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Top 5 Woodpeckers - The best peckers of North America

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Yes, I realize what I did with the title. Gotta get those clicks somehow, and everyone knows, sexy birds sell.

A close-up image of a Williamson's Sapsucker
Does the Williamson's Sapsucker crack our top 5? Read on to be disappointed... just general disappointment. Not the placement of this woodpecker

Imagine a creature with an internal helmet, grappling hook feet, face knife, spear tongue, and a maniacal cackle. I just described a woodpecker. Luckily for humans, they are not over six feet tall. Jurassic Park would look like a bunch of kittens if there were six-foot-tall woodpeckers chasing Allen Grant through a kitchen.

 

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Based on the time spent reading our articles, we have surmised that the majority of you are dodging work and sitting on the can. So, leave a comment about nature's can openers before you head back to your cubicle. If you want more information on each woodpecker, click on the linked name in each account.


Remember, we focus on North American species, so amazing species from the rest of the world will be excluded.


If you have a great disagreement with any placement or omission, argue in the comments below. And please, JOIN the flock! You have to be a member to leave a comment, and we promise to never spam you. We only share future articles and learning opportunities.


 

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Learn more about North America's woodpeckers!

 

If you are curious why woodpeckers hate your eaves or make every attempt to wake you up (and how to stop it), check out our article!


#5 - Lewis's Woodpecker

A Lewis's Woodpecker sits on a dead branch.
Pink, green, red, gray. Weird color concept, weird woodpecker. Still top 5.

The Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) is a flycatching woodpecker of the open forests of the west. Unlike many woodpeckers, they are quite social and are frequently seen flycatching insects out of mid-air. While many in the east do not get to regularly see this woodpecker species, it is not difficult to find on a birding expedition out west.


Population status of the Lewis's Woodpecker

The population of the Lewis's Woodpecker is estimated to be around 82,000 individuals. In the past 100 years, they have experienced serious population decline, and their populations continue to show a decline.


What I like about the Lewis's Woodpecker

It is just a weird woodpecker. The color scheme, behavior, and sounds are all so unique that this bird seems stuck between woodpeckers and songbirds. Also, at 82,000 individuals, this woodpecker is fairly rare!


What I do not like about the Lewis's Woodpecker

The name. Seriously. Can we not name birds after people? This bird is way too attractive to be saddled with this lame name. How about one-eyed, one-horned, flying pinkish people eater?



#4 - Red-breasted Sapsucker

A Red-breasted Sapsucker sits on the side of a tree.
While we could use a little more red on this woodpecker, it is quite the stunning sapsucker!

Sapsuckers, like the Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber), are named as such because of the sap wells they create when drilling into trees. In fact, while most woodpeckers have the spear-tongue, sapsuckers have a brush-tongue that is used to lap up the sticky, sweet sap oozing out of concentric rings of wells. These wells also get arthropods stuck in them, attracting other birds that will pick the insects out. The Red-breasted Sapsucker's main food is the sap, but it will occasionally eat the arthropods trapped in their wild fly trap.


Population status of the Red-breasted Sapsucker

Population estimates for the Red-breasted Sapsucker are around 2,800,000. Data from the 1990s and early 2000s showed a fairly stable population in most of its range.


What I like about the Red-breasted Sapsucker

Have you ever seen a sapsucker tongue up close? It is wicked cool! Also, most sapsuckers have a limited amount of red on their heads. However, the Red-breasted Sapsucker's red extends onto its breast. It is a stunning bird! Except...


What I do not like about the Red-breasted Sapsucker

A little more red could really do the trick. Actually, now that I think of it, imagine if it were the Red-bodied Woodpecker. That would skyrocket this woodpecker to number one.


 

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#3 - Red-headed Woodpecker

A Red-headed Woodpecker sits on the side of a tree.
Red-headed Woodpeckers pop. But two other woodpeckers pop more.

The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is the first in our list found in eastern North America. Like the Lewis's Woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker is an expert flycatcher. Its population may fluctuate and move depending on acorn and grasshopper availability. This bird is easily recognized by its brilliant red head, blueish black back, and contrastingly white wings and body. Its brilliant plumage has earned it many nicknames such as jellycoat, tricolored woodpecker, and flying checker-board.


