Woodpeckers of Arkansas

Woodpeckers of Arkansas

Arkansas is home to a diverse array of wildlife, and one group of fascinating creatures that capture the imagination are the woodpeckers.

These birds are known for their distinctive behaviour of drilling into trees with their powerful beaks to find food and create nesting cavities. There are many different species of woodpeckers that can be found in Arkansas, all with different characteristics that make them a great experience to spot!

Woodpeckers are not only impressive birds to observe, but they also play an important role in maintaining the health of forest ecosystems. Their way of life helps to control insect and pest populations, while the cavities they create provide homes for other species such as owls, bats, and small mammals.

However, woodpeckers can also cause damage to trees, particularly when their drilling creates large holes that weaken the structural integrity of the wood. As such, understanding the behaviour and habits of woodpeckers is important for finding ways to balance their conservation with the needs of landowners.

In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of woodpeckers in Arkansas, examining their habits, habitats, and the challenges they face in our changing world.

1. Red-Headed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Life span: 8 – 10 years
  • Size: 19 to 25 cm (7.5 to 9.8 in)
  • Weight: 56 to 97 g (2.0 to 3.4 oz)
  • Wingspan: 35 to 43 cm (14 to 17 in)
  • Status: Least Concern

An interesting bird, the Red-Headed Woodpecker is easily recognized by its eye-catching red head and neck. It is a common sight in Arkansas thanks to its black body and wings with white underparts and a white patch at the base of the tail.

The bird’s food sources include the plentiful populations of invertebrates and insects in the area as well as fruits and nuts. The bird is known for its exceptional aerial agility since it frequently forages while hanging upside down.

A Red-Headed Woodpecker sitting on a tree trunk in the fall

The Red-Headed Woodpecker, a captivating bird species indigenous to Arkansas, exhibits territorial behaviour during the breeding season in May. The male woodpecker taps its beak on dead trees to attract potential mates.

Once paired, they start to carve out nest cavities in decaying or dead trees together. Incubating the eggs is the female’s responsibility, and the male’s responsibility is to feed her and the chicks. After the young have fledged, the family remains together for some time, foraging and roosting as a unit before establishing their own territories.

The Red-Headed Woodpeckers are opportunistic feeders and mainly consume insects, nuts, and fruits. However, during tough times, they may take advantage of other food sources, including raiding smaller bird species’ nests.

Despite being classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, the Red-Headed Woodpecker population has significantly decreased over the past century due to habitat loss and the removal of dead trees for nesting.

Therefore, critical measures such as establishing artificial nest cavities and bird feeders, preserving dead trees, and creating new nesting sites are necessary to support and potentially increase the Red-Headed Woodpecker population.

2. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Life span: 10-12 years
  • Size: 22 to 26.cm (9 to 10 in)
  • Weight: 56 to 91 g (2 to 3.2 oz)
  • Wingspan: 35 to 43 cm (14 to 17 in)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker, a native of Arkansas, is regularly seen in the area. It is distinguished by its red head, throat, and underparts, as well as its black wings, back, and tail.

During the flight, a broad white patch at the base of the tail and a white bar on its wings separate it from the other woodpecker species on this list. The beak of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker is renowned for its toughness, allowing it to seek for insects and other food sources on tree trunks, branches, and leaves.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is an exciting species to observe in the wild due to its extraordinary adaptations, making it a favourite among birdwatchers and nature aficionados.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker looking for a place to dig in the tree trunk

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is a species known to construct its nests in cavities, created by digging holes in decaying or dead trees. The female woodpecker lines the cavity with wood chips after the male has excavated it, and they then raise their young. The Red-Bellied Woodpeckers exhibit territorial behavior, vigorously protecting their nesting cavity from other woodpeckers, bird species, and predators.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is an omnivore, mainly feeding on insects, in addition to other invertebrates such as spiders and snails. It also feeds on nuts and fruits, including acorns, berries, and seeds from mature forests where it is commonly found. Its sturdy beak enables it to create holes in tree bark, exposing hidden insects and opening seeds and nuts.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is a widely distributed and commonly sighted species in Arkansas, classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, with a large population and no significant risk of extinction.

Historically, the clearing of forests for agriculture has benefited this species, creating open woodlands and forest edges that are ideal habitats. Furthermore, this species has shown adaptability to human-modified landscapes such as suburban areas and is frequently observed in parks.

