11 Species of Woodpeckers in Washington State

There are 11 species of woodpeckers in Washington state. They include the pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, northern flicker, white-headed woodpecker, red-naped sapsucker, Lewis’s woodpecker, Williamson Sapsucker, red-breasted 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 Washington.

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 Washington State

Here are some specific places in Washington State where you have a good chance of finding woodpeckers:

  1. Olympic National Park: This expansive park located in the Olympic Peninsula provides a diverse habitat for woodpeckers. Explore the old-growth forests, such as the Hoh Rainforest and Quinault Rainforest, where you may encounter species like the Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Hairy Woodpecker.
  2. Mount Rainier National Park: The forests and woodlands of Mount Rainier National Park offer opportunities to spot various woodpecker species, including the Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, and perhaps even the elusive Black-backed Woodpecker.
  3. North Cascades National Park: This park in northern Washington features rugged mountain landscapes and dense forests that provide suitable habitats for woodpeckers. Look for species like the Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Downy Woodpecker as you explore the park’s trails and forests.
  4. Columbia River Gorge: The Columbia River Gorge, a scenic area along the border of Washington and Oregon, is home to a variety of woodpeckers. Explore the forested areas and riparian habitats along the Columbia River to spot species such as the Lewis’s Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker.
  5. Spokane and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge: In and around the city of Spokane, you can find woodpeckers in urban parks and green spaces. Additionally, the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, located southwest of Spokane, offers excellent opportunities to observe woodpeckers like the Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker.
  6. Wenatchee National Forest: Situated in central Washington, Wenatchee National Forest provides a mix of coniferous and deciduous forests where you may encounter several woodpecker species, including the Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Woodpeckers In Washington state

1. pileated woodpeckers

Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus                                       Size: 16.5 inches

Description And Field Marks

The largest woodpeckers in Washington are the Pileated. It’s almost the size of a crow with an all-black body with white stripes down a long neck and a bright red crest on the back of their heads and strong bills. White under-wing and white wing patches are easily seen in flight.

Pileated Woodpeckers fly in straight lines, unlike other woodpecker species, which fly in undulating lines.

These birds have been known to thrive in forests, especially throughout Olympic National Park, Wenatchee National Forest, and North Cascades National Park. Therefore, Pileated Woodpeckers provide an important source of biodiversity to the state’s ecosystem and also act as indicators for healthy woodlands.

These are noisy, loud woodpeckers. Their drum is slow and powerful, accelerates, and then trails off, not more than two times a minute.


Pileated Woodpeckers drill out nest holes in large tree trunks. These nests can take from 3 to 6 weeks to build as they are very large, up to 2 feet wide.

Pileated Woodpeckers lay 3 to 5 white eggs each breeding season. The incubation period is 15 to 18 days and the young will remain in the nest for 24 to 31 days.


They really like carpenter ants, so they’re often found foraging at the bottoms of dead trees or on fallen logs.


Likes mature forests and open woodlands. Pileated Woodpeckers look for dead trees and logs, which offer food and a nest cavity.

You will find Pileated in Washington all year long but there are more sightings during the summer months.

Bird Notes

Pileated Woodpecker holes are rectangular rather than round or oval like other woodpeckers, and they are deep enough to break smaller trees in half.

Call And Drumming

2. downy woodpeckers

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 Washington. 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 Washington, especially in the western part of the state. You will see them in residential areas, cities, farmland, and wooded areas.

Call And Drumming

3. 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 Washington. 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

4. northern flickers

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 Washington all year round.

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. 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.


Red-breasted Sapsuckers inhabit coniferous and mixed forests, particularly those with mature trees. They can be found in mountainous regions, as well as in coastal areas.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker You can find red-breasted sapsuckers year-round in the western part of Washington state. . Look for them in places such as Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and Point Defiance Park.

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.

6. white-headed woodpecker

Scientific Name: Picoides albolarvatus Size: 8-9 inches

Description And Field Marks

The White-headed Woodpecker has striking black and white plumage. Its head, neck, and throat are pure white, contrasting sharply with the rest of its body, which is primarily black. The wings and back are black, with prominent white patches on the wings that are visible in flight. The underparts, including the belly, are also white. The male also has a small red patch on the nape of their necks.


These woodpeckers excavate their own nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees. The nesting cavity is created by both the male and female, who take turns excavating the hole. The entrance hole is usually a circular or slightly oval shape. The only material put in the cavity is wood chips for the nesting floor.

The female lays 3 to 5 glossy white eggs. Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs for about 12 to 14 days. Both parents also participate in feeding the nestlings. The young leave the nest 24 to 27 days after hatching.


The White-headed Woodpecker is often seen foraging on the trunks and branches of trees, where it searches for insects, beetles, and their larvae. It may also feed on seeds and pine nuts.


The White-headed Woodpecker is typically found in coniferous forests, particularly those with mature pine trees.

White-headed Woodpeckers can be observed throughout the year in Washington state, but they may be more active during the spring and summer months. They can be seen in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Colville National Forest, and the Methow Valley.

Call And Drumming

Its call is a sharp, metallic “peek” or “tchik” sound.

7. 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.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are resident birds, meaning they do not migrate long distances. The best time to see them in Washington is during the breeding season, however, they are present year-round.

