Everything You Need to Know About Woodpeckers in New Jersey

New Jersey is an excellent place for birders to live and explore the different terrains. While many people associate the state with suburbs, factories, and Atlantic City, it also has a wide array of habitats and natural areas perfect for birdlife.

Overview

While New Jersey is the most densely populated state in America, it is also home to more than 480 species of birds throughout the year. In this post, I will zoom in on the variety of beautiful woodpeckers, some you can find right in the comfort of your backyard.

There are 7 types of woodpecker in New Jersey:

  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Woodpeckers like the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Downy Woodpecker are common to backyard feeders. I will discuss the best suet and birdseed for them and how to attract other woodpecker species to your backyard.

But the best way to see the different types of woodpeckers is to go birding in their element. New Jersey has a great diversity of habitats for such a relatively small state. With the presence of the Appalachian mountains cutting across the state, along with valleys, woods, and forests, you have an excellent opportunity for avian diversity that has to be seen to be believed.

Finally, the last section will cover which woodpeckers in New Jersey are more common by season. You will notice that Northern Flickers are more commonly seen during the summertime while the Downies are more common during the winter. By understanding a bird’s migration habits, you will know when to look for them and where to find them just in case they are not regularly visiting your backyard.

1. Red-headed Woodpecker

@ Ken Gibson | Flickr

You can quickly identify the adult Red-headed Woodpeckers by their large round crimson heads. Also called a “flying checkerboard,” the adults are distinctly tricolored. Their bellies are white and without streaks, and they have black backs and large white bands on their wings. 

Red-headed woodpeckers are medium-sized with short, stiff tails and strong, powerful spiked bills. They are smaller than a Northern Flicker and about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpeckers will breed in New Jersey just before heading south for the winter. Some of them may remain in southern New Jersey all year. 

  • Length: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5 in (42 cm)

The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of only four North American woodpeckers known to store food. They are the only woodpeckers known to cover their stored food in an attempt to hide it.

Their diet is about one-third of beetles, midges, honeybees, and grasshoppers. In addition to catching these insects in wood crevices like other woodpeckers, the Red-headed Woodpeckers will also catch insects in flight and hunt them on the ground. The other two-thirds of their diet are seeds, nuts, and berries. 

Where to Spot Red-headed Woodpeckers

You can find Red-headed Woodpeckers on farms, around dead timber in swamps, open woodlots, pine savannas, and occasionally in your backyard feeders! They will nest in tree cavities, sometimes reusing a site, and lay 4 to 5 white eggs.  

You will want to walk slowly, listening for their call, which is a shrill and hoarse “tchur” sound not to be confused with the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s call, which is lower-pitched and more rolling.

Red-headed Woodpeckers create a drumming sound by tapping on trees, utility poles, and the sides of homes. They use this drumming to deter territorial threats, and a slower tapping sound is also used to communicate with their mates.

Interesting Fact:  Red-headed Woodpeckers are very territorial. They will remove or destroy the eggs of other birds, destroy other birds’ nests and even enter duck nest boxes and puncture the duck eggs.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is rated as least concern on the Internation Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Endangered species. They have been down-listed from the near threatened list in 2018.

How to Attract Red-headed Woodpeckers to your Backyard Feeder

Red-headed Woodpeckers will occasionally visit feeders in the winter. If you want to attract more Red-headed Woodpeckers to your backyard, try out this suet feeder that helps prevent squirrels and stop bullying birds such as starlings.

You will also want to try these suet cakes that come cheaper in bulk. Red-headed Woodpeckers will also eat nuts, seeds, corn, acorns, and pecans. They will also eat many fruits (including apples, berries, pears, cherries, raspberries, and grapes).

2. Pileated Woodpecker

@ Jerry McFarland | Flickr

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest in New Jersey and the third-largest woodpecker species in the world, after the Great Slaty Woodpecker and the Black Woodpecker. Pileated Woodpeckers are found year-round in the state.  

The word “pileated,” from the Latin pileatus meaning “capped,” refers to the bird’s triangular red crest that sweeps right off its head in a mohawk-like fashion. They have long necks, and the bill is long and chisel-like in shape.

Length: 15.8-19.3 in (40-49 cm)
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz (250-350 g)
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in (66-75 cm)

Pileated Woodpeckers are primarily black with a white stripe which can be seen entirely in flight underneath. A red stripe can identify Males on the cheek, and females lack this distinctive marking. 

The diet of a Pileated Woodpecker consists of mostly carpenter ants found in rotten wood, and they also eat beetle larvae, termites, and other insects. Pileated Woodpeckers will also eat fruits and nuts like elderberry, dogwood, blackberries, and sumac berries.  

Where to Spot Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers are forest birds found in more mature forests with large standing dead trees and downed wood. These woodpeckers drill distinctive rectangular-shaped holes when looking for food and will visit backyard feeders, especially for suet during harsh winter conditions.

Pileated Woodpeckers are quite vocal; they have a loud series of piping calls that lasts for several seconds. They will give shorter calls to alert intruders. These shorter calls sound like “wuk, wuk or cuk, cuk.”

