Woodpeckers of Maine (With Pictures)

Woodpeckers of Maine (With Pictures)

Nestled within the picturesque landscapes of Maine, a fascinating avian presence captivates both the casual observer and the dedicated ornithologist—the woodpeckers. These enigmatic drummers, found throughout the diverse habitats of the state, play an integral role in Maine’s ecosystem and offer a window into the delicate balance of nature.

From the rhythmic cadence of their hammering on trees to their distinctive plumage and behaviors, woodpeckers embody a unique blend of beauty and utility. They serve as nature’s tree surgeons, chiseling out nesting cavities, foraging for insects, and contributing to the sculpting of their woodland homes.

In this exploration, we delve into the various woodpecker species that call Maine home, shedding light on their intricate adaptations, ecological significance, and the challenges they face in a changing environment. Join us on a journey through the forests and woodlands of Maine as we uncover the secrets and stories of these remarkable avian inhabitants.

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

With a wide distribution across North America, the Downy Woodpecker is a charming avian resident. Displaying a modest yet striking appearance, it showcases a combination of black and white feathers.

Notably smaller than its close relative, the Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy’s males sport an eye-catching touch of red on their napes. Fun Fact: Despite their diminutive size, these woodpeckers produce rapid drumming sounds on trees to establish territory and communicate.

Downy woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker, a common resident of Maine’s woodlands, exhibits nesting behavior characterized by its adaptability and resourcefulness. These diminutive birds, measuring about 6-7 inches in length, construct their nests primarily within cavities of deciduous trees. Their choice of nesting sites varies, including both living and dead trees.

The excavation process involves meticulously pecking and hollowing out the chosen cavity, resulting in a secure and well-insulated nest for their eggs and young. Witnessing their methodical construction is a testament to their ability to thrive in diverse habitats.

Downy Woodpeckers have a diverse diet that reflects their opportunistic foraging nature. Their primary food sources consist of insects, insect larvae, and pupae found within tree bark and crevices. They are particularly adept at using their specialized bills to probe and extract hidden insects from wood.

Additionally, Downy Woodpeckers are known to supplement their diet with plant matter, including seeds and berries, especially during colder months when insect availability decreases. Their ability to switch between different food sources highlights their adaptability and survival strategies.

The conservation efforts surrounding Downy Woodpeckers in Maine are intertwined with broader initiatives to protect and preserve forest ecosystems. As urbanization and habitat fragmentation continue to impact these woodpeckers’ habitats, various organizations and individuals have worked towards creating suitable nesting sites through the installation of nest boxes in areas where natural cavities may be lacking.

By raising awareness about the importance of maintaining healthy forests and minimizing habitat disturbance, conservationists have contributed to sustaining the Downy Woodpecker population and its role within the local ecosystem.

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

Abundant throughout North America, the Hairy Woodpecker shares a resemblance with the Downy, albeit larger. Its monochromatic plumage exhibits intricate black and white patterns. Adept at foraging for insects beneath tree bark, these woodpeckers use their unique size advantage to thrive in various habitats.

Fun Fact: Hairy Woodpeckers showcase impressive acrobatics, gripping tree bark with their specially adapted feet while scouring for their next meal.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree with a snowy beak

The Hairy Woodpecker, a close relative of the Downy Woodpecker, shares similar nesting behaviors while exhibiting slight variations in habitat preferences. These woodpeckers, slightly larger in size with a length of around 7-10 inches, often select older trees with more substantial trunks for nesting.

Like the Downy, they excavate cavities in trees for nesting, showcasing their drilling skills and determination. Their choice of nesting sites includes both deciduous and coniferous trees, contributing to the biodiversity of nesting habitats in Maine’s forests.

Hairy Woodpeckers maintain a diet predominantly composed of insects and other arthropods, which they extract from tree bark using their sturdy bills. Their foraging techniques involve rhythmic drumming and probing to uncover hidden prey.

While insects constitute the bulk of their diet, these woodpeckers also consume seeds, nuts, and berries when available, showcasing their flexibility in sourcing food. This dietary diversity allows them to adapt to seasonal changes in food availability.

Conservation efforts for Hairy Woodpeckers align with broader strategies for forest ecosystem preservation. The provision of suitable nesting sites, either through the protection of natural cavities or the installation of nest boxes, has been a focus of conservation endeavors.

By promoting sustainable forestry practices and encouraging habitat conservation, enthusiasts have played a role in safeguarding the Hairy Woodpecker’s presence in Maine’s woodlands, ensuring their continued contribution to pest control and 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

The expansive range of the Northern Flicker encompasses much of North America. Its appearance is characterized by earthy brown tones accented by bold black markings. Its “flickering” flight style, marked by flashes of white undersides, adds to its distinctive allure.

Fun Fact: In a departure from traditional woodpecker behavior, Northern Flickers create resonant sounds on metal surfaces like signposts in addition to their usual drumming on wood.

