11 Woodpeckers of Oklahoma (With Pictures)

11 Woodpeckers of Oklahoma (With Pictures)

In the diverse landscapes of Oklahoma, where the wind whistles through the plains and forests, a symphony of knocks and drumming resounds. This is the realm of the woodpeckers, an intriguing group of birds that bring both color and rhythm to the state’s avian community. Oklahoma, with its rich variety of habitats, is a haven for these remarkable birds.

From the smallest, like the Downy Woodpecker, to the largest, like the Pileated Woodpecker, each species presents a unique story of adaptation and survival. These birds are not just captivating to watch; they play a crucial role in the ecosystem, acting as both predator and pollinator. Their presence is a barometer of the health of their environment.

This article explores the world of Oklahoma’s woodpeckers, delving into their behaviors, habitats, and the challenges they face, providing a window into the lives of these fascinating creatures.

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, a striking bird, is found across the eastern United States, extending into parts of Canada. Its head is a brilliant crimson, contrasting sharply with its white belly, neck and upper chest and black back and wings.

The wings also feature large white patches, which are prominent in flight. This woodpecker’s bold coloration and striking pattern make it one of the most easily identifiable and visually stunning species in its range.

A Red-Headed Woodpecker sitting in a dead tree

The Red-headed Woodpecker exhibits unique nesting habits. Preferring dead or decaying trees, they skillfully excavate cavities in these softer woods. Their choice of habitat reflects a keen adaptation to their environment, as these dead trees often have fewer predators and competitors.

This bird’s dedication to its nesting site is remarkable, often returning to the same spot yearly, ensuring the maintenance and security of its home.

An omnivorous bird, the Red-headed Woodpecker’s diet is a marvel of diversity. In the warmer months, they primarily feast on insects, skillfully plucking them from tree bark or even catching them mid-flight. Come winter, their diet shifts to fruits and nuts, showcasing their adaptability. This varied diet not only sustains them but also plays a crucial role in the ecosystem, as they help control insect populations and disperse seeds.

The conservation story of the Red-headed Woodpecker is a tapestry of challenges and triumphs. Historically, their numbers dwindled due to habitat loss and changes in land use. However, concerted conservation efforts focusing on preserving old-growth forests and dead trees have provided a lifeline.

Educational programs and legal protections have also played a key role in their gradual recovery, highlighting the importance of human intervention in the survival of this charismatic species.

2. 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 common

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker, residing in the southwestern United States and Mexico, is a small woodpecker with a distinctive pattern. It features a black and white barred back, resembling a ladder, and a spotted black and white breast. The male has a red crown, while the female’s crown is black.

This bird’s coloring blends seamlessly with the arid scrub and desert habitats it frequents, making it a master of camouflage in these environments.

A close up photo of a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker has intriguing nesting habits. Favoring arid or semi-arid habitats, they carve out nesting cavities in cactus or small trees. Their preference for these habitats demonstrates an incredible adaptation to harsh environments.

The nesting process, involving both males and females, is a harmonious effort, reflecting the species’ strong pair bonds and cooperation in ensuring the safety and comfort of their offspring.

Primarily feeding on insects, particularly beetles and ants, they play a vital role in controlling pest populations in their ecosystems. Their ability to extract food from cacti and small trees is a remarkable adaptation, showcasing their specialized foraging skills. This diet underscores the intricate balance of nature in arid environments and the essential role this species plays in it.

While they have not faced significant conservation threats compared to other woodpecker species, habitat alteration remains a concern. Conservation efforts have thus focused on maintaining and protecting their natural habitats, particularly in areas affected by urban expansion.

Public education about the ecological importance of these birds and their habitats has also been crucial in ensuring their continued presence in Oklahoma’s diverse landscapes.

3. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides borealis
  • Life span: 5 to 9 years
  • Size: 7.1 to 8.3 inches (18 to 21 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5 to 1.8 ounces (42 to 51 grams)
  • Wingspan: 14 to 16.5 inches (36 to 42 cm)
  • Status: Endangered
  • State status: Breeding and rare

Endemic to the southeastern United States, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker primarily inhabits pine forests. It’s a small to medium-sized bird, predominantly black and white with barred black and white back and spotted sides.

The male has a small, nearly hidden red streak on the side of its head, which gives the bird its name. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s appearance reflects its pine forest habitat, making it an integral species in these ecosystems.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Nesting behavior in the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is nothing short of an architectural feat. Preferring living pine trees, they are one of the few woodpecker species that excavate in living wood.

This labour-intensive process can take years, reflecting their extraordinary commitment to creating a safe nesting environment. The sap flowing around their nest holes serves as a deterrent against predators, showcasing an ingenious natural defense mechanism.

Primarily insectivorous, they specialize in extracting ants, beetles, and other insects from pine trees. Their foraging technique, involving scaling tree trunks and probing bark crevices, is a mesmerizing dance of precision and agility.