They can be found in the coniferous forests of Washington state in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and the Colville National Forest.

Call And Drumming

8. red-naped sapsuckers

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis Size: 7 to 9 inches

Description And Field Marks

The Red-naped Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with black and white plumage with yellow and red accents. Its upper parts are black-barred with white, and it has a bold white stripe across each wing. It has yellowish bellies, black breast bands, and red throats. Its head is bright red with black stripes through and above the eyes.

The beak of Red-Naped Sapsuckers is short and straight. Males and females look much alike, but females usually have less red on their throats and napes.


The Red-naped Sapsucker creates its nest typically in healthy aspen trees or dead conifers. They use their powerful feet and stiff tail feathers to hitch up and down the tree bark and begin to drill circular and rectangular holes. Once they have excavated the nest cavity, they will line it with woodchips.

Once the nest is ready, the female lays 3-7 white eggs which need to be incubated for 12-13 days with a nesting period of about a month. Both the male and female look after the young. The Red-naped Sapsucker may reuse their old nests or build new nests in the same tree.


The Red-naped Sapsucker is an omnivore and primarily feeds on sap from trees such as willow, birch, alder, and chokecherry. They drill rectangular or circular holes into the inner bark of these trees and lap up the sap using their specialized tongue.

They also consume insects such as ants, spiders, beetles, flies, fruits, and seeds. During the nesting season, they eat more insects to feed their young. Red-naped Sapsuckers are also known to visit bird feeders for breadcrumbs.


The Red-naped sapsucker is a short-distance migratory bird and is found in the western parts of the United States, from Washington to Montana, going down to Los Angeles and New Mexico, and moving past the Gulf of California to Mexico.

During the breeding season, it is mainly found in deciduous and evergreen forests, as well as gardens, yards, and forest edges from elevations of 1,000 to 10,000 feet. They also inhabit coastal forests comprised mainly of dead trees or large snags, as well as mixed coniferous forests, open- and closed-canopy forests, burns, and clear-cuts, if there are some remaining standing trees. In addition, they may inhabit orchards and woodlands.

Red-naped Sapsuckers can be observed throughout the year, but they may be more active during the breeding season in spring and early summer in Washington State. They inhabit coniferous forests and can be found in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Colville National Forest, and the Methow Valley.

Call And Drumming

Both males and females use the scream, squeal, and waa call

9. 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.


They also find burnt forests and insect-infested forests and make them their home.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are more commonly found in other parts of North America, they have been occasionally sighted in Washington state. However, sightings are relatively rare. Look for them in areas that have experienced recent wildfires or other natural disturbances. These woodpeckers are known to be more prevalent in habitats with burned or dead trees.

Call And Drumming

10. williamson’s sapsucker

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus  Size: 8-11 inches

Description And Field Marks

They are medium-sized woodpeckers the size of a robin. Males are mostly black with a yellow patch on their belly and white on their wings and behind their eyes. Females are black and white with brown heads.


The nesting pair selects a live tree to make its nest usually in large, older trees. They lay 4 to 6 glossy white eggs and only have one brood per breeding season. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days.


Williamson’s Sapsuckers mainly eat sap from coniferous trees. They also eat ants and beetles by picking them from the live trees and branches.


Williamson’s Sapsuckers are more commonly found in the eastern part of Washington state, particularly in the dry, open woodlands and forests of the region. Areas such as the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Colville National Forest, or the Ponderosa Pine forests of the Columbia Basin can be good locations to search for this species. They can be seen during the breeding season especially from May to July.

Call And Drumming

11. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Scientific Name: Melanerpes lewis  Size: 10.2-11 inches

Description And Field Marks

Lewis’s woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker species native to western North America. They have a red crown and nape, yellowish-orange face and neck, and greyish-brown wings and back.


The nesting behavior of Lewis’s Woodpeckers involves finding a cavity in a tree to excavate for the nest usually lower than 60′ above ground. The male typically chooses the nesting site, and the birds may mate for life and use the same nest site repeatedly.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers lay between 2 and 5 eggs per clutch, which are white with brown and purple spots. They are oval-shaped and measure around 2 inches in length. The eggs typically hatch in 12-14 days. The eggs are incubated mainly by the female, with the male providing short-term relief. Both parents care for the nestlings, bringing back insects in their bills to feed them, and the young birds leave the nest after 4-5 weeks.


The diet of the Lewis’s Woodpeckers consists mostly of insects, but they also consume a wide variety of fruits and berries, as well as acorns and other nuts. They catch insects in the air while in flight, gleans insects from tree surfaces, take small fruits from trees, harvest acorns or other nuts, then breaks them into pieces and store them to feed on during the winter.

Additionally, it may feed at flat, open bird feeders and may act aggressively toward other birds.


Lewis’s Woodpeckers are mainly found in open coniferous and riparian forests, orchards, and parks. Their migration behavior is quite variable from year to year. Some may be permanent residents in a particular area, while others may move south and to lower elevations during the winter.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are more commonly found in the eastern part of the state during the breeding season. Look for them in areas such as the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Colville National Forest, or the Ponderosa Pine forests of the Columbia Basin.

Call And Drumming

Additionally, its unique call is a good way to identify it.


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 Washington state, keep an eye and especially an ear out to see these birds.

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

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