By Terri Estes

Woodpeckers are a variety of birds that have strong bills that they use for drumming and drilling on trees. They also have long, sticky tongues for extracting insects and larvae. There are 28 species of woodpeckers in North America. Eight of these species can be found in New York. Most of these species don’t migrate and can be seen here all year long. Their main diet consists of insects, berries and nuts.

Downy and hairy woodpeckers are the most popular. These two species are quite similar in appearance. Hairy woodpeckers are a little larger and downy woodpeckers have a smaller bill. Both are black and white with the males sporting a red patch on the back of their head that the females lack.

Northern flickers are very pretty woodpeckers. They are about the size of a robin with black scalloped plumage and yellow under their wings and a black crescent on the chest. Males are more colorful than females. These birds don’t act like typical woodpeckers and tend to forage on the ground for insects rather than in trees.

The largest woodpecker found in New York is the pileated woodpecker. This is a black and white crow-sized bird with a prominent red crest. These birds were once endangered but have made a strong comeback in recent years. They mate for life and build their nests into the sides of dead trees by making large, deep holes. They prefer to forage for food in dead or dying trees and can drill very large holes into the sides of these trees with their powerful bills. Their call is a distinctively high-pitched shriek that sounds like a maniacal laugh. I believe the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker was a pileated.

Perhaps you have heard a woodpecker drumming away on a tree, or maybe even banging on the side of your house.  Woodpeckers usually bang on houses for one of three reasons.  It could be feeding on insects in the siding of your home. It might be trying to excavate a nest or roost hole. Or the siding on your house makes a loud noise when he drums on it, and he is trying to attract a mate. If this is the case, you can only hope that he attracts a mate soon and then he won’t have to make a racket anymore.

Keep your eye in the sky (or the trees) for your local woodpeckers and see if this information helps you to identify them!

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