10 Woodpecker Species of Michigan: Residents and Wanderers

10 Woodpecker Species of Michigan: Residents and Wanderers

The state of Michigan (MI) – located in the Midwestern region of the United States – is surrounded by many of the Great Lakes. Michigan contains a unique composition of habitats and hosts a wide variety of bird species – totalling almost 450.

The state’s imposing bird list contains almost half the number of woodpeckers in the United States. Although 11 species have been seen in the Wolverine State, only eight are familiar residents.

Two of the remaining woodpeckers of Michigan are seen occasionally, and the third is unlikely to be seen within the state again.

For many reasons, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) may never be seen in the state again. Firstly, its population size is decreasing. Secondly, it is a habitat specialist – found in the longleaf pine habitat. Thirdly, it only occurs in the southeastern United States.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae family. They have unique behaviour that involves pecking and drumming at the side of trees, after which they are named. Woodpeckers have strong pointy beaks that allow them to bore holes for nesting and finding food in weak trees.

They have unique adaptations that enable them to climb trees, including their zygodactyl feet and stiff tail feathers.

In the following article, we will look at the ten woodpecker species in Michigan that may be seen and where to find them.

Where To Find Woodpeckers in Michigan

In Michigan, woodpeckers can be found in many habitats, including pine forests, wooded swamps, parks, and gardens. Luckily for the residents of Michigan, most of the species are very hardy and may be seen throughout the year – including winter.

That makes woodpeckers popular amongst local birders because they will still be in the state when many other species migrate. Grand Traverse Commons, Lincoln Brick Park, Old Mission Lighthouse Park and Sleepy Hollow State Park are some of the best locations to see woodpeckers in MI.

10 Woodpeckers of Michigan

Red-headed Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 35 – 43 cm
  • Length: 19 – 23 cm
  • Mass: 56 – 91 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >9 years

The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a beautiful medium-sized woodpecker found all year round in southern Michigan, where northern birds migrate for the winter. They are only found in the state’s northern areas during summer when they are breeding.

This distinct-looking woodpecker has a bright red head contrasting with the black back, white belly and white wing patches.

Red-Headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker produces a wide variety of calls, but its most frequently made call is very similar to that produced by the Red-bellied Woodpecker. The call is a harsh, shrill “tchur” that is lower-pitched and less rolling than the Red-bellied Woodpecker call.

Red-headed Woodpeckers frequently occur in deciduous oak and beech woodlands, sparsely vegetated grasslands containing trees, swamps, forest edges, dead tree groves, farmland, parks, and open areas that have recently been cleared.

This species is a cavity nester, making or taking over nesting holes in dead limbs of live trees, dead trees, human-produced posts, and buildings. This species has the unusual behaviour (for woodpeckers) of using the same nesting cavity annually.

The female Red-headed Woodpecker lays between three and ten eggs in each clutch twice per season. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days.

The Red-headed Woodpecker feeds on fruits and seeds almost exclusively – supplementing that with insects. They are very good at hawking insects, unusually for woodpeckers.

They are not very common at feeders but may visit suet feeders during winter.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 33 – 42 cm
  • Length: 23 – 27 cm
  • Mass: 56 – 91 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >12 years

The Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a common year-round resident throughout the state but is most commonly seen in the southern half.

This species has a black-and-white barred back, a buffy-white belly with a faint red wash, and a conspicuous white rump visible in flight. Males and females have minor colour differences. The female has a red nape, while the male has a red crown in addition to the red nape.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers often announce their presence with rolling high-pitched “churr” or “kwirr” calls. The Red-headed Woodpecker has a call that sounds alike, but that call is less rolling and lower-pitched.

This medium-sized woodpecker is found in forests, woodlands and suburban areas containing deciduous trees.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers nest in holes made in dead trees and dead parts of living trees. This species may also use human-manufactured fence posts.

The same tree is often used yearly, but the nest site is changed as a new cavity is excavated underneath the old hole each year.

The female Red-bellied Woodpecker lays from two to six eggs per clutch and lays up to three broods in a season. The eggs are incubated for 12 days.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a diet that varies throughout the year. They feed mainly on insects and spiders. Acorns, pine cones, nuts and seeds are also regular food sources for this species. Fruits are used to supplement their diet during the winter and autumn seasons.

This woodpecker species is often attracted to feeders, particularly those containing suet.

Black-backed Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 40 – 42 cm
  • Length: 22 – 24 cm
  • Mass: 61 – 88 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >8 years.

The Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) is found in the northernmost areas of the state, where they occur year-round but are uncommon.

This medium-sized woodpecker has a black back, a white malar stripe and barring on the flanks next to the white underparts.

Black-Backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpeckers can be found in coniferous forests and are synonymous with burnt ones.

