The 11 Types of Woodpeckers in Washington State and Where to Find Them

The 11 Types of Woodpeckers in Washington State and Where to Find Them

Washington State (WA) is situated in the Pacific Northwest Region on the Canadian border. The state has a mesmerizing array of bird species and a list that totals over 500 species. The state contains a good diversity of habits, including a long coastline, wetlands, mountain ranges, forests, shrubland, grassland, and lakes, all adding to the experience of Washington State birding.

There are many excellent birding locations in the state covering a range of habitats. You will find Discovery Park close to Seattle, while Skagit Wildlife Area is slightly north. Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is located northwest of the city, alongside the Olympic National Park.

Near Olympia, you will find Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, while Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is situated on the coast. Wenas Wildlife Area and Mount Rainier National Park are excellent birding locations in central Washington State, while Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot in the east.

Woodpeckers are an exciting group of birds belonging to the Picidae family. They are named after their way of knocking and drumming their beaks against the sides of trees and other objects. Woodpeckers chisel into trees to form nesting cavities and remove the bark to find insect larvae and other food items.

Sapsuckers have the unique behavior of drilling holes in the sides of trees, known as sap wells, and feeding off the sap. The woodpecker’s unusual behavior and way of life are made possible by their stiff tails, zygodactyl feet, and hairs that protect their noses.

In total, 13 woodpecker species have been sighted within the state boundaries, but two are considered accidental. They are the Acorn Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. In the following article, you will find more information about the 11 regularly occurring types of woodpeckers in Washington State.

These Are The 11 Woodpeckers that You Can See in Washington State

1. Downy Woodpecker

  • Scientific nameDryobates 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 the smallest woodpecker in North America. They have white undersides, black uppersides, white spots on the wings, and a white back. Their heads and necks are striped in black and white. They have dark-spotted, white outer tail feathers. A red nape patch, which the females lack, is visible on the nape of males.

Downy Woodpecker

They make a loud series of whinnying notes that decrease in pitch from the start to the end of the series. Another call that they make is a pik note.

This species uses fence posts, dead trees, and dead areas of live trees to nest. They excavate nesting holes on the undersides of stubs and make a new one every year. Females lay three to eight eggs in each clutch. The incubation period for this species is 12 days, and the nestlings develop in the nest for 18 to 21 days after hatching.

The Downy Woodpecker’s diet consists of insects – especially ants, beetle larvae, caterpillars, and corn earworms. They also feed on acorns, grains, and berries.

They are a species of low conservation concern since they have a healthy population of an estimated 13 million breeding individuals. The population is considered to be stable. They have benefitted from forest clearing and thinning as they favor young forests. Wooden fence posts are being replaced by metal fence posts, which reduces nesting site availability and could be a minor threat.

Where to Find Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers occur in a wide variety of habitats, including deciduous open woodlands, orchards, parks, and suburbs. This species is a very common resident in Washington State. They occur throughout the state, but some of the best birding spots where they can be seen are Skagit Wildlife Area, Discovery Park, and Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.

2. Hairy Woodpecker

  • Scientific nameDryobates 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 that looks very similar to the Downy Woodpecker. They have white underparts, a black and white striped head, and a black upperside with white wing spots and a white back.

A feature that separates males from females is a red nape patch that is absent on females but present on males. One feature that separates this species from the Downy Woodpecker is the plain white outer tail feathers.

Hairy Woodpecker

This species makes a short peek call and a longer whinnying call.

They make nesting cavities in dead parts of live trees – usually a dead stub – and in dead trees. They make a new nesting cavity at the start of every breeding season. In terms of egg laying, females lay three to six eggs in each clutch. The eggs are incubated for 11 to 12 days, and the nestling period for this species is 28 to 30 days.

They feed on pupae and larvae of bark beetles, woodboring beetles, ants, moths, caterpillars, bees, and wasps. Pupae and larvae constitute approximately three-quarters of their dietary requirement. Spiders, fruit, seeds, and millipedes make up the rest.

Fortunately, this is a species of low conservation concern, with a population estimated to constitute 8.9 million individuals. The population has been increasing in size since 1966. This species faces threats such as habitat fragmentation and competition for nesting sites with the European Starling.

