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Virginia is best known for its appealing climate and wondrous geography. Not just that, but the state is also home to diverse bird species due to its abundance of fresh and salt water.
Out of all the birds, woodpeckers have a unique charm among the natives of Virginia. These birds have perfectly chiseled faces and are usually identified by hammering sounds. In addition, woodpeckers are known for their non-stop drilling into the trees, which can be loud enough to grab your attention.
Overall, there are 23 species of woodpecker, and 11 of them are found in Virginia. If you’re interested in knowing everything about the most common woodpeckers in Virginia, read on to explore them in this guide.
|Scientific Name||Dryobates villosus|
Hairy woodpeckers are quite common in Virginia. These medium-sized birds have square, furry heads with long and strong bills. It doesn’t matter when you travel to Virginia—you can observe hairy woodpeckers all year.
These birds love to live in marshy shelters and wild forests. However, some male Hairy Woodpeckers are also seen living in woodlands, suburbs, and parks. You can also see this species in burnt forests and backyard feeders.
Hairy Woodpeckers have contrasting white and black body feathers. The wings are overall black with white checks. The head, both in females and males, has dual white stripes. In addition, the male Hairy Woodpecker has a prominent white patch at the bottom of the back.
Hairy Woodpeckers can quickly ascend towards big tree trunks and main branches. They often feed near the tree’s bases, logs, and sometimes on the ground.
|Scientific Name||Dryobates pubescens|
Downy Woodpeckers are widespread in the state of Virginia all year long. However, you may find it hard to identify them due to their small size. Nevertheless, they share significant similarities with the hairy woodpeckers and forage on twigs and small trees.
You can identify this woodpecker species by its checkered white and black pattern. The upper parts of the wings are black with white checks. The head is stripped, and the back shows a white stripe running down the bottom. Unlike females, males have a red patch on their heads.
Downy Woodpeckers love to live in deciduous, marshy woods along the streams and open woodland. They are also found building a shelter in suburbs, orchards, and parks.
A Downy Woodpecker hitches up quickly over small trees, trunks, logs, and branches of grasses. It leans against its long feather tail for support.
|Scientific Name||Campephilus principalis|
The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is a famous bird in the Southeastern United States and Cuba. They are primarily black, with two white stripes along the neck and enormous white panels in the upper wings that could be seen even when the wings are folded. Females have a black crest, while males have a red crest. The bills of both sexes are pallid.
Cypress swamps and mature bottomland woodlands are home to the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. These woodpeckers make nesting holes in living or dead bald cypress trees in Florida. Whereas in the Mississippi River Delta, nesting cavities are built-in hardwood trees.
Beetle larvae make up the majority of this woodpecker’s diet.
|Scientific Name||Melanerpes lewis|
Lewis’s Woodpeckers resemble crows in many ways. They have sturdy beaks, long tails, and flapping wings, which look much like crows. Not only that, but this woodpecker species also hunts and flies like a crow.
A Lewis’s Woodpecker differentiates from any other woodpecker due to its unique color pattern. It has a gray collar and a dark, shiny-green body. In addition, it has a dark red face with a fading pink color on the belly.
These woodpeckers mainly breed in open pine and wild forests with abundant snags (dead trees). However, they also live in oak woodlands and orchards. During their non-breeding season, they rest in pinyon-juniper woods and cottonwoods.
Just like any other woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpeckers also hitch up large trees. However, they also perch on branches and twigs transversely, something the other woodpeckers can’t do. In addition, they flap their wings out to catch their prey in mid-air.
|Scientific Name||Melanerpes formicivorus|
Acorn Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers with straight, solid, and wedge-shaped tails. Their tails help them cling to tree trunks for support. You’re most likely to find Acorn Woodpeckers near oak trees.
These beautiful birds have a red hat, creamy white forehead, and black patches around the bill. There is a little section on the small of their backs with some green feathers. Females have a black space between the forehead and the cap, but adult males have a red crown that starts at the brow.
They have three white patches in flight: one on each wing and one on the rump. They also have distinctive white spots on the neck, throat, and forehead. In addition, you can spot white rings on their wings when they’re flying.
This woodpecker species isn’t afraid of humans, so they are found in towns with acorns and sufficient storage facilities.
Acorn Woodpeckers also spend a lot of time capturing flying insects. They frequently make noisy, scratchy “waka-waka” sounds.
|Scientific Name||Calapter Auratus|
Northern Flickers are common bird species found in Virginia all year round. They are famous for being noisy and flashy. However, unlike other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers prey on insects on the ground instead of hunting them. They also rest on horizontal branches and twigs instead of hitching up on trees.