This dietary preference underscores their role as a keystone species in maintaining the health of pine forests, controlling insect populations that could otherwise harm these trees.

Once teetering on the brink of extinction, they have made a comeback thanks to dedicated conservation efforts. Habitat management, such as controlled burns and the installation of artificial nesting boxes, has been pivotal.

These efforts, coupled with legal protection under the Endangered Species Act, have given this species a fighting chance, symbolizing the power of human commitment to biodiversity preservation.

4. 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

Native to North America, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker inhabits forests in the north and migrates to the southern United States and Central America. This medium-sized woodpecker is known for its black and white mottled plumage and distinctive red forehead and throat (in males).

The bird’s name comes from its yellowish underparts, which are more subtle than its name suggests, contributing to its distinctive and attractive appearance.

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker sitting in a tree

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers choose tree cavities for nesting, often in aspen or birch trees. These birds exhibit remarkable skill in excavating their nests, creating perfectly round holes. The process is a joint effort between the male and female, reflecting strong pair bonds.

Their nesting choices have a significant impact on forest ecology, as the cavities they create are often used by other bird species, contributing to biodiversity.

Primarily known for their sap-eating habits, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill neat rows of holes in tree bark to access the sap. This unique feeding strategy also attracts insects, which become an additional food source. Apart from sap and insects, they consume fruits and berries, especially during migration. Their diet plays a crucial role in their migratory success and survival, and their sap wells provide food for other wildlife, showcasing their role in the ecosystem.

Conservation efforts for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers focus on protecting their breeding and feeding habitats. Their dependence on specific tree species for sap-feeding means that forest diversity and health are crucial. Habitat loss and changes in forest composition due to logging and urbanization are significant threats.

Conservation initiatives include promoting diverse and healthy forests and educating the public about the importance of these birds in maintaining forest health and supporting other wildlife species.

5. 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
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Pileated Woodpecker, one of the largest woodpecker species in North America, is primarily found in the eastern United States, parts of Canada, and the Pacific Coast. This bird is almost crow-sized, predominantly black with bold white stripes on the face and neck and a flaming-red crest. Its white wing linings are noticeable in flight.

The Pileated Woodpecker’s striking appearance is reminiscent of a classic cartoon character, adding a touch of drama to its forest habitat.

A Pileated Woodpecker looking out from its cavity

The Pileated Woodpecker selects large trees for nesting, often choosing dead or decaying trees for this purpose. Their nesting cavities, large and deep, are meticulously carved out over several weeks.

These cavities later serve as vital shelters for various other wildlife species, showcasing the Pileated Woodpecker’s essential role in their ecosystems. Their preference for larger trees highlights the importance of old-growth forests for their survival.

Pileated Woodpeckers primarily feed on carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae, which they skillfully extract from dead or decaying wood. Their powerful beaks are adept at chiseling away large chunks of wood to reach their prey.

They also consume fruits, nuts, and berries, particularly in colder months when insects are less available. This varied diet underlines their importance in controlling pest populations and maintaining the health of forest ecosystems.

Conservation efforts for the Pileated Woodpecker focus on preserving old-growth forests and large tracts of woodland, which are crucial for their nesting and foraging needs. As indicators of forest health, their presence or absence can reflect the overall health of the ecosystem.

Educational programs and habitat conservation initiatives are key to ensuring the survival of these magnificent birds, highlighting the importance of sustainable forestry and habitat management practices.

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
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Downy Woodpecker, a sprightly presence, is found across North America, from Alaska and Canada through the United States to Panama. It’s recognized by its black and white plumage, with a striking white back and a black nape.

Males are distinguished by a small red patch on the back of their heads. This bird, the smallest of North American woodpeckers, exhibits a charming appearance, blending agility with a delicate yet bold pattern of colours.

A Downy Woodpecker sitting on a stick with lichen

The Downy Woodpecker selects tree cavities for its home. Preferring dead or decaying trees, these small yet determined birds meticulously carve out their nests, a process that can take weeks. Both the male and female share this labour, creating a snug, safe environment for their young.

This careful selection and creation of nesting sites demonstrate their intricate relationship with their woodland habitats, highlighting the importance of deadwood in forests for these avian architects.

In the diverse diet of the Downy Woodpecker, insects form the cornerstone, including beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They skillfully forage on tree trunks and branches, using their barbed tongues to extract prey from crevices. In winter, their diet shifts to include more plant material such as berries and grains.

This dietary flexibility is key to their survival across various environments, showcasing their adaptability and role in controlling insect populations, thus maintaining the ecological balance.

The Downy Woodpecker’s conservation is a success story, with stable populations due to their adaptability to various habitats, including urban areas. However, conservation efforts focus on preserving their natural habitats, especially mature forests and woodlands with a plentiful supply of dead trees for nesting.

