6 Species of Woodpeckers Found in Nebraska

Nebraska may be known for its vast plains and rolling hills, but it is also home to a vibrant population of woodpeckers. With six species inhabiting the state, these beautiful birds add a touch of color and excitement to the Nebraska landscape. From the smallest and most frequent visitor, the downy woodpecker, to the strikingly colorful northern flicker, each species has its unique characteristics and behaviors. The red-headed woodpecker, in particular, captures the attention of nature enthusiasts as it breeds in Nebraska during the warmer months before migrating to the eastern US for the winter. Whether it’s the red-bellied woodpecker spotted throughout the state or the migratory yellow-bellied sapsucker, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures. To attract woodpeckers to your own backyard, offering their favorite foods, providing suitable nesting sites, and incorporating water sources into your landscape can all help create an inviting habitat for these delightful birds.

Downy Woodpecker


The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most common woodpecker species in Nebraska. It has a black and white pattern on its head and back, with white undersides and a black tail. The male has a small red patch on the back of its head, while the female does not have this feature. This striking coloration makes the Downy Woodpecker easily distinguishable from other woodpecker species.

Habitat and Range

The Downy Woodpecker can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, parks, and suburban areas with mature trees. Its range extends throughout North America, making it one of the most widespread woodpeckers in the continent. In Nebraska, the Downy Woodpecker is a year-round resident and can be spotted throughout the state.

Behavior and Diet

The Downy Woodpecker is known for its drumming behavior, which involves rapidly pecking on a tree to establish its territory or attract a mate. It feeds primarily on insects and larvae found in trees, using its strong bill to excavate small holes and extract its prey. The Downy Woodpecker also has a fondness for seeds and berries, and can often be seen visiting backyard feeders stocked with suet and black sunflower seeds.

Attraction and Conservation

To attract Downy Woodpeckers to your backyard, it’s important to provide suitable food sources. Suet feeders filled with high-quality suet cakes are particularly enticing to these woodpeckers. Additionally, offering black sunflower seeds in platform feeders will also attract them. Another way to attract Downy Woodpeckers is to leave dead trees and snags standing, as they provide valuable nesting sites and foraging opportunities. Installing nest boxes can further encourage these woodpeckers to visit and potentially breed on your property. Finally, planting native fruit-bearing plants and trees, such as crabapples or dogwoods, can provide a natural food source for Downy Woodpeckers.

Conservation efforts for the Downy Woodpecker mainly involve protecting and preserving its natural habitat. Avoiding the clearance of mature trees and maintaining a diverse range of tree species can help ensure these woodpeckers have suitable nesting and foraging areas. Additionally, reducing the use of pesticides and insecticides in areas where Downy Woodpeckers are present can help protect their insect prey and maintain a healthy ecosystem for their survival. By taking these steps, individuals can contribute to the conservation of this delightful woodpecker species.

Hairy Woodpecker


The Hairy Woodpecker is slightly larger than the Downy Woodpecker but shares a similar black and white pattern on its head and back. Its most distinguishing feature is its longer beak, which has led to frequent confusion with the smaller Downy Woodpecker. However, the Hairy Woodpecker lacks the red patch on the back of its head that the male Downy Woodpecker possesses. The female Hairy Woodpecker, like the female Downy Woodpecker, does not have this red patch.

Habitat and Range

The Hairy Woodpecker can be found in a variety of forested habitats throughout North America, including deciduous forests, coniferous forests, and mixed woodlands. In Nebraska, it is a year-round resident and can be seen in both rural and suburban areas with suitable habitat.

Behavior and Diet

Similar to other woodpeckers, the Hairy Woodpecker drills into trees with its powerful bill in search of insects and larvae. It also feeds on sap, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Its drumming behavior is also commonly observed, and it uses this technique to communicate, defend its territory, and attract a mate. Like the Downy Woodpecker, the Hairy Woodpecker may also visit backyard feeders, especially if stocked with suet and black sunflower seeds.

Confusion with Downy Woodpecker

Due to their similar appearance, the Hairy Woodpecker is often mistaken for the Downy Woodpecker. However, by taking note of their size and beak length, as well as the absence of a red patch on the male Hairy Woodpecker, birdwatchers can learn to distinguish between the two species. Paying attention to these subtle differences can enhance the birdwatching experience and ensure accurate species identification.