Northern Flickers appear brownish with bright yellow and blood red on the tails and wings. They also have a deep black groove on the back and symmetrical black spots on the belly.
These woodpeckers live in fields with dead trees, cities, suburbs, forest edges, and open woodlands. They also nest around wet areas like marshy edges, pool swamps, and streamside forests.
|Scientific Name||Melanerpes Erythrocephalus|
|Wingspan||33–37 cm33–37 cm|
The Red-Headed Woodpecker is a mid-sized species with fierce behavior to safeguard its territory. They are tricolored, including black, red, and white. You can identify these woodpeckers by their black head, snow-white lower body, and black wings.
These woodpeckers have strong bills that allow them to catch prey mid-air or drill through wood. If you’re looking for these birds, look out for them in shaded trees, groves, scattered trees, cemeteries, agricultural areas, golf courses, snags, orchards, and farm country.
Red-Headed Woodpeckers are solitary birds that are opportunistic with different hunting styles. They can quickly fly from a perch to catch their prey in mid-air or on the ground. However, they mostly spend their time hunting for food such as nuts, fruits, insects, etc.
|Scientific Name||Melanerpes uropygialis|
A Gila Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird found in the United States and Mexico’s desert regions. The back and wings of these birds are spotted and barred in a zebra-like pattern. In addition, their neck, throat, belly, and head hue are grayish tan.
Gila Woodpeckers prefer arid settings, particularly deserts and dry woods in the SouthwesternUSA and near Mexico. They like to stay below 3,300 feet.
These are energetic birds. They’ll climb steeply to trees, telephone poles, or cacti. Their beaks generate a distinctive drumming noise when hammering on wood or metal roofs. Male Gila Woodpeckers show aggression by pointing their bills and bobbing their heads.
|Scientific Name||Dryocopus pileatus|
One of the most famous forest birds in Virginia, Pileated Woodpeckers are nearly the size of a crow. They are the largest woodpeckers in the US and can be seen all year in Virginia.
Pileated Woodpeckers have a unique color pattern. These birds have stripes on the head and neck with a striking combination of inky black, bold red, and white. They are easily recognizable from the unique red crest on top of the head. They also have long, strong bills that help them catch prey on the first go.
Pileated Woodpeckers are found anywhere there is a downed and decaying wood supply. They live in mature deciduous woodlands, such as tall hemlock trees and maple forests. However, you may also find them in wild forests.
Some common prey of pileated woodpeckers are beetle larvae, carpenter ants, nuts, spruce budworms, grasshoppers, and termites. They also eat fruits such as hackberry, blackberries, elderberry, and dogwood.
|Scientific Name||Sphyrapicus Varius|
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are primarily seen in Virginia during the winter season. One of the most astonishing aspects that sets these birds apart from others is their ability to drill neat and tiny holes in the wood.
These woodpeckers hunt near tree cambium or sap wells. They have black and white striped faces with small, straight bills. The underparts of their chest have a noticeable yellow color. Both male and female sapsuckers have a distinct red patch running down from their head to throat. In addition, they also have a long, visible white patch on their wings.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers often nest in grooves of branches and small trees, such as dogwoods and aspens. You can also find them in large trees in suburban areas, palm groves, pastures, and forests.
|Scientific Name||Dryobates Borealis|
Red-Cockaded woodpeckers are small in size. Their bodies are covered with large black and white cheek patches. You can identify these woodpeckers from their inky black, long, and pointed bills.
These woodpeckers also have malar stripping on the border of their cheeks. The back has horizontal black and white bars. The males have a visible red streak present at the upper line of the cheek.
Unlike other woodpeckers, the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker has a social system. They live in social communities, such as groups, pairs, or with offspring. Unfortunately, these woodpeckers are considered an endangered species, so you may find them only in old pine forests.
Woodpeckers are usually shy to come to your backyard, but there are some easy ways to attract them. You just have to make them feel comfortable and provide them with the food they love. Before starting, know that these birds are super shy, so bringing them to your backyard is a long process. You need to be consistent.
Here are some easy ways to lure woodpeckers to your backyard:
Most woodpeckers have two front and two back toes that help them grip trees and poles. They use their back toes to brace onto trees while climbing, so use houses or feeders with tail props to motivate these birds to come to your backyard.