3. Pileated Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Life span: 6-10 years
  • Size: 16-19 inches
  • Weight: 10-12 oz
  • Wingspan: 26-30 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Pileated Woodpecker is a captivating bird species that inhabit various regions in North America. Its distinguishing features include a black body, a white neck and wing stripe, and distinct vocalizations, making it easy to identify.

Typically, it is found in mature forests where it feeds on various types of insects, such as carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles. The Pileated Woodpecker is also famous for its unique drumming, which can be heard echoing through the woodlands of Arkansas.

Despite its noticeable size and striking appearance, the Pileated Woodpecker is a timid and elusive bird, making it challenging to observe. Its conservation status is listed as “Least Concern,” but ongoing concerns regarding habitat loss and degradation persist.

Therefore, it is crucial to preserve and restore mature forests to maintain the Pileated Woodpecker population and ecological function.

A Pileated Woodpecker browsing an old tree stump for food

The Pileated Woodpecker is a bird species that is notable for its monogamous behaviour, as it selects a single mate for life and uses vocalizations and displays to fiercely defend its territory against other birds.

This species has exceptional excavation skills and can create large rectangular cavities in decaying trees for nesting, roosting, and food storage purposes. While they prefer natural cavities, they also adapt to using artificial nest boxes that meet their requirements.

The Pileated Woodpecker’s omnivorous diet consists of both plant and animal matter, with insects being the primary source of food. Their sturdy beaks and long tongues are used to extract wood-boring beetles, ants, and other insects found in decaying trees.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, deforestation caused a decline in the range and population of the Pileated Woodpecker. However, reforestation and the expansion of urban and suburban forests have led to their remarkable comeback.

The IUCN currently classifies the Pileated Woodpecker as “Least Concern.” The Pileated Woodpeckers survival is ensured through conservation efforts aimed at preserving and restoring their native habitats and providing suitable nesting and foraging sites, despite the ongoing habitat loss and degradation.

4. Downy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
  • Life span: 2-5 years
  • Size: 6-7 inches
  • Weight: 1 oz
  • Wingspan: 13 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Downy Woodpecker is a common bird species throughout North America, including Arkansas. It is easily recognizable by its black and white striped head and short chisel-shaped beak.

The Downy Woodpecker is easily identified in flight due to its white wing patch and dark back. The Downy Woodpecker is a key element of the forest ecology, regulating insect populations and assisting in the transmission of seeds from trees and plants. Its active movements and demeanour make it a popular bird species among many watchers.

A Downy Woodpecker sitting on a log

The Downy Woodpecker is an expert excavator, and both male and female birds work together to craft a suitable nesting site by chiselling the wood with their powerful beaks. The cavity is then often furnished with soft materials like wood chips.

Insects, such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars, are the Downy Woodpecker’s primary food, which it detects by pecking at tree bark. Additionally, it may consume sap from trees and shrubs by creating holes in the bark and drinking the sap, and it feeds on fruits, nuts, and seeds from various plants, including elderberry, palmetto, and pine cones.

Despite some areas experiencing a decline in Downy Woodpecker populations due to habitat loss and degradation, the species is still classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

To ensure the continued survival of this bird and its habitats, conservation efforts such as preserving and restoring crucial habitats, managing and eliminating invasive species, and promoting sustainable forestry practices are being employed.

5. Hairy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides villosus
  • Life span: 5-10 years
  • Size: 7-10 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 16-20 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Hairy Woodpecker, is a native Arkansas bird, with stunning black and white feathers, a strong chisel-shaped beak, and a distinct personality. It has been recorded at bird feeders and in a variety of environments, including woods in Alaska and suburban areas in Mexico.

Because of its outstanding ability to drum on trees and extract insects from tree bark, this bird is highly appreciated by birdwatchers and people who like viewing backyard birds.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Hairy Woodpecker is a fascinating bird species that constructs its nest within a cavity, which can be found in trees or wooden structures. Both males and females use their beaks to excavate wood until they find a suitable spot, and the nest is usually lined with soft materials like wood chips, as well as human-made items like cigarette filters and foam.

This bird has an omnivorous diet consisting mainly of insects, such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars, which it locates by pecking at tree bark and wooden surfaces. It also feeds on sap from trees and shrubs, as well as various fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Although the Hairy Woodpecker is widespread in North America, some populations have experienced a decline due to habitat loss and degradation. Nevertheless, conservation efforts are ongoing to protect this species and its habitats. The IUCN currently lists the Hairy Woodpecker as “Least Concern.”

6. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
  • Life span: 5-8 years
  • Size: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 14-16 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with distinguishing black and white plumage. It is most commonly found in deciduous forests, orchards, and parks, and its name is derived from its yellow belly.

One of its distinguishing characteristics is the formation of tiny holes in trees, which it utilizes to drain sap and insects from beneath the bark.

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and its shallow holes

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a woodpecker species native to North America and is characterized by its striking black and white plumage and yellow belly. They create nests by drilling holes into trees or wooden structures, with both male and female birds contributing to the process. They use soft materials like wood chips or grass to line the nest.

Their diet consists primarily of tree sap, insects, fruits, and occasionally small birds. They are typically found in coniferous trees where they can easily access sap and insects.

While the IUCN currently considers the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker as “Least Concern” populations in some areas have declined due to habitat loss and degradation. Conservation efforts aim to protect and preserve their habitats, particularly mature forested areas with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. These efforts have proven to be effective in maintaining stable populations in many regions, although some areas with significant deforestation have seen local declines.

7. Northern Flicker

  • Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
  • Life span: 5-8 years
  • Size: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 14-16 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Northern Flicker is a woodpecker species native to North America, distinguished by brightly patterned underparts, a brownish-red back and wings, a black bib, and a red or black moustache, depending on morphology.

The black-moustached yellow-shafted morphology is most frequent in Arkansas. Its long, straight beak helps it to graze on a variety of food sources, such as insects, fruits, and seeds, and its versatility allows it to flourish in a wide range of settings, including forests, parks, and suburban areas.

The Northern Flicker is an active and energetic bird that frequently displays activities including drumming, calling, and exhibiting, making it a favourite among bird watchers.

A yellow-shafted Northern Flicker with its black moustache hanging on a dead log

The Northern Flicker is a unique bird species that displays versatile nesting behaviours by excavating cavities in various surfaces, including trees, poles, and posts.

Along with its excavation abilities, this bird is known for drumming behaviour, which creates rhythmic sounds used for communication and courtship.

Its diet is omnivorous, consisting of both plants and animals, including insects such as ants, beetles, caterpillars, and termites that they forage on the ground and in trees. Additionally, they consume fruits, berries, and nuts from various trees, and during the winter, they use their long tongues to extract sap from trees.

With a population estimated to range between 10 and 20 million individuals, the Northern Flicker is categorized as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, and has a broad distribution across North America.

Despite certain subspecies being impacted by deforestation and urbanization, they have adapted well to human-modified landscapes and have even extended their range into urban areas.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Arkansas

Arkansas is home to several species of woodpeckers, making it a great destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. To find woodpeckers in Arkansas, one should look for mature forests with large trees, especially those that have dead or decaying wood.

These types of trees provide ideal habitats for woodpeckers to forage for food and construct their nests.

One way to find woodpeckers in Arkansas is to go on guided birding tours offered by local nature organizations or parks. These tours are led by experienced guides who know the best locations and methods for finding woodpeckers and other bird species.

Additionally, one can also explore on their own by hiking through forested areas and keeping an eye out for woodpecker activity, such as drumming sounds and holes in trees.

Four good areas to find woodpeckers in Arkansas are the Ozark National Forest, the Ouachita National Forest, the Buffalo National River, and the White River National Wildlife Refuge.

The Ozark and Ouachita National Forests are vast, covering large areas of central and southern Arkansas, respectively, and offer numerous hiking trails and campgrounds.

The Buffalo National River, located in the north-central part of the state, is known for its scenic beauty and diverse wildlife, including woodpeckers.

The White River National Wildlife Refuge, located in eastern Arkansas, is a wetland area that provides ideal habitats for several woodpecker species, such as the Red-headed Woodpecker and the Pileated Woodpecker.


Arkansas is a fantastic destination for bird enthusiasts and woodpecker lovers. With a variety of habitats and numerous protected areas, the state offers ample opportunities for observing and studying these fascinating birds.

Whether you prefer to hike through the forests, paddle along the rivers, or visit one of the many state parks, you are likely to encounter several species of woodpeckers during your journey.

However, it is important to remember to respect these birds and their habitats by practising responsible birdwatching and conservation efforts. By doing so, we can ensure that the woodpeckers of Arkansas will continue to thrive for generations to come.

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