8 Woodpeckers of Nebraska (With Pictures)

8 Woodpeckers of Nebraska (With Pictures)

Nebraska, a state celebrated for its sprawling prairies and lush woodlands, is also a vibrant stage for the symphony of woodpeckers. This article delves into the intriguing world of Nebraska’s woodpeckers, showcasing their diversity, unique behaviors, and the integral role they play in the state’s ecosystems.

From the tiny, industrious Downy Woodpecker to the striking Red-Headed Woodpecker, each species weaves its own rhythm into the heart of Nebraska’s natural landscapes.

These birds are not only a delight to birdwatchers but also vital to maintaining the ecological balance, acting as both predator and keystone species. Readers will be taken on a journey through Nebraska’s most scenic parks and reserves, exploring the habitats and habits of these fascinating birds.

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
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Red-Headed Woodpecker, with its bold, tricolor plumage, is a striking presence in the open woodlands, parks, and orchards of eastern North America. It sports a brilliant red head, a stark contrast to its snow-white body and jet-black back and wings.

This vivid coloration, combined with its energetic behaviour, makes it one of the most easily identifiable woodpeckers. The Red-Headed Woodpecker’s preference for dead trees makes it a key species in its ecosystem, playing a vital role in the health of its woodland home.

A Red-Headed Woodpecker sitting on a mossy tree trunk

The Red-Headed Woodpecker chooses dead or dying trees for nesting, creating cavities that serve as cozy nurseries for their eggs. These woodpeckers often reuse and repair old cavities, showcasing their resourcefulness. Their nesting sites are filled with the gentle sounds of nurturing, as both parents actively participate in raising their young.

The diet of the Red-Headed Woodpecker is notably varied, including insects, fruits, and seeds. They are known for their acrobatic foraging, often catching insects in mid-air. In the winter, they store food in tree crevices, displaying an impressive memory in relocating their caches.

The Red-Headed Woodpecker has faced challenges due to habitat loss and competition for nesting sites. Conservation efforts focus on preserving old-growth forests and dead trees, crucial for their nesting. Awareness campaigns and habitat management have been key in supporting their populations.

2. 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
  • State status: Migratory and common

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, a migratory woodpecker, graces the forests of eastern North America. It showcases a distinctive black and white face pattern with a bold red forehead and throat in males, while females sport a white throat.

Its eponymous yellow belly, though often subtle, adds a delicate touch to its otherwise stark plumage. Known for its habit of drilling sap wells in trees, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker’s presence is often announced by a pattern of small holes in tree bark, a signature of its foraging technique.

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker sitting in a tree

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers have a unique approach to nesting. They meticulously carve out tree cavities, preferring young, healthy trees. Their nesting process is like a delicate art form, carefully crafting a safe haven for their offspring.

Their choice of nesting sites has a ripple effect in the forest, influencing tree health and the availability of habitats for other species.

The diet of the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker revolves around tree sap, primarily from young trees. They drill ‘sapwells’ into the bark, sipping the leaking sap and catching insects drawn to it. Their feeding habits are a beautiful example of nature’s balance, with the sapsuckers playing a role in the forest’s health by pruning young trees and controlling insect populations.

Conservation efforts for Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers focus on protecting their habitat, especially young forests. They face challenges due to deforestation and changes in forest composition.

Efforts to conserve them include promoting the growth of young trees and preserving their feeding grounds. Their conservation story highlights the interconnectedness of forest health and wildlife wellbeing.

3. 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, a charming and familiar sight across North America, enchants observers with its petite stature and agile movements. Adorned in a classic black and white plumage, it features a striking white back with black wings that showcase delicate white spots.

Males are distinguished by a small, vivid red patch on the back of their heads, adding a dash of color to their otherwise monochrome appearance. This bird, the smallest woodpecker in North America, frequents wooded habitats, gardens, and parks, endearing itself to birdwatchers with its gentle tapping and inquisitive nature.

Downy woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker exhibits a delightful nesting ritual in the cavities of dead trees or branches. These industrious birds meticulously carve out their homes, creating a snug, safe space for their eggs.

The male typically takes the lead in excavation, a process that resonates through the forest with rhythmic tapping. This intimate space, often reused and refurbished over years, becomes a cradle for new generations, echoing with the soft peeps of chicks each spring.

The diet of the Downy Woodpecker is a diverse buffet, consisting of insects like beetles and ants, supplemented with berries and seeds. Their foraging technique is a delicate dance along tree barks and branches, probing crevices with their fine, barbed tongues.