Tail props offer woodpeckers the proper structure to hang onto. In addition, keep in mind to provide plenty of perching space when making tail props. The goal is to make woodpeckers feel comfortable enough to come to your yard.
Woodpeckers eat different sorts of things, including peanuts, mealworms, sap, berries, and insects. You may also find them eating sunflower seeds, pine seeds, acorns, apples, grapes, raisins, and several other fruits.
You can use woodpeckers’ favorite food on a platform feeder and place it in your yard. The best way is to use wire cages and place a combination of foods in these feeders to lure them closer.
You can also opt for feeders with suet cakes since woodpeckers love them.
It’s better to find woodpecker-specific feeders for quick and easy results. Consider looking for a hanging hopper feeder, a suet ball feeder, or a suet plug feeder to encourage woodpeckers to come closer out of curiosity.
Upright feeders provide woodpeckers with maximum support. So, if you’re using an upright feeder, place it near mature trees where it’s easier for them to forage. Also, woodpeckers need solid support to press their tails when pecking securely.
Woodpeckers usually visit bird baths to quench their thirst and bathe. However, they like to maintain their privacy while doing so. So, place bird baths in an isolated place where other birds don’t come.
The best bird bath is a ground bird bath with an installed dipper or other water sources to grab a woodpecker’s attention.
Choose a shaded area that is quiet enough for woodpeckers not to get intimidated by other birds drinking and bathing in the same water. Find a moderately shallow basin and have perches that help these birds become accustomed to bathing and drinking water more comfortably.
Snags are dead trees that provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for most woodpecker species. These birds prefer rotting or dead trees to excavate their nest holes. So, collect dead trees, stumps, or snags, and place them in your backyard as a foraging option for woodpeckers to come, find, and eat insects from them.
In addition, woodpeckers also use dead trees for communication. Remember to keep snags even after the woodpeckers leave your backyard because secondary cavity-nesting birds, such as owls and chickadees, usually use excavated cavities.
Also, you need to minimize the use of pesticides and insecticides in your yard to keep the insects in snags healthy and safe.
If you want to invite birds to your backyard, you must make it cozy and attractive. However, creating a bird-friendly landscape for woodpeckers is different from other birds. So, when making your backyard woodpecker friendly, keep in mind to plant trees that produce berries and the other favorite fruits that these birds love.
Since woodpeckers love acorns, you can plant oak and pine trees. Woodpeckers love pine trees for their shelter and consume sap and pine seeds. So, it’s good to plant these trees in your backyard.
Moreover, woodpeckers also like softer wood to build their nests. Planting bushes next to these trees would provide woodpeckers with fruits they love, including bayberries, strawberries, dogwood, mountain ash, elderberries, mulberries, blueberries, etc.
Woodpeckers see birdhouses as the excavated cavities of trees that they prefer to nest in. Thus, building a birdhouse in your backyard would provide nesting sites for these birds. The chances are that woodpeckers may leave the trees and come to your birdhouse for shelter.
Whether you’re building a birdhouse on your own or buying one, it must have a 1½-inch entrance hole, two small hinges, and a 9–15-inch cavity depth from the box’s floor. Different woodpecker species need different sizes of entrance holes, so make sure to research before buying or building a birdhouse.
The right place to mount a birdhouse is 10–20 feet high to keep them safe from ground predators.
Woodpeckers are very picky birds, and they prefer nicely built, clean places to build their homes. This is why you should keep your birdhouse well maintained and clean with no damage. Previously used birdhouses or nests might not work for woodpeckers as they usually have mites and lice.
Dirty bird houses can be a leading cause of spreading parasites and different diseases. So, you should clean the nest or bird house regularly. Use a chlorine solution of 90% water and 10% chlorine bleach to clean these boxes and feeders.
Don’t forget to replace the birdhouse’s wood chips before the next nesting season. If you find it hard to clean the birdhouse or nest, get a birdhouse with movable panels that are easier to clean.
Woodpeckers are shy birds that don’t show up on your feeders like other birds. So even if you’ve provided all the necessary things to them, they’re more likely to take some time to come to your backyard.
Whether you live in Virginia or plan to go there on your next trip, this guide has narrowed down the 11 species of woodpeckers in Virginia. From Hairy Woodpeckers to Red-Headed Woodpeckers, you’re sure to be amazed by their versatility, appearance, and continuous pecking against a tree trunk.
If you want to bring your favorite woodpecker species to your backyard, follow the tips and tricks mentioned above for quicker and more effective results.
Featured Image Credit: Laura Mountainspring, Shutterstock
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Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.
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