Population status of the Red-headed Woodpecker

The population of the Red-headed Woodpecker is estimated at 1,800,000 individuals. It is declining across most of its range. In some states and in Canada, it is listed as threatened.


What I like about the Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker is not shy! I often find them at the tops of trees, shining like a ruby. Also, I had a personal encounter with some Red-headed Woodpeckers when a hailstorm with stones the size of grapefruits knocked down a cavity with several babies inside. I was able to rescue, dry, and return the babies to the woods, and they had some of the most outrageous characters!


What I do not like about the Red-headed Woodpecker

There is not much to not like about the Red-headed Woodpecker. It is only not higher on this list because the next two woodpeckers are either wicked cool or range further. And seriously, more red! More red!


 

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Wait, that may not be the best description to use...

 

#2 - Acorn Woodpecker

The Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is known for its caching abilities. They frequently overpack trees and power poles with acorns, often leading to the downfall of those once sturdy objects. These woodpeckers are quite possibly the most social woodpeckers in North America, often even sharing nesting sites between multiple females. When I see the Acorn Woodpecker, I often think it looks like a clown-faced woodpecker. This woodpecker is full of antics and charisma!


Population status of the Acorn Woodpecker

The Acorn Woodpecker is estimated to have a global population of 7,500,000 individuals. Trends from Breeding Bird Surveys indicate an increasing population in the past ~50 years.


What I like about the Acorn Woodpecker

Seriously, the acorn caches are impressive. The clown makeup is even better. Also, the cackle? Splendid. Only one other woodpecker tops the cackle of the Acorn Woodpecker.

An Acorn Woodpecker sits on a tree with acorns cached.
An Acorn Woodpecker is caching acorns on this tree. Quite the site!

What I do not like about the Acorn Woodpecker

I like large woodpeckers, so the Acorn Woodpecker cannot compete with the winner on our list. If it were 3 feet tall, boom. Instant number one. Also, instant human extermination.


 

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I'm getting carried away with this joke.

 

#1 - Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is North America's largest, extant (existing) woodpecker. It is a powerhouse of ripping open trees infested with boring insects. It is considered a keystone species in the variety of forests it inhabits. And there are a large number of forests it can be found in! This tree hammer can be found deep in the swamps of Florida all the way to mature pine forests of lower Alaska!


Population status of the Pileated Woodpecker

The current population of Pileated Woodpecker is half of what I want. I want over 5,000,000 Pileated Woodpeckers filling every state, province, and territory of North America! In reality, the population of the Pileated Woodpecker is estimated to be 2,600,00 individuals. The population status of the Pileated Woodpecker is declining in the east and increasing in the west and northwest.


What I like about the Pileated Woodpecker

Big. Friggin. Woodpecker. Seriously, imagine a jackhammer bird the size of a small hawk. That is the Pileated Woodpecker. Its cackle haunts the hardwood bottomlands of the gulf states. Its rectangular bores pepper insect-infested trees. It is the ultimate woodpecker. (After the Imperial and Ivory-billed. RIP.)

  1. Size

  2. Habitat

  3. Rectangular feeding holes

  4. Cackle

  5. Nicknames

    1. Wood-hen

    2. Log-cock

    3. Stump-breaker

    4. Swamp Laugher


What I do not like about the Pileated Woodpecker

It is not an Imperial or Ivory-billed Woodpecker. RIP

 

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Honorable Mention Woodpeckers

While these woodpeckers did not make our top five list, we felt they deserved to be mentioned by name:

  1. Williamson's Sapsucker

  2. Black-backed Woodpecker

  3. White-headed Woodpecker

  4. Northern Flicker

  5. Red-bellied Woodpecker

  6. I'm sorry I made so many inappropriate jokes. But you ARE on a site named Flocking Around.



 

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2 Comments


Tina Toth
Tina Toth
Mar 06, 2022

Ha, you got four of my top five and if I had thought about the fifth it would've been the Read-headed, nailed it! Mike and I once did a trio through MT and UT to find Lewis' Woodpeckers and Flammulated Owls, and we called it the Hooters and Peckers Tour, so it's good to know other people share and get my sense of humor! If anyone did, I knew it would be you!

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Replying to

I think we need more Hooters and Peckers tours! When I got my lifer woodcock and brown creeper, it was in the same day. I’ll let you ponder what I named the day. 🤣

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