11 Woodpeckers of Colorado (With Pictures)

11 Woodpeckers of Colorado (With Pictures)

Colorado’s diverse landscapes, ranging from dense forests and majestic mountains to sprawling plains, provide a vibrant habitat for a variety of woodpecker species. This article explores the fascinating world of Colorado’s woodpeckers, delving into the distinct characteristics, behaviors, and ecological roles of these remarkable birds.

Among the species highlighted are the widespread Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, known for their adaptability to both wilderness and urban areas. The article also focuses on the American Three-Toed Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker, a bird with a notable presence due to its unique foraging habits and striking plumage.

This comprehensive look into Colorado’s woodpeckers not only enhances our understanding of these birds but also underscores the significance of conservation efforts to protect their environments and ensure their continued survival in the region.

1. Downy Woodpecker

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

The Downy Woodpecker, the smallest woodpecker in North America, has a wide geographic range, extending across most of the United States and Canada. Its plumage is primarily black and white, with a strikingly patterned back and a modestly sized bill.

Males can be distinguished by a small red patch on the back of their head. These birds are frequently seen in wooded areas, both in the wilderness and suburban settings, making them a familiar sight to many.

A close up photo of a Downy Woodpecker sitting on a log

The Downy Woodpecker, a diminutive yet spirited bird, shows remarkable nesting habits in Colorado’s diverse habitats. These woodpeckers favor deciduous trees for their nesting sites, where they meticulously carve out small cavities.

The male primarily takes on the task of excavation, creating a safe haven for the female to lay her eggs. Their nesting process, often close to human habitations, offers a charming glimpse into their life cycle.

With a diet as diverse as Colorado’s ecosystems, the Downy Woodpecker primarily feeds on insects like ants, caterpillars, and beetle larvae. They adeptly forage on tree trunks and branches, showcasing their agility and precision. In winter, they often visit bird feeders, adding seeds and suet to their diet.

Conservation for the Downy Woodpecker in Colorado has not been a major concern, thanks to its adaptability and widespread distribution. However, maintaining healthy habitats remains crucial for their continued success.

Efforts focus on preserving woodlands and promoting biodiversity, which in turn supports a healthy population of these woodpeckers. Educational programs also raise awareness about the importance of these birds in the ecosystem, encouraging people to appreciate and protect the natural world around them.

2. 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
  • State status: Breeding and common

Resembling the Downy Woodpecker but larger, the Hairy Woodpecker has a widespread presence across North America. Its bold black and white plumage and longer bill set it apart.

The male’s red occipital patch adds a splash of color to its otherwise monochromatic appearance. This species is adaptable to various wooded habitats, from deep forests to suburban areas, often heard before seen due to its loud pecking on tree trunks.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree

In Colorado’s mixed woodlands, the Hairy Woodpecker is known for its robust nesting practices. Preferring larger trees for nesting, these woodpeckers excavate deep cavities, a task that demands both strength and precision.

The female lays her eggs in these carefully crafted nests, with both parents sharing incubation duties. Their choice of nesting sites, often higher up in trees, provides added protection against predators.

The Hairy Woodpecker’s diet in Colorado is predominantly insectivorous, focusing on beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They forage on tree trunks and branches, using their powerful beaks to probe into the bark.

This feeding style plays a crucial role in forest health, as they help control insect populations. During winter, they supplement their diet with berries and seeds, demonstrating their adaptability to seasonal changes.

The conservation story of the Hairy Woodpecker in Colorado is one of cautious optimism. While they are not currently endangered, the preservation of their habitat is vital for their long-term survival.

Efforts include monitoring forest health and promoting sustainable forestry practices. Educational initiatives also play a role, raising public awareness about the importance of these birds in maintaining ecological balance.

3. 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
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Northern Flicker, a large, brown woodpecker, is notable for its vivid plumage that includes a barred back, spotted belly, and a striking black “necklace.” It has two color variants: the yellow-shafted in the east and the red-shafted in the west.

Unlike most woodpeckers, it often feeds on the ground, hunting for ants and beetles. These birds are widely distributed across North America, inhabiting a range of wooded areas.