This species feeds on wood-boring beetle larvae mainly. Their diet also contains bark beetle larvae.

The Black-backed Woodpecker excavates the nesting cavity in the trunk of a dead tree. Females lay between two and six eggs in a brood and incubate the eggs for 12 to 14 days.

Black-backed Woodpeckers make sharp, high-pitched “kyik” and “pik” calls. The sounds are similar to those produced by the American Three-toed Woodpecker, but the latter makes lower-pitched calls.

Downy Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 25 – 30 cm
  • Length: 14 – 17 cm
  • Mass: 21 – 28 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >12 years

The Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is the smallest North American Woodpecker. It is common in Michigan – being a non-migratory resident – and is found across the state.

Downy Woodpeckers have a white underside and a black upperside. The back is white, and the wings have white spots. The heading has a stripy pattern in black and white. The males and females differ in appearance, with the male having a red nape.

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker look alike but are separated by the tail appearance, which is spotted white on the Downy Woodpecker.

The Downy Woodpecker has a whinnying call that consists of a series of harsh notes that ends in a lower pitch. Once again, there are similarities between that call and the Hairy Woodpecker call, but the Hairy Woodpecker call does not decrease in pitch near the end.

The Downy Woodpecker occurs in open wooded areas, parks, orchards, and suburban areas but mainly prefers deciduous woodlands.

Downy Woodpeckers make cavity nests in dead trees and dead parts of live trees that have been infected with fungus – making excavation easier.

During the breeding season, the female lays one egg clutch containing between three and eight eggs that are incubated for 12 days.

Downy Woodpeckers feed mainly on insects, supplemented with grains, acorns and berries.

They are usually among the first species to be seen at a new feeder – where they are common. They especially favour feeders containing suet, sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, and peanuts.

Hairy Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 33 – 41 cm
  • Length: 18 – 26 cm
  • Mass: 40 – 95 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >16 years

The Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus) is widespread in the state and is found throughout the year.

Looking superficially similar to the Downy Woodpecker, this species has a black head with white stripes, a white underside, and a black upperside. The wings have white spots, and the back is white.

Hairy Woodpecker

The males have a red patch on the nape, which is absent in females. Hairy Woodpeckers differ from Downy Woodpeckers by having dark outer tail feathers.

The Hairy Woodpeckers’ main sound is a toned “peek” call. The Downy Woodpecker may produce a similar sound but usually makes a call series instead of a single note.

Hairy Woodpeckers are found in mature woodland containing medium and large trees, parks and suburban areas.

The Hairy Woodpecker nests in dead trees and infected areas of live trees. This species creates a cavity on the underside of the stub, where the female lays between three and six eggs. She lays a single clutch of eggs in a season which are incubated for 11 to 12 days.

The diet of Hairy Woodpeckers comprises insects (pupae and larvae), arachnids, millipedes, seeds and fruit. Insects fulfil over three-quarters of their dietary requirements.

They are commonly attracted to bird feeders using peanuts, sunflower seeds, suet and mixed seeds.

Pileated Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 66 – 75 cm
  • Length: 40 – 49 cm
  • Mass: 250 – 350 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >12 years

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is the biggest woodpecker in Michigan and the largest woodpecker in North America. It occurs throughout the year in the majority of the state. They are, however, more uncommon in southeast Michigan.

Pileated Woodpecker

This large woodpecker is characterised by its white-striped face and neck, red crest and black body. Sexual dimorphism is present in this species since the male shows a red cheek stripe which is absent in the female. The female also has a black (instead of red) forecrown.

The Pileated Woodpecker can often produce a call series of piercing notes. This call is similar to the call made by the Northern Flicker.

This species occurs in woodlands containing a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees along with mature deciduous woodlands. Pileated Woodpeckers may also occur in dead young forests and suburban environments containing wooded areas.

Pileated Woodpeckers nest in self-excavated cavities that are created each year. The female Pileated Woodpecker lays one clutch in a year, containing three to five eggs. The incubation period is 15 to 18 days.

Pileated Woodpeckers are a carpenter ant’s worst nightmare – feeding almost exclusively on them. They also feed on fruit, insects and nuts.

Pileated Woodpeckers can be elusive when attracting them to feeders, but they may regularly feed at suet feeders.

Northern Flicker

  • Wingspan: 42 – 51 cm
  • Length: 28 – 31 cm
  • Mass: 110 – 160 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >9 years

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a common species found year-round in most of the state.

It is a large brownish-coloured woodpecker that has two subspecies. The males have a brownish-grey upperside with black barring. The underside is a buffy colour, and it has black spots. The bib is black, and the rump is white.

Northern Flicker

The yellow-shafted subspecies is characterised by having a red nape, a black moustachial stripe, and yellow feathers on the tail and wings. The red-shafted subspecies is distinguished by having red flight and tail feathers, a red moustache and a grey nape.

