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7 Species of Woodpeckers In Iowa (with Pictures)

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a red bellied woodpecker perching

Iowa is home to over 400 species of birds, seven of which are different woodpeckers. Even though they are all woodpeckers, they have their own unique looks, colors, and behaviors. This article will give you a brief overview of each woodpecker with pictures to help you identify them in your backyard.

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The 7 Species of Woodpeckers In Iowa

1. Red-headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker Perched On a Branch

Image Credit: John L. Absher, Shutterstock

Length: 7.5–9.1 inches (in)
Weight: 2–3.2 ounces (oz)
Wingspan: 16.5 in

The red-headed woodpecker is aptly named for its bright red head. They also have white chests with large white spots on their wings. Their backs are entirely black, but the patches on their wings give them the appearance of white backs while they are perched.

Typically, these birds get their meal by pecking insects out of the trees. However, the red-headed woodpecker will also snag bugs out of the mid-flight and hunt them on the ground. In addition to bugs, these birds also eat a significant amount of fruits and seeds.

If you’re looking for the red-headed woodpecker, you’ll find them in pine savannahs and open forests. Standing timber in swampy wetlands is also a major attractant for these birds.


2. Hairy Woodpecker

male Hairy Woodpecker

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Length: 7.1–10.2 in
Weight: 1.4–3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13–16.1 in

The hairy woodpecker is a pretty bird. They have white chests, black wings, and a long, white stripe that runs down their back for some neat contrasting patterns. They also have two white stripes that run across the side of their heads. The primary color identification between males and females is that the males have a splash of red on the back of their heads.

In addition to hitching up tree trunks and spending their time on the tree’s main branches, the hairy woodpecker also feeds at the tree’s base. Sometimes, they’ll even feed on fallen logs or directly on the ground.

You’ll find the hairy woodpecker in many places with abundant pine and oak trees. One of their favorites is tree stands that are infested with bark beetles.


3. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Length: 15.8–19.3 in
Weight: 8.8–12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26–29.5 in

The pileated woodpecker is one of the biggest birds on this list. They are a similar size to a crow. However, they have a much longer, pointier beak and a long, slender neck. These birds are mostly black with white stripes under their wings and onto their head. Their vibrant, red crest is their most standout feature, and the males have additional red lines on their cheeks.

When feeding, pileated woodpeckers drill rectangular-shaped holes, which is unique to them. They are also quite loud and will actually beat on dead trees with a slow, rolling pattern. These birds aren’t too particular about the type of trees they live in. However, they do prefer large, standing dead or downed trees.


4. Northern Flicker

northern flicker perching on wooden fence

Image Credit: Naturelady, Pixabay

Length: 11–12.2 in
Weight: 3.9–5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5–20.1 in

The northern flicker is a similar size to the pileated woodpecker. They also have long, slender necks and long beaks, but their looks make a very obvious separation. These birds are primarily brown all over, except for their white rump.

Most northern flickers in Iowa will be bright yellow on the underside of their wing and tail feathers. But in the western states, the northern flicker will typically be red. Where the northern flicker really stands out as unique is the brown plumage on their belly. It’s filled with black spots and crescents.

The northern flicker is not overly picky about where they live, and they spend much time on the ground compared to some other woodpeckers.


5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Image Credit: iTopLoveliness, Pixabay

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

The yellow-bellied sapsucker shares many color similarities to the pileated woodpecker. They are mostly black and white, except for their red forehead. In addition, the males have red throats. Their name comes from the yellowish underbelly that they sometimes have.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker’s favorite place to perch is at the sap wells they create. They will drill rows of shallow holes into the bark to make the sap come out. Then they gobble it up along with any unlucky bugs that get trapped in the sticky mess.

Quite often, you’ll find this woodpecker nesting in groves of aspen. However, they will live in several other types of trees up to around 6,500 feet.


6. Red-bellied Woodpecker

a red bellied woodpecker peching on a tree branch

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2–3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13–16.5 in

The red-bellied woodpecker is a very similar size to the hairy woodpecker. However, they do not look alike. They have black and white stripes all over their back and wings, contrasted by the pale white chest and belly with splotches of red throughout it. They also have a red crest that goes down the back of their neck.

Instead of drilling like many other woodpeckers, you can find these medium-sized woodpeckers picking at the bark of medium to large trees. They are commonly found in old oak and hickory forests but will also venture into pines and even into backyard feeders.


7. Downy Woodpecker

downy woodpecker perched on a branch

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

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

The downy woodpecker is one of the smaller ones you’ll find in Iowa, but they are beautiful birds. They are almost entirely black and white with checker marks on their backs and wings. You can distinguish males from females by the small red patch on the back of their heads.

Because of their size, the downy woodpecker can fly a lot more acrobatically than the larger woodpeckers. They will quite often drop down out of trees into tall weeds so that they can feed on galls. As a result, you can often find them in deciduous tree forests with lots of brushy and weedy edges.

shutter camera divider 2Attracting Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are a fascinating species of bird. So, it makes sense that we would try and bring them to visit us in our backyard.

Here are a few tips you can try to get them to come to you instead of having to search them out:

  • Leave the dead trees: Getting rid of standing dead trees in your yard may be tempting. But leaving them where they are may encourage woodpeckers to spend time there.
  • Use nest boxes: Many woodpeckers will use nest boxes. For example, the pileated woodpeckers will typically use them from May through July.
  • Have a water source: Bird baths or other water features are a great way to bring all sorts of birds to your backyard.
  • Provide food they enjoy: Suet feeders and black sunflower seeds are woodpecker favorites. So, providing these may encourage them to come around.

Closing Thoughts

23 species of woodpecker live in the United States. So, if you’re bird watching in Iowa you’ll potentially be able to find a third of the woodpecker species in the country. Although some of them look similar, you’ll be able to tell them apart easily with a little practice.


Featured Image Credit: PJTremblay, Pixabay

About the Author Shea Cummings

Shea Cummings is a passionate content writer who believes that the power of words is immeasurable. He leverages years of experience in various trades such as carpentry, photography, and electrical to bring his articles to life. His goal is to provide his readers with information that delights and informs. When he's not writing you can find him spending time in the outdoors or playing some Minecraft on the Xbox with his wife and two sons.

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