A Close up photo of a Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker, a charismatic bird, doesn’t shy away from human eyes when it comes to nesting. They are skilled carpenters, carving out homes in tree trunks with remarkable precision. Unlike other woodpeckers, flickers often prefer to nest in dead or decaying trees, creating a cozy, cylindrical abode.

Intriguingly, they sometimes reuse old nests or even occupy abandoned ones made by other species, adding their unique touch. Their nests are a hub of activity, with both parents sharing duties diligently.

These birds are culinary explorers of the avian world. While they are woodpeckers, their diet is surprisingly grounded. They are avid foragers, often seen on the ground, probing the soil with their slightly curved beaks, searching for ants – their favorite.

This diet is supplemented by fruits, seeds, and occasionally insects caught mid-flight. This unique diet sets them apart from their tree-boring kin, showcasing their adaptable and versatile nature.

Northern Flickers have had a rollercoaster ride in conservation. Once abundant, they faced challenges due to habitat loss and competition for nesting sites. However, thanks to concerted conservation efforts, including the promotion of dead tree conservation and the installation of nest boxes, their populations have been resilient.

They’ve become a symbol of successful urban cohabitation, adapting to human-altered landscapes while maintaining their wild essence.

4. Acorn Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
  • Life span: 9-17 years
  • Size: 7-9 inches (18-23 cm)
  • Weight: 3-5 oz (85-140 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-17 inches (33-43 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Occasional guest

The Acorn Woodpecker, with its clown-like face, is a communal and distinctive bird found in the oak woodlands of western North America and parts of Central America. It has a black head and back, a white forehead, and red crown patches in both sexes.

This species is renowned for its acorn-storing behavior, often creating extensive granaries by drilling holes into trees or wooden structures to store acorns.

An Acorn Woodpecker sitting on a tree stump

Acorn Woodpeckers exhibit a unique communal nesting behavior. They live in large groups, and their nesting strategy is a cooperative endeavour. Multiple generations participate in raising the young, with several females laying eggs in the same nest.

This social structure is fascinating, reflecting a deep sense of community and collaboration. Their nests, often found in oak trees, are bustling centers of activity, echoing with the sounds of communal living.

True to their name, Acorn Woodpeckers have a diet heavily focused on acorns. They store these acorns in carefully crafted ‘granaries’ or storage holes in trees, showcasing remarkable foresight and planning. Their diet also includes insects, fruits, and occasionally nectar. This diverse diet supports their energetic lifestyle and is key to their survival in varying environmental conditions.

Acorn Woodpeckers have faced challenges due to habitat loss and changes in their oak woodland ecosystems. Conservation efforts for these birds involve preserving and restoring oak woodlands and educating the public about the importance of these habitats.

Their dependence on acorns highlights the interconnectedness of species and habitats, underlining the importance of ecosystem-based conservation approaches.

5. Red-Naped Sapsucker

  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
  • Life span: 7-8 years
  • Size: 7-8 inches (18-21 cm)
  • Weight: 1-1.6 oz (28-45 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-16 inches (34-41 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Red-naped Sapsucker, a migratory woodpecker of western North America, has a distinctive appearance. It features a red nape, white stripes on the face, and a black and white barred back.

This bird is well-known for drilling neat rows of holes in tree bark to feed on sap and insects. It prefers to live in forests of aspen or mixed conifer, often near meadows or other open areas.

A Red-Naped Sapsucker sitting in a tree

The Red-naped Sapsucker’s approach to nesting is both practical and endearing. They carve out nesting cavities in aspen or cottonwood trees, showing a preference for trees with softer wood.

Their nesting sites are often reused, reflecting their attachment to familiar locations. During nesting, these birds display a strong bond, with both parents participating actively in the incubation and feeding of their chicks, showcasing a harmonious family dynamic.

In the culinary world of birds, Red-naped Sapsuckers are the sap connoisseurs. They drill neat rows of holes in tree bark to feed on the sap, a unique diet among their peers. In addition to sap, their diet includes insects, particularly those attracted to the sap, and some fruits.

