Woodpeckers of Maryland

Woodpeckers of Maryland

Maryland, a state blessed with rich forests and abundant greenery, provides a thriving habitat for an array of bird species, including the charismatic woodpeckers. Known for their distinct calls and rhythmic drumming, these remarkable avian creatures play a vital role in maintaining the health of Maryland’s woodlands.

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of woodpeckers in Maryland, exploring their diverse species, unique adaptations, and their ecological significance. Join us as we uncover the captivating lives of these skilled excavators, masters of tree-climbing, and guardians of Maryland’s forests.

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

The Red-Headed Woodpecker is a captivating avian, characterized by its remarkable red head and neck, making it effortlessly distinguishable. With a lustrous black body and wings, paired with white underparts and a white patch situated at the base of its tail, this medium-sized woodpecker is a common sight throughout Maryland.

The bird sustains itself on the region’s plentiful insect and invertebrate populations, in addition to fruits and nuts. The Red-Headed Woodpecker’s aerial dexterity is widely celebrated, as it is often seen searching for sustenance while suspended upside down.

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

The Red-Headed Woodpecker, a captivating avian species native to Maryland, exhibits fascinating behaviours within its territorial realm. During the breeding season in May, the male woodpecker skilfully drums on dead trees with its beak, attracting potential mates. Once a pair is formed, they collaborate to excavate nest cavities in decaying or dead trees.

While the female incubates the eggs, the male dutifully provides sustenance for both her and the chicks. Even after fledging, the family remains together, foraging and roosting as a cohesive unit before gradually establishing their individual territories.

Red-Headed Woodpeckers display a versatile palate, primarily feeding on insects, nuts, and fruits. However, they opportunistically seize available food sources, even raiding nests of smaller bird species during challenging times.

Despite being classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, the Red-Headed Woodpecker population has experienced a significant decline over the past century due to habitat loss and the removal of dead trees vital for nesting. To support and potentially enhance their population, it is crucial to implement measures such as creating artificial nest cavities, maintaining dead trees, and establishing new nesting sites. Additionally, providing bird feeders can contribute to their well-being and survival.

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, native to Maryland, is a frequently observed bird in the area. It boasts distinct features such as a crimson head, neck, and underparts, along with ebony wings, back, and tail. Notably, it sports a conspicuous white patch at the base of its tail and a wing bar, visible during flight, setting it apart from other woodpecker species mentioned.

Its robust beak is specially designed for foraging insects and other nourishment on tree trunks, branches, and foliage. Displaying remarkable adaptations, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker presents an enthralling subject for nature enthusiasts and avid birdwatchers alike when encountered in its natural habitat.

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

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker, known for its nest-building prowess, selects cavities in deteriorating or deceased trees as its chosen nesting sites. After the male diligently excavates the cavity, the female carefully lines it with wood chips before commencing the nurturing of their offspring. This avian species exhibits territorial tendencies, fiercely safeguarding its nest cavity from rival woodpeckers, other avian species, and potential predators.

Being an omnivorous creature, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker’s diet comprises primarily of insects, alongside an assortment of invertebrates like spiders and snails. Additionally, it partakes in nuts and fruits, including acorns, berries, and seeds found abundantly within mature forest habitats it inhabits. The robust beak of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker bestows upon it the ability to penetrate tree bark, uncovering hidden insects, as well as crack open seeds and nuts.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker thrives as a prevalent and widely distributed species throughout Maryland, earning a “Least Concern” classification from the IUCN due to its substantial population and lack of significant threats jeopardizing its existence.

Historical deforestation for agricultural purposes has inadvertently provided favourable open woodlands and forest edges that serve as ideal habitats for this species. Additionally, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker has demonstrated adaptability to human-altered landscapes, often gracing parks, and suburban areas with its presence.

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

In the lush woodlands of North America, a striking avian presence captures the attention of nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers alike—the magnificent Pileated Woodpecker. With its sleek ebony plumage, punctuated by bold white stripes adorning its neck and wings, this impressive creature paints a vivid portrait against the forest backdrop.