Where to Find Hairy Woodpeckers

Hairy Woodpeckers occur in Washington State all year round. They are common in habitats such as mature deciduous and coniferous woodlands of many types, suburban areas, swamps, woodlots, parks, orchards, and recently burnt forests. They can be seen throughout most of the state, but particular locations are Discovery Park, Olympic National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park.

3. Pileated Woodpecker

  • Scientific nameDryocopus 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 the largest of the Washington State woodpeckers. This almost entirely black woodpecker has white stripes on the head and neck, a red crest, and a white underwing. Near the upper wing primaries, you will notice small white crescents.

The differences between the males and females are visible on the face, whereby the male has a red forecrown and malar stripe. On the females, the malar stripe and forecrown are black.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpeckers are vocal, typically making a long piping call, along with wuk-wuk or cuk-cuk calls.

This species makes nesting holes in dead deciduous or coniferous trees. They create a new cavity every season. The females lay three to five eggs in each clutch. The incubation of the eggs lasts for 15 to 18 days; then, the nestlings remain in the nest for an additional 24 to 31 days.

The Pleated Woodpecker diet consists mainly of carpenter ants. They also feed on other insects, including other ants, flies, woodboring beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, termites, and cockroaches, as well as fruits and nuts.

Fortunately, this species is not a species of conservation concern as its population has increased over the past five decades. Today, it is estimated that there are 2.6 million breeding birds. They are threatened by a reduction in nesting and foraging sites due to the removal of dead trees that look unpleasant.

Where to Find Pileated Woodpeckers

This is a very common species in the state, occurring in various mature coniferous and deciduous forest types, woody suburbs, and dead tree stands inside younger forests. They are present throughout the year and can be found on the east and west sides of the state. Discovery Park, Skagit Wildlife Area, and Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge are good locations for this species.

4. White-headed Woodpecker

  • Scientific nameDryobates albolarvatus
  • Lifespan – 3 years (average), 4 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 8.3 to 9.1 in (21 to 23 cm)
  • Weight – 1.9 to 2.3 oz (55 to 65 g)
  • Wingspan (average) – 16.9 in (43 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The White-headed Woodpecker is one of the most unique-looking woodpeckers in North America. This medium-sized woodpecker’s white head and black body are distinct features. White wing patches are also visible in flight, particularly, and males have a red patch at the rear of the crown that is absent on females.

Their call is a sharp, rapid pee-kik or pee-kik-kik.

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpeckers make cavity nests in dead pine or fir trees or dead parts of live trees. They typically don’t reuse the same nesting cavity the following year but build a new one in the same tree. When it comes to eggs, two to nine are laid in each clutch. The incubation period is 14 days, and the hatchlings remain in the nest for 26 days after hatching.

Their main dietary requirement is pine seeds – particularly large seeds. Occasionally, they feed on sap from sap wells and insects such as cicadas, beetles, ants, and termites.

The White-headed Woodpecker is of low conservation concern as they have had an increase in population size of around 1.1% each year since 1968. The total breeding population is estimated to comprise 240,000 individuals.

They are threatened by logging and forest fragmentation, which has led them to be listed as sensitive in certain states where their favored pine forests have been damaged more extensively. Other forestry practices that reduce nesting and foraging site availability are fire suppression, clearing snags, and keeping forests at an even age since they require old-growth forests and dead limbs to breed.

Where to Find White-headed Woodpeckers

This woodpecker is restricted to mountainous pine forests. In particular, they occur in old-growth ponderosa, Coulter, Jeffrey, and sugar pine forests with an open canopy, as well as recently burnt forests. They are uncommon residents in central and northeastern Washington State. Good birding locations where you can find this species are Wenas Wildlife Area, Leavenworth village, and Lake Wenatchee State Park.

5. Lewis’s Woodpecker

  • Scientific nameMelanerpes lewis
  • Lifespan – 10 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 10.2 to 11 in (26 to 28 cm)
  • Weight – 3.1 to 4.9 oz (88 to 138 g)
  • Wingspan – 19.3 to 20.5 in (49 to 52 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

Lewis’s Woodpecker is reasonably large and interestingly colored. They have dark green upperparts and pinkish-red underparts. Their face is red, and they have grey neck collar.

This relatively quiet species makes a series of loud churr calls.