This sap-based diet plays a crucial role in their ecosystem, as the sap wells they create also provide food for other species, highlighting their ecological importance.

The conservation story of the Red-naped Sapsucker is one of adaptability and resilience. They have adapted well to changes in their habitat, although they still face challenges due to logging and tree diseases.

Conservation efforts have focused on protecting their preferred habitats, particularly aspen and cottonwood stands. Their presence and health are indicators of the health of their ecosystem, making their conservation a priority for maintaining biodiversity.

6. Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides scalaris
  • Life span: 7-8 years
  • Size: 6-7.5 inches (15-19 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.6 oz (25-45 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-15 inches (33-38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a small but vibrant bird, is found throughout the desert regions of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Its back features a unique “ladder” pattern, from which its name is derived, consisting of black and white stripes.

Males sport a red crown, adding to their striking appearance. These woodpeckers are commonly seen in dry, scrubby habitats, where their barred backs help them blend into the surroundings.

A Ladder-Backed Woodpecker sitting on a stick

The Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, a desert dweller, exhibits unique nesting behaviors in Colorado’s arid regions. They often choose cactus or small trees for their nests, a remarkable adaptation to their environment.

The male and female work in tandem to create a nest cavity, demonstrating their strong partnership. The female then lays her eggs in this secure, hidden chamber.

In the arid landscapes of Colorado, the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker’s diet consists mainly of insects, including ants, beetles, and caterpillars. They adeptly forage on cacti and small trees, using their beaks to extract their prey.

This diet reflects their adaptation to a desert environment, where food sources are scarce and varied. The Ladder-Backed Woodpecker’s feeding habits not only sustain them but also play a role in controlling insect populations, contributing to the ecological balance of their habitat.

Conservation efforts for the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker in Colorado focus on preserving their unique desert habitat. While they are not currently at risk, the impacts of climate change and habitat loss pose potential threats.

Conservationists advocate for the protection of desert ecosystems, emphasizing the importance of these habitats for a wide range of species, including the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker.

7. Williamson’s Sapsucker

  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
  • Life span: 5-6 years
  • Size: 7.5-8.5 inches (19-22 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-2 oz (45-55 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-15 inches (33-38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

Occupying the coniferous forests of western North America, Williamson’s Sapsucker is a beautifully patterned bird. Males have a striking black and white plumage with yellow bellies, while females are brown with intricate white and black barring.

They are known for their unique nesting habits and for drilling sap wells in trees. This species favours higher elevation forests, particularly those with a mix of coniferous trees.

A pair of Williamson’s Sapsuckers guarding their nest in a birch tree

Williamson’s Sapsuckers are secretive and selective when it comes to nesting. They prefer older, mature forests for their nesting sites, often at higher elevations. The males take the lead in carving out the nest, demonstrating remarkable dedication and skill.

These nests, usually located in coniferous trees, provide a safe and secluded environment for their offspring. The care and commitment displayed by both parents in raising their young are heartwarming and exemplary.

These birds have a specialized diet, predominantly feeding on tree sap, which they obtain by drilling holes in tree bark. However, their diet is not limited to sap; they also feed on insects, especially during the breeding season, and occasionally on fruits.

This varied diet helps them maintain the energy levels needed for their active lifestyle, especially during the demanding breeding season.

The conservation narrative for Williamson’s Sapsuckers is one of concern and action. They are sensitive to habitat disturbances, especially logging and forest fires. Conservation efforts have been geared towards protecting old-growth forests, their preferred habitat.

Research and monitoring programs have been vital in understanding their habitat needs and guiding conservation policies.

8. American Tree-Toed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
  • Life span: 6-11 years
  • Size: 8.3 inches (21 cm)
  • Weight: 1.9 oz (55 g)
  • Wingspan: 15 inches (38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

Native to the boreal forests of North America, the American Three-toed Woodpecker is a unique avian species. Its striking plumage includes a black and white barred back, with males featuring a distinctive yellow crown patch. This bird’s most notable physical trait is having only three toes, a rarity among woodpeckers.

