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The 7 Types Of Woodpeckers In Tennessee And Where To Find Them

The 7 Types Of Woodpeckers In Tennessee And Where To Find Them

The state of Tennessee (Tn) contains more than 430 species of birds. The reason for the large number of recorded birds is the state’s geography, stretching across a large area of the southern United States.

The state is bordered by iconic wilderness areas, namely the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Mississippi River on the west side of the state.

Woodpeckers are a unique group of birds that belong to the Picidae family. They have an interesting way of feeding, as they drill holes into dead and decaying wood in search of insects and sap.

Trees are used not only for foraging but also for making their cavity nests. They are specially adapted to their unique behaviour type – having features such as zygodactyl toes, hairs covering the nostrils and a stiff tail.

The state has a fabulous collection of protected areas and parks, which include excellent birding areas. The best birding locations include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Frozen Head State Park, Brainerd Levee, Seven Islands State Birding Park, Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Ensley Bottoms Complex, Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge, Shelby Farms Park, and Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park.

Today, there are seven species of woodpeckers in Tennessee that may be seen. All seven species can be seen in the above mentioned locations and many other protected areas or public parks in the state.

Historically, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) occurred in the state, but due to habitat loss and their unique habitat requirements, this species is now locally extinct in the state.

In the following section, we will provide more details about the seven woodpecker species found within the borders of The Volunteer State and the locations for seeing them.

These Are The 7 Woodpeckers That You Can See In Tennessee

1. Pileated Woodpecker

  • Scientific name – Dryocopus pileatus
  • Lifespan – 9 years (average), 12 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 15.8 to 19.3 in (40 to 49 cm)
  • Weight – 8.8 to 12.3 oz (250 to 350 g)
  • Wingspan – 26 to 29.5 in (66 to 75 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Pileated Woodpecker is recognised by its large size, overall black body, red crest and white-striped face and neck. The male is separated from the female by having a red malar stripe, which is black on the female.

The forecrown also appears red on the male and black on the female. The call of the Pileated Woodpecker is a series of high-pitched notes.

Pileated Woodpeckers create cavities to nest in on the sides of dead trees. The nest is not lined with any material, but some wood chips are left at the bottom of the cavity.

Pileated Woodpecker In Tennessee

This woodpecker species does not reuse the same nest yearly, so a new one is excavated every season. The female lays three to five eggs per clutch, and the eggs are incubated for 15 to 18 days. After incubation, the eggs hatch, and the hatchlings fledge 24 to 31 days later.

Pileated Woodpeckers feed on carpenter ants mainly, but they also feed on fruit, nuts and insects to a smaller extent.

The Pileated Woodpecker is a common species that has increased in population size over the past five decades. The population size is estimated at 2.6 million breeding individuals.

The nesting sites of the Pileated Woodpecker are threatened by removal because many landowners remove dead trees and logs because they are unpleasant looking.

Pileated Woodpeckers occur in mature deciduous woodlands, stands of mixed woodland containing coniferous and deciduous trees, wooded suburban areas and dead forests. In Tennessee, they are year-round residents.

Specifically, some of the places worth visiting to see this species are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge and Ensley Bottoms Complex.

2. Hairy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name – Dryobates villosus
  • Lifespan – 10 years (average), 15 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 7.1 to 10.2 in (18 to 26 cm)
  • Weight – 1.4 to 3.4 oz (40 to 95 g)
  • Wingspan – 13 to 16.1 in (33 to 41 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Hairy Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with black upper parts, white underparts, white spots on the wings, a white back and a black and white striped head.

The male of this species has a red nape patch, while the nape on the female is black. The outer tail feathers are black – a distinguishing feature which separates it from the Downy Woodpecker. Hairy Woodpeckers typically produce a sharp peek note.

The Hairy Woodpecker creates nesting cavities on the underside of stubs on dead trees and weak or dead parts of live trees. The nest is left unlined and bare, but some wood chips are left on the bottom to cushion the eggs and chicks. This species builds a new nest each year. The female usually lays three to six eggs in a single clutch, and the eggs are incubated for 11 to 12 days. Once the chicks hatch, it takes 28 to 30 days before they fly for the first time.

Hairy Woodpecker In Tennessee

Hairy Woodpeckers feed on insect pupae and larvae (representing about three-quarters of their dietary requirements), fruit, seeds, arachnids and millipedes.

The Hairy Woodpecker is a widespread, common species which has shown an increase in population size over the past 50 years. This species has a large population of over 8.9 million breeding individuals. However, this woodpecker is threatened by the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) that competes for nesting cavities in many areas and by forest fragmentation.