A Northern Flicker sitting on a moss-covered branch

Unlike some other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are known to utilize both natural tree cavities and human-made structures such as utility poles and birdhouses for nesting. This adaptability allows them to inhabit a range of environments, from woodlands to urban areas, contributing to their widespread distribution across Maine.

Northern Flickers exhibit an omnivorous diet that sets them apart from many other woodpecker species. While insects and their larvae form a significant portion of their diet, these woodpeckers also feed on ants and beetles found on the ground. In addition to their insectivorous habits, Northern Flickers have a penchant for fruits and berries, particularly during the non-breeding season. Their dietary versatility underscores their role as ecological generalists.

Conservation efforts for Northern Flickers emphasize habitat preservation and public awareness. Given their adaptability to various nesting sites, ensuring the availability of suitable habitats is crucial. Conservationists have worked to promote the protection of both natural and artificial nesting cavities, along with advocating for the planting of native vegetation that provides food sources.

By engaging local communities and encouraging responsible land management practices, enthusiasts have contributed to the sustained presence of Northern Flickers in Maine’s diverse landscapes.

4. American Three-Toed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
  • Life span: Up to 9 years
  • Size: 9 inches (24 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1 oz (58 g)
  • Wingspan: 15 inches (38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Inhabiting the northern forests of North America, the Three-toed Woodpecker presents a distinct black and white plumage. However, its most distinguishing feature is its specialized three-toed feet, designed for clinging to trees while foraging. Fun Fact: Despite their name, some Three-toed Woodpeckers possess only two toes on each foot, demonstrating nature’s varied adaptations.

An American Three-Toed Woodpecker for insects between the cracks of the tree

The Three-toed Woodpecker, a distinctive inhabitant of Maine’s boreal forests, exhibits nesting behaviors aligned with its habitat preferences. These woodpeckers, measuring around 8-9 inches in length, often select coniferous trees with extensive bark cover for nesting.

They create cavities within the soft bark, using their unique three-toed feet to cling to the tree while excavating. Their nesting habits reflect their adaptation to conifer-dominated landscapes.

Three-toed Woodpeckers are specialized insectivores, primarily feeding on the larvae of wood-boring insects found beneath tree bark. Their foraging behaviors involve systematically peeling off bark to uncover hidden insects, showcasing their resourcefulness in obtaining food.

While insects constitute the core of their diet, these woodpeckers may also consume berries and seeds, particularly during winter when insect activity decreases.

The conservation of Three-toed Woodpeckers aligns with broader efforts to protect boreal forest ecosystems. Maintaining a balance between conservation and sustainable forestry practices is crucial for their survival. By advocating for habitat preservation and responsible logging, enthusiasts contribute to the preservation of the unique nesting and foraging habitats of Three-toed Woodpeckers in Maine’s northern forests.

5. Black-Backed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
  • Life span: Up to 8 years
  • Size: 9-10 inches (23-25 cm)
  • Weight: 2.5 oz (62g)
  • Wingspan: 16-17 inches (40-43 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Flourishing in the boreal forests of North America, the Black-backed Woodpecker exhibits a striking contrast—black back, white wing stripes, and a white belly. This species’ appearance is well-suited to its post-fire habitat.

Fun Fact: Black-backed Woodpeckers, often considered “firebirds,” play a crucial role in ecosystem recovery, as they target wood-boring insects beneath burned bark, aiding in the renewal of fire-affected landscapes.

A Black-Backed Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Black-backed Woodpecker, a specialist of post-fire environments, exhibits nesting behaviors closely linked to the aftermath of wildfires. These woodpeckers, measuring around 8-9 inches in length, are adapted to nesting within recently burned trees. They excavate cavities in dead or dying trees, capitalizing on the softened wood resulting from fire-induced decay. Their nesting habits reflect their ecological role in facilitating nutrient cycling within fire-affected landscapes.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are uniquely adapted to forage on wood-boring insects that colonize trees in the aftermath of fires. They use their strong bills to peel off charred bark and access hidden prey. Their foraging behavior plays a crucial role in the post-fire ecosystem, contributing to the control of insect populations and promoting the rejuvenation of fire-affected forests.

Conservation efforts for Black-backed Woodpeckers focus on the preservation of fire-dependent habitats and their associated species. The role of these woodpeckers in post-fire ecosystems underscores the importance of maintaining natural fire regimes and allowing for natural processes to occur.

By advocating for the protection of fire-affected areas and promoting a balanced approach to forest management, enthusiasts contribute to the conservation of Black-backed Woodpeckers and the resilience of fire-prone landscapes.

6. Pileated Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Life span: Up to 12 years
  • Size: 16-19 inches (40-48 cm)
  • Weight: 9-14 oz (250-400 g)
  • Wingspan: 26-30 inches (66-76 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Roaming the woodlands of North America, the impressive Pileated Woodpecker is a sight to behold. Its sizable frame, prominent red crest, and striking black and white plumage make it an iconic species. Emitting a resonant call that echoes through the forest, these woodpeckers leave an indelible mark on their environment.