This adaptation is thought to aid in delivering more powerful pecks. They are often found in mature or old-growth conifer forests, making their way across the northern tier of the United States and into Canada.

An American Tree-Toed Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The American Three-Toed Woodpecker, a resilient species, exhibits fascinating nesting behaviors, particularly in Colorado’s coniferous forests. They prefer to carve out nests in the trunks of dead or dying trees, showcasing their remarkable ability to adapt to their environment. Both parents tirelessly work together in the excavation process, creating a cozy chamber.

The female lays her eggs on the bare wood at the bottom of this cavity. The choice of dead trees not only provides safety from predators but also allows these woodpeckers to be near their primary food source.

In the dense forests of Colorado, the American Three-Toed Woodpecker finds its sustenance primarily from the bark beetles and other insects living under the bark of trees. They skillfully forage on conifers, showcasing their specialized foraging technique – flaking off bark rather than drilling into the wood.

This unique feeding style not only nourishes them but also plays a critical role in forest health by controlling insect populations.

Conservation efforts for the American Three-Toed Woodpecker in Colorado have focused on preserving their habitat, particularly old-growth forests. Historically, these woodpeckers have faced challenges due to logging and forest fires, which impact their preferred nesting sites.

Conservationists emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, which support not only the woodpeckers but also the entire biodiversity of the region. Efforts include monitoring populations and advocating for sustainable forest management practices.

9. Red-Headed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Life span: 9-12 years
  • Size: 7-9.1 inches (17.78-23.11 cm)
  • Weight: 2.0-3.4 oz (56-96 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5 inches (41.91 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Red-headed Woodpecker, easily identifiable by its bright red head, black back, and large white wing patches, is a striking bird of eastern North America. This species is known for its bold and aggressive nature, often seen defending its territory with vigour.

It prefers open woodlands, particularly those with dead trees, where it can be seen flying between trunks or perched conspicuously, surveying its domain.

A Red-Headed Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Red-headed Woodpecker’s nesting saga is a fascinating blend of persistence and artistry. These birds are known for their meticulous approach to nest building, often selecting the perfect tree after much deliberation.

They carve out a cavity, working tirelessly, to create a safe haven for their offspring. The inside of the nest is crafted with care, ensuring comfort and safety. During nesting season, their parenting skills shine, with both partners sharing responsibilities in raising their young.

Diet-wise, Red-headed Woodpeckers are quite the opportunists. They have a varied palate that includes insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. In the summer, they are adept hunters of flying insects, showcasing remarkable aerial agility.

Come winter, their diet shifts more towards plant-based food, storing nuts and seeds in tree crevices. This adaptability in diet is a testament to their survival skills across different seasons.

Conservation of the Red-headed Woodpecker has been a journey of ups and downs. They faced significant threats from habitat loss and competition for nesting sites. However, dedicated conservation initiatives, such as habitat restoration and educating the public about the importance of mature forests, have helped stabilize their numbers.

10. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Life span: 8-12 years
  • Size: 9-11 inches (22.85-27.94 cm)
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
  • Wingspan: 15-18 inches (38-46 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The red-bellied woodpecker, a striking bird known for its vibrant, contrasting colours, predominantly inhabits the woodlands and forests across the eastern United States. Characterized by a fascinating blend of colours, this bird boasts a primarily greyish-white body adorned with bold black and white stripes running down its back.

The most distinctive feature, however, is the subtle yet vivid red patch on its belly, often overshadowed by the more prominent red cap and nape, which offers a captivating visual display. Males and females share similar plumage, but the red in the female is less extensive, mainly limited to the nape.

A Red-Headed woodpecker sitting in a tree

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are skilled architects when it comes to their nests. They prefer to nest in dead trees, where they meticulously carve out cavities. The craftsmanship involved in creating these nests is remarkable, ensuring safety and comfort for their chicks.

During the nesting season, both parents share responsibilities, from incubation to feeding, demonstrating a strong partnership and commitment to their offspring.

The diet of the Red-bellied Woodpecker is a mix of insects, fruits, and nuts. They are particularly fond of insects like beetles and ants, which they skillfully extract from tree bark. Their diet varies with the seasons, with more fruit and nut consumption in colder months.