Hairy Woodpeckers are found in mature wooded areas comprising large to medium-sized trees, well-wooded parks, and suburban environments. This species is a resident of the state and is possible to see all year round in many locations. Some good places to look for this woodpecker are Shelby Farms Park, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park and Seven Islands State Birding Park.

3. Northern Flicker

  • Scientific name – Colaptes auratus
  • Lifespan – 3 years (average), 9 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 11 to 12.2 in (28 to 31 cm)
  • Weight – 3.9 to 5.6 oz (110 to 160 g)
  • Wingspan – 16.5 to 20.1 in (42 to 51 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Northern Flicker is a large woodpecker that is found in two different forms that have been separated into subspecies. The males and females have black-barred, grey-brown upperparts and buff underparts with black spotting.

The red-shafted subspecies has a red moustachial stripe and a grey nape along with a red tail and flight feathers. The yellow-shafted subspecies has a black moustachial stripe and a red nape, along with yellow tail and flight feathers.

The females look almost identical to the males but lack the moustachial stripe. The call made by the Northern Flicker is a loud chatter that increases and decreases in amplitude.

Northern Flicker In Tennessee

Northern Flickers use the trunks and big branches of dead and sick trees as nesting sites – where they create cavities. The cavity is lined with wood chips. They have the unusual habit of reusing old cavities they excavated in the previous season.

The female lays five to eight eggs in a clutch and the incubation period is 11 to 13 days. Once incubation has ended, the hatchlings take 24 to 27 days to develop further and eventually fledge.

Northern Flickers feed on insects, seeds, berries, fruit and snails.

The Northern Flicker is a common, widespread species that has shown a decrease in population size over the past five decades of approximately 47%. The population is still estimated to be very large, with over 12 million breeding birds. This species is threatened by logging practices which decrease food and nesting site availability.

Northern Flickers occur along forest edges, in open fields with scattered trees, woodland areas, suburban areas and parks. This species is widespread in Tennessee and can be found in many locations throughout the year.

Some of the more well-known sites are Seven Islands State Birding Park, Frozen Head State Park and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge, to name a few.

4. Downy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name – Dryobates pubescens
  • Lifespan – 2 years (average), 11 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 5.5 to 6.7 in (14 to 17 cm)
  • Weight – 0.7 to 1 oz (21 to 28 g)
  • Wingspan – 9.8 to 11.8 in (25 to 30 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Downy Woodpecker is a small woodpecker with white underparts and black upper parts. There are white spots on the wings, and it has a white back. The head is striped in black and white. In addition, the males have a red nape that the females lack.

The outer tail feathers have white spots – a distinguishing feature when compared to the Hairy Woodpecker. The call produced by this woodpecker is a series of rough-sounding notes that lower in pitch near the end of the series.

Downy Woodpecker In Tennessee

The Downy Woodpecker nests in dead trees and dead areas of live trees – in which it creates a cavity. The nest is not reused annually – as is the case for most woodpecker species.

Females lay three to eight eggs in a clutch, and the eggs are incubated for 12 days. The hatchlings then take 18 to 21 days to develop well enough to fledge.

Downy Woodpeckers mainly feed on insects but also eat berries, acorns and grains.

The Downy Woodpecker is a common species with a stable population of over 13 million individuals. While the thinning and clearing of forests is detrimental to many species, this species has benefited from the process because it favours young forests.

In other cases, the movement from wooden to metal fence posts has meant the number of nesting sites has decreased, which may have affected their population numbers.

Downy Woodpeckers occur in deciduous and open woodlands, suburban environments, orchards and parks. This species is common throughout the state, all year round, where it is found in almost any area with the correct habitat requirements.

In terms of specific locations, they may be found at Brainerd Levee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Ensley Bottoms Complex.

5. Red-headed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name – Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Lifespan – 9 years (average), 12 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 7.5 to 9.1 in (19 to 23 cm)
  • Weight – 2 to 3.2 oz (56 to 91 g)
  • Wingspan – 14 to 17 in (35 to 43 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker characterised by its brilliant red head. It also has a white belly, a black back and white patches on the wings. The Red-headed Woodpecker’s usual call is a loud, shrill tchurr.

Red-headed Woodpeckers nest in dead trees, dead parts of live trees, buildings, telephone posts and fence posts. They either make their own cavities or take over abandoned holes made by other birds. The nest is not lined with any material.

Red-Headed Woodpecker In Tennessee

Like the Northern Flicker, this species may reuse a nesting site annually for many years. The female lays three to ten eggs per clutch and the incubation period is between 12 and 14 days. It takes an additional 24 to 32 days for the chicks to grow and eventually be large enough to fledge.

The Red-headed Woodpecker diet mainly consists of seeds and fruits, but it also feeds on insects.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are uncommon throughout their range. The population is estimated to consist of 1.8 million individuals, but their population has decreased by 54% over the past five decades.