They don’t make their own nests but instead use old cavities made by other woodpeckers or crevices and holes in dead and dying trees. They rarely nest in live trees. They typically reuse the same nesting hole for many years. The females lay five to nine eggs per clutch. The egg incubation lasts between 12 and 16 days, while the nestling period lasts 28 to 34 days.

Lewis’s Woodpecker feeds on nuts, fruits, and insects.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpecker risks going extinct if conservation measures are not applied. That is because their population has decreased by about 48% over the past five decades. The total breeding population is estimated to consist of 82,000 individuals. This species is threatened by forestry practices such as logging, fire suppression, and overgrazing.

Where to Find Lewis’s Woodpeckers

Lewis’s Woodpecker typically inhabits ponderosa pine forests and other burnt forests with many standing dead trees. They also occur in oak and pinyon woodlands close to streams, cottonwoods, birches, and orchards. They are found in Washington State during summer when they migrate to breed.

They mainly occur in the central parts of the state, where they are fairly common. Good locations for this species are Wenas Wildlife Area, Skagit Wildlife Area, and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

6. Black-backed Woodpecker

  • Scientific namePicoides arcticus
  • Lifespan – 8 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size (average) – 9.1 in (23 cm)
  • Weight – 2.1 to 3.1 oz (61 to 88 g)
  • Wingspan – 15.8 to 16.5 in (40 to 42 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Black-backed Woodpecker is a dark, medium-sized woodpecker. Like the American Three-toed Woodpecker, this species has three toes. They have black upperparts with white wing spots and a black head with a single white stripe below the eye.

The underparts are white, the flanks are barred, and the outer tail feathers are white. Males are differentiated from females by having a yellow patch on the crown that is black on females.

Their most typical calls are high-pitched, sharp kyik, and pik calls.

Black-Backed Woodpecker

This species creates nesting cavities in small dead trees in areas with many larger trees. They rarely nest in dead parts of live trees. They make a new nesting cavity whenever eggs need to be laid. Each female lays two to six eggs in a clutch. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days, and the nestlings only leave the nest after an additional 22 to 26 days.

They feed almost exclusively on large woodboring beetle larvae, but they also eat bark beetle and darkling beetle larvae.

The Black-backed Woodpecker is a species of low conservation concern as they have a stable population of 1.7 million breeding individuals. This species is threatened by forestry practices – especially salvaging of recently burnt dead trees and fire suppression that reduce foraging and nesting site availability.

Where to Find Black-backed Woodpeckers

They occur in Washington State throughout the year in coniferous forests, especially those consisting of pines, firs, spruces, and hemlocks. They also frequent recently burnt forests and dead forests with vast numbers of bark beetles, which is where they are most likely to be found.

They are uncommon in the central and northeastern parts of the state at places like the Okanogan Highlands, Lake Wenatchee State Park, and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

7. American Three-toed Woodpecker

  • Scientific namePicoides dorsalis
  • Lifespan – 6 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 8.3 to 9.1 in (21 to 23 cm)
  • Weight – 1.6 to 2.4 oz (44.8 to 67.9 g)
  • Wingspan – 14.6 to 15.3 in (37 to 39 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

As the name suggests, the American Three-toed Woodpecker is one of only two North American woodpeckers with three toes. This small woodpecker has primarily black upper parts with a black and white barred back, white spots on the wings, and barred flanks.

The underparts are whitish, the outer tail feathers are white with black bars, and the head is mostly black with two white stripes. Male birds have a yellow patch on the crown.

American Three-Toed Woodpecker

They make two typical calls. The first is a nasal klimp, and the second is a sharp pik.

They typically nest in dead coniferous trees or parts of live trees, where they excavate cavities. They create a new nesting cavity every year. The clutch size ranges from three to seven eggs. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days, and the hatchlings remain in the nest for 22 to 26 days.

These woodpeckers feed on beetle larvae – their favorite type being bark beetle larvae. They also enjoy feeding on other kinds of beetles, spiders, moth pupae, and ant larvae. They sometimes also drink from sap wells.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker is species of low conservation concern as they have a population that has increased over the past five decades. The breeding population is estimated to comprise 1.6 million individuals.

Pesticides are used to eliminate bark beetle outbreaks, and this species’ reliance on them makes them susceptible to being poisoned. Forestry practices such as forest fragmentation and logging destroy their habitat. Fire suppression, forest thinning, and salvaging of dead trees also cause declines.