This adaptability in feeding habits is a testament to their resourcefulness and ability to thrive in various environments.

Conservation for Red-bellied Woodpeckers has been focused on habitat preservation. They thrive in mature forests with a good supply of dead trees for nesting. The challenges they face include habitat loss and competition for nesting sites.

Efforts to protect and manage forest ecosystems, including the retention of snags for nesting, have been crucial in supporting their populations. Their presence in an area is often a good indicator of forest health and biodiversity.

11. Lewi’s Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
  • Life span: 9-10 years
  • Size: 10-11.5 inches (25-29 cm)
  • Weight: 3.9-5 oz (110-140 g)
  • Wingspan: 26-30 inches (66-76 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

Named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Lewis’s Woodpecker is a bird of the western United States. It boasts a dark green-black head, a red face, and a pale belly, making it one of the more colourful woodpeckers.

Its unique foraging behavior, often catching insects in midair, sets it apart from its peers. These birds are typically found in open woodlands and pine forests, often near water.

A Lewi’s Woodpecker sitting on a tree stump

The Lewis’s Woodpecker, a bird of Colorado’s open woodlands, displays intriguing nesting behaviors. They often reuse old cavities for nesting, showing a practical approach to their environment. Both parents share in the care of the eggs, taking turns to incubate and protect their future offspring. Their nesting strategy, utilizing existing resources, reflects an adaptability that is key to their survival.

The diet of the Lewis’s Woodpecker is somewhat varied, consisting of insects, fruits, and nuts. They are unique among woodpeckers for their flycatching behavior, catching insects mid-air with remarkable agility. This feeding style, along with foraging on trees and the ground, demonstrates their versatility and adaptability to different food sources.

Conservation efforts for the Lewis’s Woodpecker in Colorado are centered around habitat preservation and restoration. As a species affected by changes in land use and forestry practices, they face challenges in maintaining their preferred habitats. Conservationists work to protect open woodlands and advocate for responsible land management practices.

The story of the Lewis’s Woodpecker’s conservation is one of balance, highlighting the need to harmonize human activities with the needs of wildlife, ensuring the continued presence of these vibrant birds in our landscapes.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Colorado

Finding woodpeckers in Colorado can be a rewarding experience for birdwatching enthusiasts. Colorado’s diverse landscapes, ranging from dense forests to open woodlands and grasslands, provide ideal habitats for various woodpecker species. To spot these birds, it’s essential to know where and how to look.

When searching for woodpeckers, it’s beneficial to visit areas with plenty of trees, especially dead or dying ones, as woodpeckers often forage for insects in such environments. Listening for the distinctive drumming sound woodpeckers make while pecking at trees can also guide you to their location.

Four great areas in Colorado for woodpecker watching include:

  • Roxborough State Park: Known for its scenic landscapes, it’s a habitat for species like the Lewis’s Woodpecker.
  • Mueller State Park: Offers a diverse habitat suitable for various woodpecker species.
  • San Juan Mountains: A prime location for observing the Red-naped Sapsucker, especially in higher elevation areas.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: Home to a variety of woodpeckers, including the American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Remember to carry binoculars and a field guide for a better birdwatching experience. It’s also important to respect wildlife and their habitats during your visit. For more detailed information on birdwatching in Colorado, including how to attract woodpeckers to your yard, you can refer to resources like Wild Bird World, Learn Bird Watching, and Colorado Parks & Wildlife.


Colorado’s diverse landscapes, from its majestic mountains to sprawling forests, offer a rich tapestry for woodpecker enthusiasts. Each species, from the industrious American Three-toed Woodpecker to the acrobatic Lewis’s Woodpecker, adds a unique brushstroke to this vibrant ecological canvas.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a curious nature lover, exploring Colorado’s woodpecker habitats is a journey into a world where nature’s rhythms and hues converge, revealing the state’s rich avian biodiversity. As these woodpeckers tap and drum, they not only provide a soundtrack to Colorado’s wilds but also remind us of the intricate connections within our natural world.

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