downy woodpecker

woodpeckers in Alaska

There are 7 species of woodpeckers in Alaska. They include the downy woodpecker, northern flicker, red-breasted sapsucker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, black-backed woodpecker, and the American three-toed woodpecker.

Woodpeckers can be found in various places, including suburban backyards, woodlands, and forests. This resource is a guide to identifying and learning more about these birds in detail or finding out which kind lives near you in Alaska.

Some people see woodpeckers as a nuisance since they can cause damage to buildings and houses, especially cedar siding. Others see them as good as they eat insects and keep the insect population in check.

No matter which way you see them woodpeckers are interesting creatures and provide a beautiful sound when pecking.

All woodpeckers are protected by the federal migratory bird treaty act which makes it unlawful to kill, harm, hunt, etc. any species of woodpecker.

Where To Find Woodpeckers In Alaska

Alaska is not typically known for having an abundance of woodpeckers compared to other regions in North America. However, there are still some places where you may have a good chance of finding these unique birds. Keep in mind that woodpeckers are often found in forested areas with mature trees, especially in boreal forests and mixed woodlands. Here are some specific places in Alaska where you might have a better chance of spotting woodpeckers:

  1. Tongass National Forest: Located in southeastern Alaska, the Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States. It’s a temperate rainforest with diverse habitats that support various woodpecker species.
  2. Chugach State Park: This park is near Anchorage and offers a mix of forests and alpine areas where you might encounter woodpeckers.
  3. Denali National Park and Preserve: While the park is famous for its stunning landscapes and wildlife, including large mammals like grizzly bears and moose, you may also find some woodpecker species in the wooded areas.
  4. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge, situated on the Kenai Peninsula, has a range of habitats that could support woodpeckers.
  5. Haines: This town in southeastern Alaska is known as the “Valley of the Eagles” due to its high concentration of bald eagles. In such an area with forests and water bodies, you may spot woodpeckers as well.
  6. Fairbanks: While the interior of Alaska might not be the best place for woodpeckers, Fairbanks, and its surrounding areas have some wooded spots where they might be found.

Woodpeckers In Alaska

1. downy woodpecker


Scientific Name: Dryobates pubescens  Size:  5.5-6.7 inches

Description And Field Marks

Downy Woodpeckers are bigger than the House Finch but smaller than Red-winged Blackbirds and are the smallest woodpecker in Alaska. It has a black-and-white striped head and black wings with white spots and a solid white back and white underparts. The Downy Woodpecker has a black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. The adult males have a small red patch on the back of their heads.


Look for their nest in dead trees or live trees with dead areas. They carve out an area large enough for the eggs and the bird. They line the nest only with wood chips. The nest can take weeks to make and is done by both the male and female.

A Downy woodpecker only has one brood each year with 3 to 8 eggs which are white in color. The incubation period is around 12 days with both the male and female taking turns. The young will stay in the nest for around 30 days.


Downy Woodpeckers eat insects and sap from the pine tree’s sap wells. The male tends to eat from the ground while the female likes to find insects from branches and in trees. They will also eat seeds, weeds, and fruit.

The Downy Woodpecker will visit your backyard suet feeders for suet and nuts.


The Downy woodpecker can be found year-round in the state of Alaska. You will see them in residential areas, cities, farmland, and wooded areas.

Call And Drumming

2. hairy woodpeckers

Scientific Name: Leuconotopicus villosus  Size: 7.1-10.2 inches

Description And Field Marks

Very similar to the Downy Woodpecker in color and looks except the Hairy Woodpecker is larger in size and has a longer bill.


Hairy Woodpeckers make their nest in trees, especially diet trees. They lay 3-6 all-white eggs with an incubation period of 10 to 12 days. The young woodpeckers remain in the nest for about a month.


Their main source of food is insects that they find in trees and branches.


Hairy Woodpeckers are year-round residents of Alaska. You can see them all over but especially in the western part of the state. If you don’t see them you will definitely hear them drumming on trees.

Call And Drumming

3. yellow-bellied sapsuckers

Scientific Name:  Sphyrapicus varius Size:  7.1-8.7 inches

Description And Field Marks

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is larger than the Downy Woodpecker and smaller than the Hairy Woodpecker about the size of a Robin with black and white plumage.

It has a straight bill and long wings The yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpecker has markings on its underside, but its plumage is mostly black and white. The female has a red cap on its head while the male also has a red cap plus a red throat. They both have pale yellow bellies.


The male chips out a cavity in a tree about 10 inches deep which takes him several weeks. As the cavity is deep inside, the outside hole of the nest is only about 1.5 inches giving protection to the eggs and young.