Its distinct call resonates through the trees like a rhythmic heartbeat, announcing its arrival in grand style. Delightfully, this skilled acrobat also possesses the unique ability to excavate sizable cavities in trees, shaping its surroundings and leaving a mark of its craftsmanship.

A Pileated Woodpecker browsing an old tree stump for food

The Pileated Woodpecker is recognized for its monogamous nature, forming lifelong bonds with a single partner. It vigorously defends its territory by emitting assertive vocalizations and displays that deter other birds from encroaching upon its space.

These woodpeckers possess exceptional excavating abilities, fashioning large rectangular cavities in decaying trees for nesting, roosting, and food storage purposes. While they have a preference for natural tree cavities, they can adapt to using artificial nest boxes that fulfill their requirements. However, a readily available supply of decaying trees is essential for them to construct their homes.

The Pileated Woodpecker has an omnivorous diet, consuming both animal and plant matter, with a primary focus on insects. Using their robust beaks and long tongues, they excavate decaying trees in search of wood-boring beetles, ants, and other insects.

In the past, deforestation during the 19th and 20th centuries led to a decline in the range and population of the Pileated Woodpecker. Nonetheless, through reforestation initiatives and the expansion of suburban and urban forests, this species has made an impressive recovery. Presently, the IUCN classifies the Pileated Woodpecker as “Least Concern”.

Although habitat loss and degradation continue to pose threats, conservation efforts are concentrated on preserving and restoring their native habitats. Additionally, providing suitable nesting and foraging sites is crucial to ensuring the survival of these majestic forest inhabitants.

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, a small bird species, can be found throughout North America, including the state of Maryland. It is easily recognizable by its distinct black and white striped head and its small, chisel-shaped beak. While in flight, its black back, white underparts, and prominent white wing patch are clearly visible.

This avian species plays a crucial role in forest ecosystems, as it helps regulate insect populations and facilitates the dispersal of seeds from trees and plants. Its lively movements make it a delightful sight for many people who enjoy observing birds.

A Downy Woodpecker sitting on a log

The Downy Woodpecker exhibits excellent skills in nest excavation, with both males and females actively participating in the process. They utilize their robust beaks to peck away at the wood until a suitable nesting site is created. Typically, the nesting cavity is lined with soft materials like wood chips to provide a cozy environment.

As for its diet, the Downy Woodpecker primarily feeds on insects, including beetles, ants, and caterpillars. It locates these prey items by pecking at the bark of trees. Additionally, it may indulge in sap consumption by creating holes in the bark and drinking the sap. The bird also includes fruits, nuts, and seeds from various plants such as elderberry, palmetto, and pine cones in its diet.

Although habitat loss and degradation have caused a decline in the Downy Woodpecker population in certain regions, it is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. To ensure the species’ survival and preserve its habitats, conservation efforts are underway. These efforts involve protecting and restoring critical habitats, managing and eliminating invasive species, and promoting sustainable forestry practices.

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, native to Maryland, stands out with its unique black and white feathers, long chisel-shaped beak, and distinctive personality. It can be found in diverse habitats, ranging from forests in Alaska to suburban areas in Mexico, and has even been spotted visiting bird feeders.

Bird enthusiasts and backyard birders hold a special fondness for this species due to its impressive tree drumming abilities and its expertise in extracting insects from tree trunks.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Hairy Woodpecker is a species known for its nest-building abilities, often creating cavities within trees or wooden structures. Both male and female birds actively participate in the excavation process, using their beaks to remove wood until they find the ideal nesting spot. These nests are typically lined with soft materials like wood chips, as well as unconventional items such as cigarette filters, pieces of clothing, and foam.

In terms of diet, the Hairy Woodpecker predominantly feeds on insects, including beetles, ants, and caterpillars. It locates these prey items by pecking at tree bark and other wooden surfaces. Additionally, it indulges in sap-drinking from trees and shrubs, and it consumes a variety of fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Despite being widespread in North America, including Maryland, some populations of Hairy Woodpeckers have experienced a decline due to habitat loss and degradation. However, efforts are underway to conserve and protect this species and its habitats. Currently, the IUCN classifies 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, a woodpecker species native to North America, boasts a medium-sized body and eye-catching black and white feathers. Its name is derived from the distinct yellow belly that sets it apart. This woodpecker species is frequently encountered in deciduous forests, orchards, and parks throughout its range.