Northern Flicker


The Northern Flicker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a unique and colorful appearance. Its plumage features a combination of brown, black, and white feathers, with a prominent crescent-shaped black mark on its chest. The underside of its wings displays striking yellow or red hues, which are particularly visible during flight. The Northern Flicker also has a distinctive call, often described as a loud “wick-a-wick-a-wick” or a rapid drumming noise.

Habitat and Range

Northern Flickers can be found in various habitats across North America, including open woodlands, deciduous forests, and suburban areas with large trees. In Nebraska, they are commonly observed throughout the state, making it a favored destination for birdwatchers seeking to spot these eye-catching woodpeckers.

Behavior and Diet

The Northern Flicker’s diet primarily consists of insects, especially ants and beetles, which it finds on or near the ground. Unlike other woodpecker species, it is known to forage on the ground, using its long, barbed tongue to extract its prey. The Northern Flicker also consumes fruits, berries, and seeds, particularly during the winter months when insects are scarce. Its drumming behavior is an integral part of courtship rituals and territorial defense.

Colorful Appearance

One of the most remarkable features of the Northern Flicker is its colorful plumage. The barred black and brown back, combined with a white rump, creates a striking pattern that is distinct from other woodpecker species. Its vibrant yellow or red underwing feathers are particularly eye-catching in flight, and they add a splash of color to the bird’s overall appearance. These unique markings make the Northern Flicker easily recognizable and a prized sighting for bird enthusiasts.

Distribution in Nebraska

The Northern Flicker is a common woodpecker species found throughout Nebraska. Its adaptability to a variety of habitats and its wide range across North America contribute to its presence in the state. Birdwatchers in Nebraska have ample opportunities to observe and appreciate the Northern Flicker’s beauty and behavior, whether in rural or suburban areas.

Red-headed Woodpecker


The Red-headed Woodpecker is a striking and instantly recognizable woodpecker species. It features a vibrant red head, neck, and throat, contrasting with its black back, wings, and tail. Its breast and underparts are white, and it has a short, sturdy beak. Both males and females display this distinctive coloring, making the Red-headed Woodpecker one of the most visually appealing woodpeckers in Nebraska.

Habitat and Range

The Red-headed Woodpecker can be found in a variety of open habitats, such as woodlands, orchards, parks, and riparian areas. Its range extends across eastern and central North America, including Nebraska. During the breeding season, it prefers nesting in mature forests near open areas with sufficient food sources. Outside the breeding season, it may venture into more urban areas in search of food.

Behavior and Diet

This woodpecker species often employs an acrobatic foraging style, clinging to tree trunks and branches while searching for insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Unlike other woodpeckers, the Red-headed Woodpecker is also known for its habit of catching insects in mid-air. It frequently catches flying insects on the wing, displaying agile and precise flight maneuvers. It also stores food for future consumption by jamming nuts and insects into tree crevices or holes for later retrieval.

Breeding Season and Migration

In Nebraska, the Red-headed Woodpecker breeds during the spring and summer months. During this time, it engages in courtship displays, including aerial chases and calls, to attract a mate. After mating, the female builds a nest cavity in a tree trunk, where she lays her eggs and incubates them. The male actively assists in feeding the young once they hatch. In the winter months, the Red-headed Woodpecker migrates to the eastern United States, where it can find a more favorable food supply.

Distribution in Nebraska and Eastern U.S.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is widely distributed in Nebraska, with sightings reported throughout the state. However, it is more commonly observed in the eastern half of Nebraska, where suitable habitat and food sources are plentiful. Outside of Nebraska, the Red-headed Woodpecker is a summer resident in the eastern United States, where it breeds and raises its young before migrating south for the winter.

Red-bellied Woodpecker


Despite its name, the Red-bellied Woodpecker does not have a prominently red belly. Instead, it features a red crown on its head and a lightly red-tinted belly. Its back and wings are black with white barring, and its face has a white forehead and a black-and-white striped pattern. This woodpecker is considered medium-sized, falling between the smaller Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and the larger Pileated Woodpecker.

Habitat and Range

The Red-bellied Woodpecker can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, parks, as well as suburban and urban areas with mature trees. Its range extends from the southeastern United States to parts of the Midwest, including Nebraska. In Nebraska, the Red-bellied Woodpecker can be observed throughout the state, although sightings are more common in the eastern half of Nebraska.

Behavior and Diet

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a versatile forager, feeding on a range of insects, nuts, seeds, fruits, and berries. It uses its strong bill to drill into the bark of trees and extract insects and larvae. This woodpecker species also has a particular fondness for acorns and other nuts, which it may jam into crevices or hollow trees for future consumption. Additionally, the Red-bellied Woodpecker may visit backyard feeders stocked with suet, black sunflower seeds, or peanut butter.