Fun Fact: Pileated Woodpeckers contribute to ecosystem vitality by creating large, rectangular excavations in trees, which serve as both foraging sites and crucial shelters for other wildlife.

A Pileated Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Pileated Woodpecker, an impressive and charismatic species, boasts nesting behaviors that reflect its grandeur. These woodpeckers, measuring up to 16-19 inches in length, often excavate extensive and deep nesting cavities within dead or decaying trees.

Their choice of nesting sites is influenced by the availability of suitable trees and the presence of decay, which facilitates easier excavation. Pileated Woodpeckers’ nest construction contributes to the recycling of nutrients within forest ecosystems, showcasing their ecological significance.

Pileated Woodpeckers are skilled foragers with a diet primarily composed of insects, particularly carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles. Their powerful bills and long tongues enable them to access deep crevices and extract prey from tree bark. In addition to insects, these woodpeckers feed on fruits, nuts, and berries, exhibiting a broader dietary range compared to some other woodpecker species. Their feeding behaviors contribute to pest control and seed dispersal within their habitat.

The conservation efforts surrounding Pileated Woodpeckers emphasize the importance of maintaining diverse and undisturbed forest habitats. By promoting sustainable forestry practices that preserve dead or decaying trees, conservationists have contributed to the availability of suitable nesting sites. Public education initiatives have also raised awareness about the role of these woodpeckers in ecosystem health, encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation for their presence in Maine’s woodlands.

7. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

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

Navigating the eastern regions of North America, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker boasts a unique appearance—a white face, black and white wing patterns, and a distinctive yellowish belly. This species derives its name from its intriguing sap-feeding behavior.

Fun Fact: Beyond their sap-drilling activity, these woodpeckers offer an unintended benefit to other birds, as their sap wells attract insects that supplement the diets of creatures like

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and its shallow holes

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a distinctive member of Maine’s woodpecker community, exhibits nesting behaviors closely tied to its sap-feeding habits. These woodpeckers, which measure about 7-8 inches in length, construct their nests within tree cavities, often located near sap wells they have drilled.

Their nesting sites are typically chosen in trees with softer wood, facilitating excavation and maintenance of sap wells. This nesting-sap interaction underscores the unique ecological niche of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are renowned for their sap-feeding behavior, which involves drilling shallow holes in trees to access the sugary sap that flows beneath the bark. In addition to sap, these woodpeckers forage on insects attracted to the sap wells, creating a symbiotic relationship between their sap-feeding and insectivorous activities. While insects and sap make up a significant portion of their diet, they also consume fruits and berries, showcasing dietary versatility.

Conservation efforts for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers focus on promoting healthy forest ecosystems that support their unique foraging habits. Protecting trees with sap wells and ensuring suitable nesting sites are integral to their conservation.

By fostering an understanding of their ecological role and emphasizing the need for sustainable land management, enthusiasts contribute to the preservation of these woodpeckers and their interactions with their habitat.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Maine

Maine’s diverse landscapes provide a haven for woodpecker enthusiasts seeking to witness these captivating drummers in action. To embark on an exciting woodpecker-spotting adventure, follow these tips and explore four prime areas:

  • Acadia National Park: Traverse the wooded trails and scenic drives of this iconic park, where the resonant drumming of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers echoes through lush forests. Scan dead trees and fallen logs for signs of their foraging.
  • Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge: Venture into the heart of this refuge to catch sight of the elusive Black-backed Woodpecker. Look for their distinctive charred tree markings, a sign of their preference for recently burned areas.
  • Allagash Wilderness Waterway: Paddle along the serene waterways, where the haunting calls of the Northern Flicker often ring out. Keep an eye on tree trunks for their striking black “moustache” markings.
  • Rangeley Lakes Region: In this tranquil setting, the Pileated Woodpecker reigns supreme. Their large size and distinctive red crest make them a spectacular sight. Listen for their wild, echoing calls and watch for them excavating large holes in search of insects.

To maximize your woodpecker-watching experience, bring binoculars and a field guide to identify different species and their distinctive behaviors. Patience is key; position yourself quietly near their habitats, focusing on dead trees and fallen logs where insects thrive. Respect their space and adhere to ethical wildlife observation practices, ensuring that these remarkable woodpeckers continue to thrive within Maine’s breathtaking natural tapestry.


As guardians of Maine’s forests, woodpeckers demonstrate a harmonious blend of nature’s artistry and ecological importance. Their rhythmic drumming and vibrant presence enrich the state’s biodiversity. However, as habitats evolve, these resilient birds encounter new challenges.

By nurturing their habitats and fostering a deeper understanding, we can ensure the continued thriving of these remarkable creatures. Let the captivating world of Maine’s woodpeckers inspire us to safeguard not only their existence but also the delicate balance of our natural world.

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