7 Woodpeckers of Indiana

7 Woodpeckers of Indiana

Woodpeckers are an intriguing and charismatic group of birds that are found in Indiana. With their unique ability to excavate holes in trees using their beaks, they have captured the fascination of bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Indiana is home to many different species of woodpeckers, each with their distinctive physical and behavioural traits. From the diminutive Downy Woodpecker to the striking Pileated Woodpecker, these birds have adapted to live in a variety of habitats across the state, including forests, woodlands, and even urban areas.

Despite their widespread presence, woodpecker populations in Indiana face several challenges, including habitat loss and fragmentation, predation, and competition for resources.

However, efforts to conserve and protect these birds have been successful, and Indiana’s woodpecker populations continue to thrive. In this article, I will elaborate on the different species of woodpeckers found in Indiana and their way of life in a human-dominated landscape.

1. 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 effortless to identify.

Typically, it is found in mature forests where it feeds on several 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 reverberating through Indiana’s woodlands. Despite its noticeable size and striking appearance, the Pileated Woodpecker is a timid and elusive bird, making it difficult to observe.

Therefore, preserving and restoring mature forests are crucial to maintaining the Pileated Woodpecker’s population and ecological function.

A Pileated Woodpecker browsing an old tree stump for food

The Pileated Woodpecker is well-known for its monogamous behaviour, as it chooses a single partner for life and fiercely defends its territory using vocalizations and displays to deter other birds from entering its space.

This species has exceptional excavating skills and can create large rectangular cavities in decaying trees for nesting, roosting, and food storage purposes. While they prefer to nest in 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, but they primarily feed on insects. Their sturdy beaks and long tongues are used to excavate wood-boring beetles, ants, and other insects in decaying trees.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, deforestation led to a decrease in the range and population of the Pileated Woodpecker. However, thanks to reforestation and the expansion of urban and suburban forests, this species has made a remarkable comeback.

Currently, the IUCN classifies the Pileated Woodpecker as “Least Concern.” To ensure the survival of these majestic forest dwellers, conservation efforts are concentrated on preserving and restoring their native habitats, as well as providing appropriate nesting and foraging sites, despite the continuing loss and degradation of their habitats.

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

The Hairy Woodpecker, a bird species native to Indiana, features striking black and white feathers, a long chisel-shaped beak, and a unique personality. It is found in a range of habitats, from forests in Alaska to suburban areas in Mexico, and has been observed at bird feeders.

This bird is highly regarded by birdwatchers and those who enjoy observing backyard birds due to its impressive ability to drum on trees and its adeptness at extracting insects from tree bark.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Hairy Woodpecker is a type of avian species that constructs its nest within a cavity, usually located in trees or wooden structures. The process of excavation is carried out by both males and females, using their beaks to remove wood until a suitable spot is found.

Soft materials, like wood chips, are used to line the nest, as well as human-made items such as cigarette filters, pieces of clothing, and foam.

This bird’s diet consists mainly of insects such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars, which it finds by pecking at tree bark and other wooden surfaces. It also consumes sap from trees and shrubs, as well as various fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Although the Hairy Woodpecker is widespread in North America, including Indiana, some populations have experienced a decrease due to habitat loss and degradation. Nevertheless, efforts are underway to conserve and protect this species and its habitats. Currently, the IUCN considers the Hairy Woodpecker to be of “Least Concern.”

3. 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

The Red-Headed Woodpecker is a fascinating bird, identifiable by its striking red head and neck, which sets it apart effortlessly. Its black body and wings with white underparts and a white patch at the tail’s base make it a prevalent sight in Indiana.

The bird depends on the area’s abundant insect and invertebrate populations, as well as fruits and nuts, for sustenance. The bird’s aerial agility is renowned, as it can often be seen foraging while hanging upside down.

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

The Red-Headed Woodpecker is a captivating bird species native to Indiana that exhibits territorial behaviour. During breeding season in May, the male woodpecker taps its beak on dead trees to attract potential mates.

Once paired, they work together to carve out nest cavities in decaying or dead trees. The female is responsible for incubating the eggs, while the male protects her and the chicks and gather food for them. Even after the young have fledged, the family remains together for some time, foraging and roosting as a unit before establishing their own territories.

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

Despite the IUCN’s classification of “Least Concern,” the Red-Headed Woodpecker population has decreased significantly 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.

4. 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, which is native to Indiana, is frequently observed in the region. Its unique features include a red head, neck, and underparts, as well as black wings, back, and tail.

During flight, a large white patch at the tail’s base and a white bar on its wings are primarily visible, distinguishing it from other woodpecker species on this list. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker’s beak is notable for its durability, allowing it to search for insects and other food sources on tree trunks, branches, and leaves.

Due to its exceptional adaptations, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker is an intriguing species to observe in the wild, making it a favourite among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

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

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is a species that constructs its nests in cavities by digging holes in decaying or dead trees. The female lines the cavity with wood chips after the male has excavated it, and the pair then raises their young.

Fiercely defending its nest cavity against predators, other woodpecker species, and birds, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker displays and unusual aggressively territorial behavior.