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and its shallow holes

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a woodpecker species known for its distinctive black and white plumage and vibrant yellow belly. When it comes to nest-building, these woodpeckers create holes in trees or wooden structures, lining the nests with soft materials like wood chips or grass. Both male and female birds collaborate in the nest-building process, utilizing their beaks to carve out the perfect site.

Their primary source of sustenance is tree sap, which they access by drilling small holes into the bark. They also feed on insects, fruits, and occasionally small birds. Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are typically found in coniferous trees, as they are attracted to the sap and insects found in such habitats.

While the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, certain areas have witnessed population declines due to habitat loss and degradation. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and preserving their habitats, particularly mature forested areas that offer a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. These measures have proven effective in maintaining stable populations in many regions, although areas with significant deforestation have experienced 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, a sizable woodpecker species, inhabits various regions of North America, ranging from Alaska to Mexico. This bird is recognized for its distinctive appearance, featuring boldly-patterned underparts, brownish-red back and wings, a black bib, and a red or black mustache, depending on its specific morphology. In Maryland, the most common variant is the yellow-shafted morphology with a black mustache.

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

The Northern Flicker exhibits remarkable nesting behaviour, often creating cavities in trees or other surfaces. This versatile bird shows a preference for dead or decaying trees, although it will adapt to using man-made structures like poles or posts when necessary. Apart from their impressive excavation skills, Northern Flickers are known for their rhythmic drumming, produced by tapping their beaks against hard surfaces, serving as a means of communication and courtship.

Their diet is diverse, encompassing both plant matter and animals. They forage for insects such as ants, beetles, caterpillars, and termites on the ground and in trees. Additionally, they consume fruits, berries, and nuts from various tree species. In winter, when insects are scarce, Northern Flickers employ their long tongues to extract sap from trees.

The Northern Flicker, classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, boasts a robust population estimated to range between 10 and 20 million individuals. It is widely distributed throughout North America. While certain subspecies may face challenges due to deforestation and urbanization, Northern Flickers have demonstrated adaptability to human-modified landscapes, even expanding their range into urban areas.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Maryland

Maryland offers ample opportunities for bird enthusiasts to observe woodpeckers in their natural habitat. To find woodpeckers in the state, it is recommended to visit areas with a mix of mature forests and open spaces. Here are four notable locations:

  • Patapsco Valley State Park: This expansive park near Baltimore is home to a variety of woodpecker species. Explore the wooded trails, especially around the riverbanks, where you may spot Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers.
  • Assateague Island National Seashore: This coastal haven is renowned for its wild horses and diverse birdlife. Look for the vibrant Red-bellied Woodpecker and the distinctive Pileated Woodpecker in the forested areas of the island.
  • Catoctin Mountain Park: Situated in the picturesque Catoctin Mountain range, this park provides excellent woodpecker viewing opportunities. The forests here host species such as the Northern Flicker and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge: Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, this expansive wetland habitat attracts a variety of woodpeckers. Keep an eye out for the striking Red-headed Woodpecker and the iconic Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

To maximize your chances of spotting woodpeckers, bring along binoculars and a field guide to help with identification. Visit during the early morning or late afternoon when woodpeckers are most active. Look for signs of woodpecker activity, such as freshly drilled holes in tree trunks, and listen for their distinctive drumming sounds. Remember to respect the birds’ natural environment and maintain a safe distance to observe them without causing disturbance.


In conclusion, Maryland offers a rich and diverse habitat for woodpeckers, making it a prime destination for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers. With proper preparation, including binoculars and a field guide, and a respectful approach to their natural environment, visitors to Maryland can enjoy the thrill of spotting woodpeckers and appreciating their vital role in the state’s ecosystem.

Join the discussion

  • Is it normal for them to be in California? I just spent about 3 hours admiring them in a tree .I’m in San Bernardino,ca