The female lays 3 to 6 white eggs with an incubation period of 10 to 13 days. The young stay in the nest for about a month.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drills into trees and eats their sap similar to the way we tap a tree for maple syrup. They don’t go on dead trees like other woodpeckers but love maple trees and other trees. They sometimes are seen on feeders eating suet.


The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a migratory bird that mostly visits Alaska for the breeding season.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is known for drilling small, neatly spaced rows of sap wells. Look for the yellow-bellied sapsucker by its love of aspen trees. They act like other woodpeckers with the way they move up and down the tree but are very protective of their sap wells keeping other birds away.

Call And Drumming

4. Northern Flicker

Scientific Name: Colaptes auratus  Size: 11.0-12.2 inches

Description And Field

The Northern Flicker male and female are similar in color. They both have a rounded head, the bill is curved down and the tail tapers to a long point.

With its gray-brown plumage, Northern Flickers stand out from other woodpeckers in their area. They also have plenty of dark markings on their undersides and brightly colored tail feathers.

Although the same bird their colors differ from the eastern United States (bright yellow wing and tail feathers) and the western US (red wing and tail feathers).

The Northern Flicker is “the woodpecker that doesn’t peck wood.” Instead, it cleans insects from the bark of trees.


It nests in holes excavated by other animals, such as squirrels and woodpeckers. It lays 5 to 8 eggs which are all white. They only have one brood per nesting season.

The incubation period is around 2 weeks and the young stay in the nest for about a month.


Northern Flickers mostly will eat insects that they get from the ground. They will “drum” at the ground as other woodpeckers drum in trees and wood. During the winter months, they will also eat fruits and seeds.

The Northern Flicker is a great backyard bird because it is generally easy to attract and stops in at your suet and peanut feeders, but most likely you’ll see them nesting in old trees.


You will see Northern Flickers in city parks and backyards in the suburbs. They will also be in woodlands with open trees, burned forests, swamps, and marshes.

The Northern Flicker is a common woodpecker in Alaska during the summer breeding season.

Call And Drumming

The Northern Flicker has a wide range of calls. It has a typical woodpecker-like “drum” and a more musical, gurgling call that is often mistaken for the song of the Red-winged Blackbird.

They make excellent watch birds due to their loud “wicka-wicka-wicka” call that can be heard from quite a distance.

5. american three-toed woodpecker

Scientific Name: Picoides dorsalis Size: 8.3-9.1 inches

Description And Field Marks

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are larger than a Downy but smaller than a Hairy Woodpecker. Both males and females are black and white with the male having a yellow patch on the forehead.

They are known for their distinctive appearance of having only three toes. They share this with the Eurasian Three-toed woodpecker. It was first thought that they were one species as they look alike but the DNA and voice of both species are different.

With only three toes, these species may be able to lean farther away from the tree and thereby hit the tree harder than other woodpeckers, all of which have four toes.


The male will tap on the bark of trees to attract females and then perform a courtship display to attract her attention. Once she has accepted his advances, he will build the nest together with her.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers typically make their nests in the cavities of trees or under shingles. They create a bowl-shaped structure to lay their eggs and raise their young. The birds will also store food for later use during the winter in these same spots.

The female lays 3 to 7 white almost round eggs. The incubation period is 12 to 14 days. The young stay in the nest until they can survive on their own.


They search for food (mainly beetles) by peeling back the bark of dead trees mostly spruce and pine trees. They also eat the larvae of wood-boring beetles.


You will see this woodpecker in Northern North America and the Western mountains. They make their home mostly in Canada. They are on the endangered list and are rare birds.

In Alaska, the American Three-toed Woodpecker can be seen throughout the southeastern and south-central parts of the state. The best time to spot them would generally be during the spring and summer months when they are most active and visible.

Call And Drumming

6. Black-backed Woodpecker

Scientific Name: Picoides arcticus  Size: 9.1 inches

Description And Field Marks

The black-backed woodpecker is a species of bird that is a native North American woodpecker. It is considered important because it plays an essential role in the boreal forest ecosystem, contributing to fire maintenance and creating habitats for other wildlife.

This predominantly black woodpecker has some white markings on it by the underbelly, throat, and above its bill. Males and juveniles have a yellow patch on the top of their heads which is missing in the adult female. It is the same size as the Hairy Woodpecker.


The black-backed woodpecker builds its nest in trees or on branches, usually excavating cavities into dead trees or stumps. The female lays between two to six white eggs. Both parents share the duties of incubating the eggs and raising their young. After hatching, both parents feed and care for their young until they fledge at around 28 days old.


The Black-backed Woodpecker is an essential part of the food chain in Wyoming, as it primarily eats wood-boring insects and larvae. It also has a significant role in dispersing fungi spores from tree trunks, helping maintain healthy forests.