The females of both subspecies look like the males without the moustache.

Northern Flickers make a fluctuating, high-pitched chatter. The call may be mistaken for the Pileated Woodpecker’s call.

Northern Flickers occur in sparsely treed open fields, woodlands, parks, forest edges, and suburban environments. They create nesting cavities in tree trunks and large branches of dead and infected trees. They often use the same nest annually.

The females usually lay one clutch of eggs, comprising five to eight eggs in a season. The eggs are incubated for 11 to 13 days.

Northern Flickers forage by looking for insects on the ground rather than hammering the side of a tree. Along with insects, they feed on fruit, berries, seeds and snails. They do not usually visit feeders regularly because of their ground feeding behaviour.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

  • Wingspan: 34 – 40 cm
  • Length: 18 – 22 cm
  • Mass: 43 – 55 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >8 years

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is a fully migratory species that breeds in mid to northern Michigan, where they are regularly seen during summer.

They migrate south, and birds may be seen in the southern part of the state during spring and autumn migration.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

This small woodpecker has a red crown, a black and white patterned face, a dark back, and white patches on the wings. The underparts are whitish to pale yellow.

The males and females are separated from each other by the colour of the throat, which is red on males and white on females.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers make a nasal mew call.

This species occurs in young forests during the breeding season but may be spotted in various habitats, including hardwood and softwood forests outside their breeding range.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker excavates cavities in live fungus-infected trees that they may use for many years. The female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker lays a single brood in a season comprising between four and six eggs that are incubated for 10 to 13 days.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker feeds almost exclusively on sap. Sapsuckers drill holes known as sap wells into the side of ill, infected trees containing sap with a high sugar concentration.

The sap wells are usually drilled in horizontal lines on birch and maple trees. Their diet does not exclusively consist of sap, however, as they also feed on insects and arachnids under the bark of trees.

Due to their nature of feeding on sap, they are not usually attracted to feeders, but they sometimes visit suet feeders.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 49 – 52 cm
  • Length: 26 – 28 cm
  • Mass: 88 – 138 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >10 years

Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) is not usually found within the state, but the best time of year to have a chance of seeing this species in Michigan is during spring and early summer.

This large woodpecker is dark overall with a red face, which often appears dark because of the light angle. The belly is pink, the collar is grey, and the back is green.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpecker produces a grating “churr” often repeated up to eight times in a series. It does not often call, however.

Lewis’s Woodpecker can be found in dead tree forests, woodlands containing streams and orchards.

They use old woodpecker nesting holes or naturally made cavities as nests in dead trees. The female lays one brood in a season, consisting of five to nine eggs. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 16 days.

Lewis’s Woodpecker behaves more like a flycatcher than a woodpecker. They feed primarily by hawking insects from a perch mainly. They also feed on fruit, grains, and nuts. Feeders are not attractants for them.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

  • Wingspan: 37 – 39 cm
  • Length: 21 – 23 cm
  • Mass: 44 – 68 g
  • Maximum Lifespan: >11 years

The American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis) is a very uncommon woodpecker that is not regularly seen in the state since the state is outside of its normal range. They may be seen in the upper northern areas of the state, close to their native range.

American Three-Toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpeckers may be found by tracking their sharp “pik” and nasal “klimp” calls. The Black-backed Woodpecker makes similar calls that are higher pitched.

This medium-sized woodpecker is primarily dark in appearance, with barring on the flanks and a black and white barred back.

The wings are white-spotted and black, and the face is patterned black and white. The undersides are whitish. Males have a yellow patch on the crown that differentiate them from females.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers occur in coniferous, boreal and mountain forests. They are most frequently found in damaged forests containing dead and dying trees.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker feeds on ant larvae, spiders, moth pupae and beetle larvae – especially those from the Scolytidae family. They also sometimes drill sap wells as sapsuckers do.

This species typically builds cavity nests in the trunks of dead coniferous trees. The female lays between three and seven eggs in a single clutch that are incubated for 12 to 14 days.


Michigan is a great state to visit if finding woodpeckers is your goal. Woodpeckers are fabulously adapted birds that are always a charm to see. They may be attracted to yards by feeders where they are popular amongst people.

The woodpeckers of Michigan have shown decreasing population size trends among many species. The main cause of the decrease has been habitat loss, leading to decreased nesting site availability and food resources.

As ecosystem engineers, woodpeckers make holes in trees that animals (primarily birds such as owls and swallows) use as nests and shelter. Flocks of woodpeckers may be attracted to insect swarms that damage agriculture and structures.

They feed on the insects, decreasing the amount of damage they cause – acting as a type of pest control.

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