Tourists looking for something extra to add to their Washington trip might consider a woodpecker excursion. The dozen Washington woodpeckers means there’s always a new species to see for most eastern visitors.
For example, Four sapsucker species (Sphyrapicus) drill their wells in trees from coast to coast. Washington state hosts three of the species and a great place for birders looking for a new woodpecker species to put on their life list.
The Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber), pictured, the West Coast variant, spend their summers in higher elevation forests near rivers and streams. Some populations migrate down to the valleys during winters.
The Red-naped Sapsucker picks up its range where the Red-breasted Sapsucker range ends, the forest areas of the Rocky Mountain region. They can be found in the east.
Williamson’s Sapsuckers inhabit the mountain areas of the West, including the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada.
Of special interest is that males and females diverge in their physical appearance. Males, like the one pictured, have distinct black feathers on the head, complimented by white striped and a red throat. Females have brown feathers on the head and and black and white barred feather pattern on the body. Both sexes have yellow bellies.
Flickers are another common woodpecker species found in residential areas around Washington state.
The Red-shafted Northern Flicker is one of two subspecies of the Northern Flicker, named for the underwing color. Males, like the one pictured, have a red moustache.
Flickers are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family. They prefer open habitats such as fields and residential areas because they supply them with their primary food sources such as insects, seeds and berries.
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.
Six Melanerpes woodpecker species nest among North America’s wooded areas. The Acorn woodpecker, perhaps the best known of the western species, inhabits oak groves, where it spends its days gathering acorns. Once gathered, the acorns get stored in tree holes or nearby wooden structure such as fences and telephone poles.
Unlike most woodpecker species, both the male and female have a red crown.
According to Washington Trails
The acorn woodpecker is rare in Washington, found only in oak country or areas where oaks are interspersed with other types of trees. Washington is at the extreme northern edge of the breeding range of this bird, and they are currently found only in Klickitat County.
Washington also provides good habitat for another less than common woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpecker.
The picture shows one of its special features. More than any other native species, the purple to red hue on the feathers of the Lewis’s Woodpecker makes it stand out. The greenish head feathers and gray collar and chest compliment the dark wings and tail.
In the wild, they consume a variety of common insects in their territory, including ants, bees and wasps. In fall and winter, they focus on acorns and fruit, so rural homeowners in their territory might be able to entice them to the feeder. Otherwise, they are not categorized as your typical feeder bird.
People from the east might be hiking in the Washington woods, look up and see a flitter of a woodpecker and note, “that woodpecker has a head full of white feathers”. Common names mean something. It’s no surprise that the woodpecker they saw was a White-headed Woodpecker. There’s no mistaking it in the wild. It’s a regional specialty bird that inhabits the forest areas of the greater Pacific Northwest.
Washington also hosts two additional less common and similar looking Picoides species. Black-backed and Three-toed woodpeckers not only look similar, they also both have three toes. Habitat preferences distinguish them.
Black-backed woodpeckers live among the burned out wooded areas of the Northern Boreal forests where they consume the wood-boring beetles that flock to large dead and moribund trees. In these habitat, it’s not difficult to find them flying to and from their nests in the dead or downed trees.
As a result of their habitat preferences, their population is subject to change. 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.
American Three-toed Woodpeckers get ranks as the most hardy breeders of the native woodpecker species. They breed farther north than any other American woodpecker.
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. Their life in the woods means they are not known as a common backyard feeder bird.
The Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are the two most common of the nine woodpecker species in the genus Picoides. They are also the most common species in Washington.
The pictures show two very similar looking birds.
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.
The picture of the male Hairy woodpecker highlights the longer bill.