Winter months often find them at bird feeders, partaking in suet or sunflower seeds, a delightful sight for backyard birdwatchers.

The Downy Woodpecker has fared well in conservation terms, adapting to both wild and urban environments. Efforts focus on preserving their natural habitats, particularly dead trees that are crucial for nesting. Their presence in urban areas has been a happy testament to their adaptability, making them ambassadors of urban wildlife.

4. 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 boasts a more robust appearance, making it a standout in the forests across North America. Its bold black and white plumage is punctuated by stark white underparts and a distinctive white stripe down its back.

The male’s flash of red on the back of the head adds a touch of elegance. With its longer bill, the Hairy Woodpecker is an impressive figure among the trees, where it is often heard before seen, drumming powerfully on tree trunks.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree

In the heart of Nebraska’s forests, the Hairy Woodpecker carves out nesting cavities in dead trees, a labour of love and survival. These larger cavities provide a safe haven for their eggs and young, shielded from predators.

The male and female often work in tandem, a harmonious duo dedicated to crafting the perfect nest, which resonates with the soft calls of their young in the breeding season.

The Hairy Woodpecker’s diet primarily consists of insects like wood-boring beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They forage with robust determination, their powerful beaks chiselling away at bark to unearth hidden meals. In winter, they often frequent backyard feeders, delighting onlookers as they feast on suet and seeds.

Conservation for the Hairy Woodpecker involves maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. They thrive in older forests with abundant dead wood, making habitat preservation key. These woodpeckers have shown resilience in face of environmental changes, but continued conservation efforts are essential to ensure their habitats remain intact.

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
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Northern Flicker, distinct among woodpeckers for its ground-foraging habits, graces a wide range of habitats across North America. It exhibits remarkable plumage – a brownish body speckled with black, a black crescent on the chest, and a flash of color in flight from its vibrant yellow or red underwing feathers, depending on the region.

The Northern Flicker’s spotted plumage and unique behaviour, including its famous ground hopping, make it an intriguing and easily recognizable bird.

A Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers are fascinating when it comes to their nesting habits. They prefer to carve out their own nests in trees, showing a preference for dead or dying trees where their beaks can easily do the work.

These birds aren’t just homebuilders; they’re neighborhood creators, often leaving behind nesting sites that are later used by other species. Their dedication to crafting the perfect nest is a testament to their role in the ecosystem, creating homes not only for themselves but for others.

They are primarily ground foragers, often seen hopping around lawns looking for ants and beetles. This makes them unique among woodpeckers. Their diet is a little gourmet adventure, with ants making up a significant portion.

Conservation efforts for Northern Flickers revolve around preserving their habitat. They’ve faced challenges due to the loss of suitable nesting trees and competition for existing ones.

Conservationists emphasize the importance of leaving dead and dying trees standing, which serve as vital real estate for these birds. Their story is a reminder of how interconnected life is and how our actions can ripple through the web of nature.

6. 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: Migratory and rare

The Red-Naped Sapsucker, a migratory bird found in the forests of western North America, is a visual delight with its intricate plumage. This medium-sized woodpecker features a red nape, crown, and throat, interspersed with black and white facial patterns.

Its body is adorned with black and white barring, adding a sophisticated texture to its appearance. The Red-Naped Sapsucker, known for drilling neat rows of sap wells in trees, adds a distinct character to the woodlands with its rhythmic tapping and vibrant colors.

A Red-Naped Sapsucker sitting in a tree

They skillfully carve out cavities in trees, often aspen or birch, creating snug homes for their young. These birds are like the meticulous architects of the avian world, ensuring that every detail of their nest is perfect. Their choice of nesting sites also plays a crucial role in the health of their forest ecosystems, as these cavities often become homes for other species.

They primarily feed on the sap of trees, creating neat rows of holes to access this sweet resource. But it’s not just about sap; they also consume insects attracted to the sap, and even fruit. Their feeding habits are a delicate dance with nature, balancing the need to feed without harming their tree hosts.

Conservation efforts for the Red-Naped Sapsucker focus on maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. They face challenges from logging and deforestation. Conservationists strive to protect old-growth forests, which are crucial for these birds.

The Red-Naped Sapsucker’s story is a reminder of the delicate balance between development and nature, and the importance of safeguarding our forests.

7. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 9 to 10.6 inches (23 to 27 cm)
  • Weight: 2 to 3.2 ounces (57 to 91 grams)
  • Wingspan: 13 to 16.5 inches (33 to 42 cm)
  • Status: Least concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker, a resident of the eastern woodlands of the United States, brings a splash of color to the forest with its strikingly patterned plumage. Contrary to its name, the most prominent feature is the bright red cap and nape, contrasting beautifully against its black-and-white barred back and wings.