Public education about the ecological benefits of these birds, including their role in pest control and forest health, is vital in ensuring their continued prosperity.

7. 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

Widely distributed across North America, the Hairy Woodpecker inhabits forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. Its appearance is strikingly similar to the Downy Woodpecker but more robust. It displays a bold contrast of black and white plumage, with a prominent white back and a largely black head.

Male Hairy Woodpeckers are adorned with a flash of red on their heads, adding a splash of color to their otherwise monochromatic appearance.

A close up photo of a Hairy Woodpecker.

The Hairy Woodpecker favours tree cavities for nesting. Preferring older forests with a rich supply of deadwood, these birds play a crucial role in the ecosystem by creating habitats not only for themselves but also for other species.

The nest excavation is a testament to the bird’s strength and persistence, often taking several weeks to complete. This nesting behavior underscores the importance of mature, undisturbed forests for their survival.

The diet of the Hairy Woodpecker is predominantly insectivorous, focusing on beetles, ants, and caterpillars found under the bark of trees. Their powerful beaks and long tongues are perfectly adapted for this task, allowing them to reach deep into the wood.

Additionally, they consume fruits and nuts, particularly in the winter, demonstrating their ability to adapt their feeding habits to the available resources, thereby playing a vital role in the health of forest ecosystems.

Conservation efforts for the Hairy Woodpecker involve preserving their natural habitats, particularly mature forests with ample deadwood. While their populations are generally stable, they are sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Environmental initiatives aim to protect these habitats and promote sustainable forestry practices. Education and awareness programs help in understanding the ecological significance of these birds, particularly in their role in controlling insect populations and maintaining forest health.

8. 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, grayish-brown woodpecker, is found across North America, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean. It stands out with its barred back and spotted underparts.

The bird exhibits sexual dimorphism; males have a black or red moustache mark. Northern Flickers are unique for their vivid yellow or red shafts of the tail and wing feathers, which flash during flight, creating a stunning visual display.

A Northern Flicker sitting in a tree

Northern Flickers choose nesting sites both in tree cavities and, occasionally, on the ground – a rare habit among woodpeckers. These birds demonstrate remarkable adaptability in their choice of nesting sites, which can include trees in wooded areas, edges of forests, and even human-made structures.

The nest construction process is a collaborative effort between the male and female, indicating a strong pair bond and shared responsibility in raising their young.

Unlike many woodpeckers, Northern Flickers have a varied diet that extends beyond just insects. While they do feed on ants and beetles, they also consume a significant amount of fruit, seeds, and even occasionally small reptiles and amphibians.

This omnivorous diet reflects their adaptability to different environments and food sources, making them an integral part of various ecosystems. Their feeding habits also help in seed dispersal and pest control, contributing to ecological balance.

The conservation of Northern Flickers focuses on protecting their diverse habitats and nesting sites. Urbanization and deforestation pose significant threats to these birds. Efforts to conserve their habitats include promoting the preservation of dead and decaying trees, which are crucial for nesting.

Public education about the importance of these birds in ecosystems, and encouraging bird-friendly practices in urban and suburban areas, are key components of their conservation strategy.

9. 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, common in the eastern United States, is a medium-sized bird with a captivating pattern. It exhibits a zebra-like black-and-white barred pattern on its back and a pale underbelly with a subtle red hue.

The male has a vivid red cap and nape, while the female’s red is confined to the nape. This woodpecker’s vibrant colours and distinctive call make it a conspicuous inhabitant of its woodland habitat.

A close up photo of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is known for its preference for dead or dying trees for nesting. These medium-sized woodpeckers chisel out their nesting cavities with remarkable precision, often returning to the same site year after year.

The process of nest-building, shared by both sexes, not only provides them a safe haven for raising their young but also contributes to the ecological dynamics of their habitat by creating spaces used by other species.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a diverse diet, consisting primarily of insects such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They are adept at foraging in tree barks and even on the ground, displaying remarkable agility and resourcefulness.

In addition to insects, their diet includes fruits, nuts, and occasionally seeds, particularly in winter, demonstrating their ability to adapt to seasonal changes in food availability. This varied diet helps in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling insect populations and aiding in seed dispersal.

The conservation of the Red-bellied Woodpecker involves efforts to preserve and manage their habitats, particularly woodlands with a mix of dead and living trees. While their populations are relatively stable, they face challenges from habitat loss and fragmentation.

Conservation initiatives focus on habitat preservation, sustainable forestry practices, and public education about the importance of these birds in the ecosystem. Their adaptability to suburban and urban areas also opens avenues for urban wildlife conservation and education.

10. 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: Breeding and very rare

Found in the western United States, Lewis’s Woodpecker is unique among woodpeckers for its greenish-black back and wings and a salmon-coloured belly. It has a dark red face, contrasting with a gray collar and upper breast.