Look for the Black-backed Woodpecker in areas of Alaska with extensive boreal forests, especially those that have experienced recent wildfires. The burned forests create prime habitats for this woodpecker species due to the higher availability of its preferred food sources.

The best time to see Black-backed Woodpeckers in Alaska is during the spring and summer months when they are most active. They are more likely to be present from late spring through summer when they are breeding and raising their young.

Call And Drumming

7. red-breasted sapsuckers

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus ruber Size: 8.5-9.5 inches

Description And Field Marks

The plumage of the Red-breasted Sapsucker is striking and easily recognizable:

  • Head and Neck: The head and neck are predominantly black, contrasting with a bright red forehead and a red throat patch.
  • Breast and Belly: The breast and upper belly of the Red-breasted Sapsucker are pale red, transitioning to a white or pale yellow color on the lower belly.
  • Back and Wings: The back is mostly black with fine white barring or spotting. The wings are black with a broad white stripe along the leading edge.
  • Tail: The tail is black with white outer tail feathers, forming a distinctive white patch when the bird is in flight.
  • Face: Has a white or pale yellowish stripe that extends from the base of the bill, through the eye, and towards the back of the head.


Red-breasted Sapsuckers typically excavate their nests in dead or decaying trees with both the male and female building the nest. The female lays 4 to 7 eggs, which are white and glossy and is responsible for incubating the eggs. The male provides her with food during this period which lasts around 11 to 13 days.

Once the eggs hatch, both parents contribute to the care of the nestlings. They feed the young with regurgitated insects and occasionally with tree sap. The nestlings remain in the nest for about 24 to 30 days before fledging.


The diet of Red-breasted Sapsuckers primarily consists of tree sap, but they also consume insects and supplement their diet with fruits and berries during certain seasons.


n Alaska, the Red-breasted Sapsucker can be seen during the breeding season, which typically occurs from late spring to mid-summer. They prefer moist, mixed-conifer and deciduous forests, especially areas with mature trees and an abundance of sap-producing trees like birch and maple.

Some specific locations in Alaska where you might be able to find the Red-breasted Sapsucker include:

  1. Tongass National Forest: This vast forest in southeastern Alaska offers suitable habitat for the Red-breasted Sapsucker.
  2. Chugach National Forest: Located in south-central Alaska, this forest also provides suitable breeding grounds for these woodpeckers.
  3. Kenai Peninsula: This region in south-central Alaska is known for its diverse habitats and could be another good place to look for them.

Call And Drumming

The Red-breasted Sapsucker produces various calls, including a distinct “mewing” sound and a rattling or drumming sound that is used for territorial communication.


What Time Of Year Are Woodpeckers Most Active?

Woodpeckers are most active during the morning and evening hours.

Do Woodpeckers Only Live In Forests?

Woodpeckers can be found living throughout North America, and they are generally year-round residents. They prefer to live in areas with lots of trees, as they use these trees for food, nesting sites, and roosting sites.

How To Attract Woodpeckers To Your Backyard

The best way to attract woodpeckers to your backyard is to provide them with a natural habitat that includes plenty of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation. You can also provide birdhouses or nesting boxes for them to use.

How Can You Identify Each Type Of Woodpecker?

Step 1: Look At The Overall Size Of The Woodpecker.

The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest and is mostly black with white stripes on its face and neck. To identify this woodpecker, look for a large triangle of the red crest on the top of its head.

Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers can be easily identified by their bill size in relation to their head size. Downy Woodpeckers have a small bill while Hairy Woodpeckers have a bill that is almost the same size as their head.

Step 2: Look At The Coloration Of The Woodpecker.

There are a few ways to identify woodpeckers by their appearance. One way is to look at the coloration of the woodpecker. Male woodpeckers usually have a red patch on the back of their heads, while females do not.

Step 3: Look At The Habitat Of The Woodpecker.

The habitat can help identify the type of woodpecker. Woodpeckers are typically found in forests, so if you see a woodpecker in a forest, it is most likely a Hairy Woodpecker. If you see a woodpecker in an open field, it is most likely a Downy Woodpecker.

What Is The Average Lifespan Of A Woodpecker?

Woodpeckers are small birds with a lifespan of 6 to 10 years.

What Do Woodpeckers Eat?

Woodpeckers are a type of bird that is known for its ability to peck at trees. Woodpeckers mainly feed on wood-boring insects, larvae, grubs, eggs, and pupae. They use their sharp and heavy bill to chisel and dig into trees to reach the food.

Suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts are the best foods for attracting woodpeckers. They also consume a mix of berries, grains, and acorns.


Now that you know more about the different types of woodpeckers in Alaska, keep an eye and especially an ear out to see these birds.

For more information on woodpeckers in Alaska as well as other birds check out the Alaska Audubon Society.

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