The decrease in population size can be linked to the decline in mature forests containing dead trees and nut crops such as beech and chestnut trees. Another reason for the decline is the removal of dead trees and branch trimming. These woodpeckers are also often hit by cars.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are found in deciduous woodlands, grasslands with scattered trees, forest edges, swamps, parks, farmlands, patches of dead trees and recently cleared open areas.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are usually uncommon and localised, but they can be found throughout the year in the state. The best places to see them are Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, and Brainerd Levee.

6. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

  • Scientific name – Sphyrapicus varius
  • Lifespan – 6 years (average), 8 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 7.1 to 8.7 in (18 to 22 cm)
  • Weight – 1.5 to 1.9 oz (43 to 55 g)
  • Wingspan – 13.4 to 15.8 in (34 to 40 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a small woodpecker with whitish-yellow underparts and a dark back. The wings have white patches, and the head is black and white with a red crown. The throat colour differs in males and females – with the males having a red throat and the females having a white throat. Their call sounds like a nasal mew.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes cavities in living, fungus-infected trees. There is no lining placed in the nest. This species is another species that does not excavate a nest each year but reuses old nests made by themselves.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker In Tennessee

The female lays clutches containing four to six eggs and incubates them for 10 to 13 days. Once hatched, the chicks remain in the nest for 25 to 30 days before they fledge.

The name of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker provides a hint into their main dietary requirement. As you may have guessed, their primary food source is sap. Their diet is supplemented with arachnids and insects.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a common species with an estimated population of over 14 million mature individuals. The number of individuals has increased significantly over the past five decades. The increase may be associated with converting old-growth forests into early successional forests.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers occur in young forests when breeding. They are found in hardwood and softwood forests outside their breeding range. This is a migratory species found in the state during the winter – the non-breeding season.

They are common in the state during winter and can be found in various locations, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge, and Frozen Head State Park.

7. Red-bellied Woodpecker

  • Scientific name – Melanerpes carolinus
  • Lifespan – 9 years (average), 12 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 9 to 10.6 in (23 to 27 cm)
  • Weight – 2 to 3.2 oz (56 to 91 g)
  • Wingspan – 13 to 16.5 in (33 to 42 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a buffy to whitish coloured underside that sometimes shows a faint red wash. The rump is white, and the back has black and white barring.

The nape is red on the male and female, but the male has a red crown while the female has a grey crown. The Red-bellied Woodpecker’s typical call is a rolling, piping churr or kwirr.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers make nesting cavities in dead branches of live trees or dead trees. This species may also utilise fence posts for nesting. In the nesting cavity, there is no lining, but wood chips are left over and used as a base on the ground.

This woodpecker does not use the same nest annually, but they often use the same tree – making a new nesting hole underneath the one from the previous year.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The female lays between two and six eggs in a single clutch, and the incubation period is 12 days. The newly hatched chicks develop for 24 to 27 days in the nest before fledging.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed on spiders, insects, nuts, acorns, seeds, and pine cones. In winter, they may supplement their diet with fruit.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a common species that has had a northward range expansion over the past several decades. The population has grown in size over the past five decades to form a population of over 16 million breeding individuals.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker occurs in woodland areas, forested areas and suburban areas. They are common all year round in the state, and the best places to see them are Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shelby Farms Park, and Seven Islands State Birding Park.

Conclusion

Tennessee may not be the woodpecker hotspot of North America, but the state still holds a healthy number of these beautiful creatures. Luckily for local birders, the woodpecker composition does not often change as six of the seven species are found throughout the year, while the seventh is still common in winter.

A visit to one of the foremost wildlife refuges could produce all seven woodpecker species on a single trip, amongst many other mouthwatering species and photogenic landscapes.

Woodpeckers are fantastic, exciting birds that have a pivotal role in the environment. They are a form of pest control since they feed on large masses of insects that would otherwise damage agricultural and structural property.

Woodpeckers are also important ecosystem engineers that excavate cavities used by many other bird species for nesting and shelter.

Woodpeckers are often very adaptable birds that have shown increased population sizes or remained stable over the past several decades. Unfortunately, some woodpeckers have shown the opposite trend with decreases in population size over the past several decades.

Due to logging practices, the main threats to woodpeckers are habitat destruction and loss of nesting site availability. Conservation management practices should be initiated to protect these magnificent birds when necessary.

Woodpeckers may be seen in your yard if you place bird feeders with ingredients like suet, nuts, seeds, fruit and grain. Some woodpeckers, like the Downy Woodpecker, may frequent the feeder, but others may be shyer and less interested in the feeder. Seeing a woodpecker knocking or feeding in your yard should be a pleasurable and welcoming experience.