This species is an omnivore, primarily 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 found. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker’s sturdy beak allows it to create holes in tree bark, exposing hidden insects and opening seeds and nuts.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is a commonly sighted and widely distributed species in Indiana, 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 often observed in parks.

5. 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, with a distinctive appearance characterized by boldly-patterned underparts, brownish-red back and wings, a black bib, and a moustache in either red or black, depending on the morphology.

In Indiana, the black-moustached yellow-shafted morphology is the most common. Its long, straight beak allows it to feed on a variety of food sources, including insects, fruits, and seeds, and this adaptability allows it to thrive in diverse habitats, such as forests, parks, and suburban areas.

The Northern Flicker is an active and energetic bird, often displaying behaviours such as drumming, calling, and displaying, which makes it a favourite among bird enthusiasts.

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

The Northern Flicker is a unique woodpecker that exhibits versatile nesting behaviour by excavating cavities in trees and other surfaces, such as poles or posts when necessary.

In addition to its excavation skills, this bird is also known for its drumming behaviour, which creates rhythmic sounds used for communication and courtship.

Its diet consists 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 in the winter when insects are scarce, they use their long tongues to extract sap from trees.

The Northern Flicker is widely distributed across North America, with a population estimated to range between 10 and 20 million individuals and classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

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.

6. 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 commonly seen avian species in North America, including the region of Indiana. It can be easily identified by its striped black and white head and small chisel-shaped beak.

During flight, the Downy Woodpecker displays a white wing patch and black back, making it easily recognizable. As an important member of the forest ecosystem, the Downy Woodpecker plays a critical role in regulating insect populations and assisting in the spread of seeds from trees and plants.

Its energetic movements and behaviour make it a beloved bird species that is cherished by many observers.

A Downy Woodpecker sitting on a log

The Downy Woodpecker is a highly skilled excavator, with both males and females working together to create a suitable nesting site by pecking at the wood with their strong beaks. The nesting cavity is then usually lined with soft materials like wood chips and even humanmade objects like cigarette filters and linen.

Insects, such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars, are the primary food source for the Downy Woodpecker, which locates them 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.

Although the population of the Downy Woodpecker has declined in some areas due to habitat loss and degradation, it is still classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

To safeguard the survival of this species and its habitats, conservation efforts such as safeguarding and restoring critical habitats, managing and removing invasive species, and encouraging sustainable forestry practices are being implemented.

7. 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 species with distinctive black and white plumage. It is usually found in deciduous forests, orchards, and parks, and its name comes from its yellow belly.

One of its unique behaviours is the creation of shallow holes in trees, which it uses to extract sap and insects residing beneath the bark.

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and its shallow holes

They create nests by drilling holes into trees or wooden structures, with both males and females contributing to the process. Soft materials like wood chips or grass are used to line the nest.

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

Although currently considered “Least Concern” by the IUCN, habitat loss and degradation have caused population declines in some areas. Conservation efforts aim to protect and preserve their habitats, particularly mature forested areas with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. These measures have been effective in maintaining stable populations in many regions, although some areas with significant deforestation have seen local declines.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Indiana

Indiana is home to a diverse array of woodpecker species, ranging from the common Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers to the striking Red-headed Woodpecker and the large and impressive Pileated Woodpecker. To increase your chances of spotting these fascinating birds, it’s best to know where to look.

One of the most reliable places to find woodpeckers in Indiana is in mature forests with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, particularly in areas where there are large, dead or dying trees.

Look for holes in trees or listen for drumming sounds that are typical of woodpecker activity. It’s also helpful to know the specific habitats preferred by each woodpecker species.

Some great Indianan areas include

Hoosier National Forest: This expansive forest covers over 200,000 acres and is located in the southern part of the state. It offers excellent habitat for woodpeckers and many other bird species.

Brown County State Park: This popular state park is known for its rugged terrain and diverse wildlife, including several woodpecker species.

Pokagon State Park: Located in the northeastern part of the state, this park features over 1,200 acres of woodlands and several trails that offer great opportunities to spot woodpeckers.

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge: This large wildlife refuge covers over 50,000 acres in southeastern Indiana and is home to several woodpecker species, including the Red-headed Woodpecker.

When searching for woodpeckers, it’s important to be patient and quiet and to avoid disturbing their natural behaviour. Using binoculars or a spotting scope can also help to get a closer look without disturbing the birds.


Indiana is a state that is home to a diverse range of woodpecker species, each with its own unique preferences for habitat and behaviour.

Interestingly, woodpeckers have been found to be more resilient to climate-related disturbances compared to other bird species, but human activities such as deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization have had a negative impact on some woodpecker populations in Indiana.

However, there are active conservation initiatives aimed at protecting and preserving the natural habitats of these birds, with hopes of restoring their populations.

Observing woodpeckers in their natural habitat can be a delightful experience, especially while hiking through the woods. A keen observer may spot the red-headed, pileated, or downy woodpecker, among others, as they forage for insects and create nesting cavities in the trees.

With the increasing awareness of the need for conservation efforts, it is hoped that the population of these beautiful birds will thrive once again.

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1 comment
  • How do you keep the wood peckers from damaging your log home without hurting them??