy nuts such as sunflower seeds.

Minnseota Woodpeckers: Sapsuckers

picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. It breeds across Canada from Coast to Coast and in the winter returns to most forested areas west of the Rocky Mountains. Minnesota’s population is primarily the summer breeding population.

Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories. There might be some overlap with the Red-naped Sapsucker territory. The presence of red feathers on the back of the neck differentiates the Red-naped Sapsucker from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

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