Where to Find American Three-toed Woodpeckers

American Three-toed Woodpeckers live in habits such as coniferous forests, boreal forests containing spruce and fir, and mountain forests. Their preferred forest types are naturally damaged and disturbed old-growth and mature forests. They are also found in boggy areas containing dead and dying trees.

They are not migratory, so they are found throughout the year in the northeast and central sections of the state. They are uncommon but occur in Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

8. Northern Flicker

  • Scientific nameColaptes 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, well-patterned woodpecker. The name flicker is derived from the colors on their wings and tails that remind people of a flickering flame when they fly. There are two recognized subspecies – the red-shafted and yellow-shafted subspecies. In Washington State, the red-shafted subspecies is the only one that occurs.

They have buff underparts with black spots, grey-brown upper parts with black bars, a white rump, and a black bib. They also have a grey face, a red mustache stripe, a grey nape, and red flight and tail feathers. The females differ from the males by lacking the mustache stripe.

Northern Flicker

Their typical call is a fluctuating, rolling rattle. They also make a single noted kyeer call.

Northern Flickers make cavity nests in dead and wounded trees. Occasionally, they nest in burrows on bank sides. They frequently reuse nests from previous years. When laying eggs, females lay five to eight eggs in each clutch. The incubation period is 11 to 13 days, and the hatchlings leave the nest 24 to 27 days after hatching.

They mainly feed on ants and beetles, but other insects include butterflies, moths, and flies. They also eat fruits, berries, seeds, and snails.

Northern Flickers are of low conservation concern since they have an estimated population size of 12 million breeding individuals. However, the population has declined by approximately 47% over the past five decades. Reduction in nesting and foraging site availability due to logging practices threatens this species.

Where to Find Northern Flickers

This is probably the most common woodpecker species in Washington State. They inhabit forest edges, woodlands, suburbs, parks, and sparsely treed open fields across the state. They occur throughout the year in many birding spots, but some good locations are Mount Rainier National Park, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, and Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.

9. Red-breasted Sapsucker

  • Scientific nameSphyrapicus ruber
  • Lifespan – 3 years (average), 5 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 7.9 to 8.7 in (20 to 22 cm)
  • Weight – 1.9 to 2.2 oz (53.1 to 63.5 g)
  • Wingspan – 14.6 to 16 in (37 to 40.6 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Red-breasted Sapsucker is a dapper-looking, medium-sized woodpecker. They have red heads and breasts with a white patch near the bill base. The upper parts are dark with some white mottling, and there is a long white patch on the wings.

The rest of the underparts are greyish-white with dark streaks. A yellowish wash is sometimes visible on the belly. Males and females look similar.

This species makes many different calls, but their most typical call is a harsh weep.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

This sapsucker species creates a cavity in a dead tree or dead areas of live trees, such as hemlocks and many pines. They usually use the same tree to build a new nest during the following years, but they don’t use old nesting holes.

Females lay clutches of eggs that range from four to seven eggs in size. The eggs are incubated for 14 to 15 days, and the hatchlings leave the nest after 23 to 28 days.

They feed on sap, insects such as ants, flies, and beetles, other invertebrates, seeds, and fruit.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker is a species of low conservation concern as they have a stable population of around 2.8 million breeding individuals. They damaged orchards in the past, which led them to be shot, but they are now a protected species. The removal of dead trees and forestry practices threatens them.

Where to Find Red-breasted Sapsuckers

Red-breasted Sapsuckers mainly inhabit pine, hemlock, and other coniferous forests. But they also occur in second-growth forests, old-growth forests, and orchards. In winter, they occur in many types of coniferous and deciduous woodlands.

They occur throughout the year in the coastal areas of Washington, while birds that breed at higher altitudes migrate to lower elevations in winter. They are common in the state and can be found at places such as Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

10. Williamson’s Sapsucker

  • Scientific nameSphyrapicus thyroideus
  • Lifespan – 3 years (average), 6 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 8.3 to 9.8 in (21 to 25 cm)
  • Weight – 1.6 to 1.9 oz (44 to 55 g)
  • Wingspan (average) – 17 in (43 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

Williamson’s Sapsucker is a medium-sized, neat-looking woodpecker that shows large amounts of sexual dimorphism. Males have black heads with two white stripes and black upperparts with large, white wing patches. The throat has a red patch, while the breast is black and the belly is yellow.