The subtle blush on its belly, often overlooked, completes its unique look. This medium-sized woodpecker’s vivid colors and distinctive call make it a favourite among bird enthusiasts.

A close up photo of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

They prefer dead or decaying trees for nesting, where they excavate deep cavities. These cavities, meticulously crafted, provide a secure environment for their eggs and chicks. The couple takes turns in excavation, their bond strengthening as they prepare for their future brood.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers have a varied diet that includes insects, fruits, and nuts. They are skilled foragers, adept at gleaning insects from tree bark and even catching them in flight. During colder months, these woodpeckers are frequent visitors to bird feeders, bringing vibrant energy as they feed on suet and seeds.

Conservation efforts for Red-Bellied Woodpeckers focus on preserving and restoring their woodland habitats. They are adaptable and have benefited from the increased prevalence of wooded suburban areas, making them a conservation success story.

However, the protection of mature forests remains crucial for their long-term survival.

8. Lewi’s Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
  • Life span: Up to 7 years
  • Size: 10-11 inches (25.4-27.9 cm)
  • Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz (88-139 g)
  • Wingspan: 19-20 inches (48.3-50.8 cm)
  • Status: Least concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Lewis’s Woodpecker, named after the famed explorer Meriwether Lewis, is an elegant bird found in the open woodlands and edges of western North America. This species stands out with its dark greenish-black body, a striking contrast to its red face and pinkish belly.

The bird’s graceful flight, reminiscent of a crow, combined with its distinctively coloured plumage, makes it a mesmerizing sight. Lewis’s Woodpecker’s preference for open areas near forests provides a unique opportunity to observe this less commonly seen, yet remarkably beautiful bird.

Lewi’s Woodpecker.

They often choose abandoned cavities in trees, rather than carving out new ones. These birds are like the imaginative recyclers of the bird world, reimagining old spaces into cozy homes. Their nesting behaviour highlights the importance of old trees in providing essential habitat, not just for them but for a host of other wildlife.

The diet of Lewis’s Woodpecker is notably diverse. They feast on a mix of insects, fruits, and nuts, showcasing their adaptability. Uniquely, they often catch insects in mid-air, displaying remarkable aerial agility. Their feeding habits are a blend of tenacity and grace, a reminder of the adaptability and resilience inherent in nature.

Conservation for Lewis’s Woodpecker involves preserving open woodland habitats. They face threats from habitat loss and changes in forest management practices. Efforts to conserve them are focused on maintaining large, mature trees and open forest landscapes.

Their story underscores the need for thoughtful land management that balances human needs with those of wildlife.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Nebraska

Nebraska, with its diverse landscapes ranging from prairies to forests, is an excellent habitat for various woodpecker species. To find these fascinating birds, keen observers should explore areas rich in trees, especially dead or decaying ones, as woodpeckers are often attracted to such environments for feeding and nesting.

  • One prime location is Fontenelle Forest, located near Omaha. This old-growth forest, with its abundance of mature trees, is a haven for woodpeckers, including the Downy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers. Birdwatchers should bring binoculars and keep an ear out for the distinctive drumming sounds that woodpeckers make.
  • Indian Cave State Park, nestled along the Missouri River, offers another excellent woodpecker-spotting opportunity. The park’s varied habitats, including hardwood forests, provide ideal conditions for species like the Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker.
  • Ponca State Park, in the northeastern corner of the state, is known for its biodiversity. Here, the dense woodlands along the Missouri River bluffs are perfect for observing Red-Headed Woodpeckers and other species.
  • Lastly, Niobrara State Park, with its unique confluence of ecosystems, is a woodpecker enthusiast’s delight. The park’s mixed pine and deciduous forests attract species like the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.

For successful woodpecker watching, early morning is the best time, as these birds are most active. Look for signs of pecking on trees, listen for their distinctive drumming, and stay quiet and patient.

Joining a local birding tour can also enhance the experience, providing expert guidance and a shared appreciation for these remarkable birds.


Nebraska’s woodpeckers are a testament to the state’s rich biodiversity. Their unique behaviours and adaptations, from their specialized beaks to their role in forest ecosystems, highlight the intricate balance of nature.

As we continue to study and appreciate these remarkable birds, it becomes increasingly clear how vital it is to protect their habitats. Their presence not only enriches Nebraska’s natural landscapes but also serves as an important indicator of environmental health and sustainability.

Join the discussion