This woodpecker’s unusual coloring, along with its graceful flight, sets it apart from other woodpeckers, making it a striking and memorable sight in its open forest and woodland habitats.

A Lewi’s Woodpecker sitting in a dead tree

Unlike their peers, they often reuse old nests or cavities created by other birds, showcasing an opportunistic and adaptable approach. Their nesting sites, usually found in open woodland areas, provide a strategic advantage for foraging and predator surveillance.

This bird’s communal tendencies during breeding season add a social dimension to their nesting habits, often sharing spaces with others.

The diet of Lewis’s Woodpecker is a delightful surprise, as it diverges from typical woodpecker fare. Not just reliant on insects, they are also adept at catching flying insects in mid-air, a skill not commonly seen in other woodpeckers.

Additionally, they consume fruits and nuts, displaying a flexibility that ensures their survival across different seasons. Their foraging habits, often done in a more open area compared to their peers, highlight their unique adaptation to varied habitats.

Habitat loss, particularly the decline of suitable nesting sites due to forestry practices, has been a major challenge. Conservationists have responded by focusing on habitat restoration and protection, ensuring the preservation of old-growth forests and snags. Community involvement and education about this species’ ecological importance have also been key in fostering a protective attitude towards these vibrant birds.

11. Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes aurifrons
  • Life span: 3-5 years
  • Size: 22 to 26 cm (8.7 to 10 in)
  • Weight: 65 to 102 g (2.3 to 3.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42 cm to 45 cm (16.5 in to 17.7 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a native species to North and Central America, has a geographical range that extends from the southern United States, particularly Texas and Oklahoma, down through Mexico and into parts of Central America, including Belize and Guatemala

Characterized by distinctive coloration, this bird showcases a unique golden-yellow patch on its forehead, lending it its name. The back displays a pattern of black and white stripes, offering excellent camouflage among the trees and forests it inhabits. Its underparts are more subdued, with a gentle greenish-yellow hue. The wings are less conspicuous but still retain a mix of subtle colours.

A Golden-Fronted Woodpecker sitting in a flowering tree

The Golden-fronted Woodpecker engages in fascinating nesting practices. They typically select dead or decaying trees for their nesting sites, displaying a preference for oak or mesquite. Their ability to adapt to various tree densities is remarkable, allowing them to thrive in both dense woodlands and more open areas.

The nest-building process, involving meticulous excavation, reflects their commitment to providing a secure environment for their young.

Their diet includes insects, fruits, and seeds, showcasing their omnivorous nature. They are particularly fond of acorns and other nuts, storing them in tree crevices for later consumption.

This behavior not only aids in their survival during leaner months but also contributes to seed dispersal, playing a crucial role in their ecosystem. Their feeding habits are a beautiful example of nature’s balance, where each species plays a vital role.

Not currently facing severe threats, their stable population is a positive indicator of adequate habitat availability. However, ongoing habitat management, particularly in urban and suburban areas, remains essential to ensure their continued success. Conservation efforts are geared towards educating the public about the importance of maintaining wooded areas and the role these birds play in ecological health, ensuring a harmonious coexistence with human development.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Oklahoma

Oklahoma, with its diverse landscapes ranging from deciduous forests and river bottoms to grasslands and urban parks, offers a rich habitat for a variety of woodpeckers. To find these captivating birds, one must tune in to their distinctive behaviors and preferred environments.

Start by listening for their characteristic drumming and calls, which are often the first clues to their presence. Early morning is typically the best time to spot woodpeckers, as they are most active foraging for insects.

Observing dead or dying trees is also key, as many woodpecker species prefer these for nesting and feeding due to the abundance of insects. In addition to their natural habitats, woodpeckers can often be found in urban settings, where they are attracted to bird feeders, especially those filled with suet.

Here are four prime locations in Oklahoma for woodpecker watching:

  • Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: This refuge provides a mix of habitats, including forests and rocky areas, ideal for various woodpecker species.
  • Oxley Nature Center, Tulsa: The nature trails here traverse through diverse environments, increasing the likelihood of encountering different woodpecker species.
  • Beavers Bend State Park: With its rich forested areas, this park is a haven for woodpeckers, including the Pileated Woodpecker.
  • Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge: Located along the Arkansas River, this refuge offers excellent opportunities to spot woodpeckers in the riparian forests.

Remember, when observing woodpeckers, it’s essential to maintain a respectful distance to avoid disturbing them, especially during the nesting season.


Oklahoma’s woodpeckers are not just ornithological curiosities; they are vital threads in the ecological tapestry of the state. Understanding their habits, appreciating their beauty, and recognizing their ecological importance enriches our own connection to nature.

As stewards of their habitats, we hold the key to ensuring that the rhythmic drumming of these remarkable birds continues to echo across Oklahoma’s landscapes for generations to come.

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