The females are brown with horizontally barred black-and-white backs. They have a brown head, and a dark patch is present on the breast. They also have a small duller red throat patch and a yellow belly. The flanks are barred. Both sexes have a white rump.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

This species is generally fairly quiet, but they do make a nasal chyaah call.

They build a cavity nest in a fungus-infected part of a live tree. They usually return to the same tree every season and make a new nesting hole. The females lay three to seven eggs in each clutch. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days. The nestlings remain in the nest for 21 to 28 days after hatching.

Williamson’s Sapsucker feeds on sap and phloem tissue primarily from coniferous trees. They also feed on insects such as beetles, flies, aphids, moths, and ants. Fruits, seeds, and spiders are also part of their diet.

This species is fortunately still a species of low conservation concern as its population is stable, with a total number of breeding individuals estimated at 300,000. They are regionally threatened in areas like Canada due to habitat destruction. Mature forest loss is leading to decreases in local populations.

Where to Find Williamson’s Sapsuckers

This uncommon migratory species breeds in the central and northeastern parts of the state during summer. They occur in coniferous and deciduous-conifer mixed forests.

In particular, they inhabit fairly open forests containing firs, spruces, hemlocks, aspen, and birch trees. They are found at Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Teanaway Community Forest, and Leavenworth town.

11. Red-naped Sapsucker

  • Scientific nameSphyrapicus nuchalis
  • Lifespan – 2 years (average), 4 years (maximum recorded)
  • Size – 7.5 to 8.3 in (19 to 21 cm)
  • Weight – 1.1 to 2.3 oz (32 to 66 g)
  • Wingspan – 16.1 to 16.9 in (41 to 43 cm)
  • Status – Least concern

The Red-naped Sapsucker is a small, smart-looking bird with a black upperside broken by sizeable white wing bars. Their heads have black and white striping, while the belly is dirty and whitish with black mottling on the flanks. A yellow wash is sometimes seen on the belly. Males have a red throat, crown, and nape patch.

On the other hand, females have a white patch on the chin, a small red throat patch, a red crown, and a red or white nape patch.

Red-Naped Sapsucker

They are rather noisy birds, but their usual call is a loud waaa.

Like other woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsuckers excavate nesting holes in dead trees and dead or weakened parts of live trees. They may reuse the same nesting cavity for many years, or if they don’t, they generally make a new nest in the same tree.

Clutch sizes range from three to seven eggs, and the incubation period lasts for eight to twelve days. Once hatched, the nestlings leave the nest after 23 to 32 days.

They feed on sap, insects, and fruit. Insect prey items include beetles, ants, flies, as well as spiders.

The Red-naped Sapsucker is not of conservation concern because they have a stable breeding population of approximately 2 million individuals. They were once considered a pest in orchards and shot accordingly. Logging and other forestry practices threaten this species in some areas.

Where to Find Red-naped Sapsuckers

Red-naped Sapsuckers are migratory and are only present in central and eastern Washington for the summer breeding season. This common species occurs in evergreen and deciduous forests of ponderosa pine, juniper, willow, aspen, and Douglas-fir trees.

They are also found along forest edges, in yards, and parks. In winter, they can also be seen in oak forests, woodlands, orchards. Good birding locations where this species occurs are Wenas Wildlife Area, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, and Pearrygin Lake State Park.


Washington State is a beautiful area to visit if woodpeckers are a family of birds that you’re looking for. The location of the state means many woodpecker species with more northern ranges are found in the state and not further into the United States. One of the best ways to find woodpeckers is to listen out for their drumming.

Conservation-wise, woodpeckers face many threats. None are more severe than forestry practices and logging that destroy essential woodpecker habitats by reducing the number of dead and live trees that are nesting and foraging sites.

The loss of habitat has led to many species’ populations declining, and some are on the watch list of species that risk going extinct in Washington State.

Woodpeckers are known as ecosystem engineers, as they excavate cavities in trees that other bird species and mammals use for nesting and shelter. Sapsuckers, in particular, are essential because the sap wells they drill provide food for many other birds, insects, and mammals.

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