Distribution in Nebraska

The Red-bellied Woodpecker can be found throughout Nebraska, although sightings are more common in the eastern half of the state where suitable habitat and food sources are more abundant. Bird enthusiasts in Nebraska have the opportunity to observe the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s distinctive appearance and behavior, whether in urban or rural areas with mature trees.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a black and white patterned head, back, and wings. Its most distinguishing feature is its yellowish underparts, which include the belly and breast. The male has a red crown and throat, while the female has a white throat. This woodpecker’s plumage serves as effective camouflage against the bark of trees, allowing it to blend in and minimize its visibility.

Habitat and Range

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be found in various forested habitats across North America, including both coniferous and deciduous forests. It prefers areas with mature trees and a mix of open spaces and dense vegetation. During its migration season, which occurs in the spring and fall, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be seen in Nebraska as it travels to and from its breeding grounds in Canada.

Behavior and Diet

As its name suggests, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a unique feeding behavior involving the sap of trees. It drills a series of evenly spaced holes in the bark of trees, typically in a circular or rectangular pattern. These holes then serve as sap wells, from which the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker extracts the nutrient-rich sap. It also consumes the insects attracted to the sap, making this behavior a useful foraging technique. In addition to sap, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker also feeds on insects, fruits, and berries.

Migration Season

In Nebraska, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be observed during its migration season, which occurs in the spring and fall. During these times, it travels to and from its breeding grounds in Canada. While in Nebraska, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker may stop to rest and refuel before continuing its journey. Birdwatchers have the opportunity to witness this woodpecker species’ distinctive feeding behavior and admire the unique pattern of sap wells it creates.

Sap Collection

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s sap wells not only provide a source of food for the woodpecker, but they also benefit other species. The sap attracts insects, which in turn provide food for other birds, such as warblers and vireos. The sap can also be an important source of moisture for birds and other wildlife during dry periods. By allowing the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to drill sap wells and leaving the trees unhurt, individuals can contribute to the preservation of this beneficial foraging behavior.

Attracting Woodpeckers

Provide Suitable Food

To attract woodpeckers to your backyard, one of the most effective ways is to offer food sources they prefer. Suet, a high-energy and nutrient-rich food made from animal fats, is a favorite among woodpecker species. Suet feeders filled with suet cakes can readily attract Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Another food option that woodpeckers enjoy is black sunflower seeds. These can be provided in platform feeders or tube feeders with larger holes to accommodate their bills.

Leave Dead Trees and Snags

Woodpeckers require suitable nesting sites and foraging opportunities. Leaving dead trees, commonly known as snags, standing in your yard not only serves as a perfect nesting spot for woodpeckers but also provides a valuable source of insects and larvae for these birds to feed on. Dead trees also attract other cavity-nesting birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches, and bluebirds. By preserving snags, you can create a diverse and thriving habitat that benefits a range of bird species.

Nest Boxes

Installing nest boxes specifically designed for woodpeckers can encourage these birds to establish breeding territories in your yard. Make sure the entrance hole size and interior dimensions of the nest box are suitable for the desired woodpecker species. The dimensions and specifications can vary depending on the woodpecker species you hope to attract. Research the specific requirements for each species and follow the recommended guidelines to increase your chances of attracting woodpeckers to nest in your nest boxes.

Native Fruit-bearing Plants and Trees

Woodpeckers, like many other birds, rely on a variety of food sources in their diet. Planting native fruit-bearing plants and trees in your yard can provide a natural and sustainable food supply for woodpeckers. Examples of native plants that attract woodpeckers include serviceberry, dogwood, hackberry, wild cherry, and holly. These plants produce berries and fruits that woodpeckers find appealing and will help attract these charismatic birds to your yard.

Water Sources

Woodpeckers also require access to water for drinking and bathing. Providing a bird bath with fresh water can increase the attractiveness of your yard to woodpeckers. Consider adding a water mover or solar fountain to create movement in the water, as this can be particularly enticing to these birds. Ensure the water source is clean and well-maintained to provide a hygienic drinking and bathing spot for woodpeckers and other birds frequenting your yard.

By implementing these strategies to attract and support woodpeckers, you can create a thriving habitat that benefits these fascinating and beneficial birds. Not only will you have the opportunity to observe their behavior up close, but you will also contribute to the conservation of these woodpecker species and the overall health of your local bird population.

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