They also drum on dead trees in a slow and deep rolling pattern that carries very well. Males will drum during the late winter months to establish and defend their territory.

Each year they will usually make a new nest leaving the old one behind to be used by other species of birds such as owls. Pileated Woodpeckers will usually lay 3 to 5 white eggs.  

How to Attract More Pileated Woodpeckers to Your Backyard Feeder

Pileated Woodpeckers will visit backyard feeders, especially for suet during the harsh winter months. They prefer suet feeders with tail props and love suet with added mealworms.  

You may also consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. But be sure to do this well before breeding season.

Interesting Fact: A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round. Although it will defend its territory during all the seasons, it will occasionally tolerate new arrivals during the winter.

3. Hairy Woodpecker

@ David A Mitchell | FlickrMale Hairy Woodpecker (Left), Female Hairy Woodpecker (Right)

The Hairy Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker that can also be seen all year round in New Jersey.

These woodpeckers are about the size of a robin and a third larger than a Downy Woodpecker. The bill is chisel-like and stiff and is almost the same length as the head.  

  • Length: 7.1-10.2 in (18-26 cm)
  • Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz (40-95 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in (33-41 cm)

Hairy Woodpeckers in New Jersey have black wings with white checkered within. The head has two stripes, and a large white patch runs down the center of their back. They have long tail feathers. The touch of red towards the back of their heads identifies males from females.

The Hairy Woodpecker’s diet mainly consists of insects like ants, bark beetles, and beetle larvae. They will also eat bees, caterpillars, moth pupae, spiders, and millipedes.  

Like most woodpeckers, they have a slow undulating flight pattern. Hairy Woodpeckers are small but mighty birds whose calls are short quick “peek” notes that sound very similar to the Downy Woodpecker; however, the pitch of a Downy tends to descend in pitch towards the end.

Where to Spot Hairy Woodpeckers

Hairy Woodpeckers are found in woodlots, suburbs, parks, and cemeteries. They can also be found at forest edges and open woodlands of oak, pine, and backyard feeders.

The Hairy Woodpecker tends to nest in the cavities of dead trees or the dead parts of trees and lay between 3 and 6 eggs.

How to Attract Hairy Woodpeckers to Your Backyard Feeder

The squirrel-proof suet feeders with a cage would best suit the Hairy Woodpeckers. These cages prevent larger birds from taking all the food, and purchasing the bulk pack of suet cakes is a more economical way to buy them.

Also, try using black oil sunflower seeds in combination suet in a suet and hopper feeder; you can get a 2 for 1 type feeder. Try doing this, especially in the winter months when food is scarce.  

4. Downy Woodpecker

@ Fyn Kynd | FlickrMale Downy (Left), @ David A Mitchell | FlickrFemale Downy (Right)

This little guy is the smallest of the woodpeckers found in New Jersey and the smallest in North America. Comparatively, their size fits between a sparrow and a robin.  

Although the Downy Woodpecker is found year-round in New Jersey, it is often seen during the winter months.  

  • Length: 5.5-6.7 in (14-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (21-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)

Downy Woodpeckers have a checkered black and white pattern (primarily black with white patches). The head is boldly striped, and there is a broad white stripe along the backside down the center. Male Downy Woodpeckers sport a red patch on the back of their heads.  

Downy Woodpeckers and their larger twin, the Hairy Woodpecker, are usually the first on the identification list for beginning birdwatchers.

Although it bears many similarities to the plumage of a Hairy Woodpecker, a few distinguishing features set them apart, notably the presence of black spots on its white tail feathers and its bill size. The Downy Woodpecker’s bill is shorter than its head, whereas the Hairy Woodpecker’s bill is approximately equal to its head length.

These woodpeckers make a lot of noise during the springtime and summer, and their calls are a string of high-pitched calls that descend in pitch towards the end.

Where to Spot Downy Woodpeckers

The Downy Woodpecker is backyard friendly, and they are commonly seen at feeders, parks, orchards, and even vacant lots. They can also be found in open woodlands, particularly among deciduous trees and brushy or weedy edges.  

Because Downies are active birds, they are fun to watch. Occasionally you can see them drinking from hummingbird feeders. 

Downy Woodpeckers nest in dead tree cavities and lay between 3 to 8 small white eggs.  

How to Attract Downy Woodpeckers to Your Backyard Feeder

Downy Woodpeckers are the most likely woodpecker species to visit backyard bird feeders. Their preference would be suet feeders, but they are also fond of black oil sunflower seeds, millets, peanuts, and chunky peanut butter.  

Upside-down suet feeders are excellent choices for smaller woodpeckers like the Downy Woodpecker. Upside-down feeders can help protect bully birds and the rain. Buying the bulk pack of suet cakes provides a more economical way of purchasing.

5. Northern Flicker

@ Jerry McFarland | FlickrMale Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is the first on our list to be seen more commonly during the summer, although they can still be found all year round in New Jersey.

Northern Flickers are relatively large woodpeckers, half the size of the Hairy Woodpecker. Comparatively, they fit between the size of a robin and a crow. Their body is slimmer in build with a slightly down-curved bill and a flared tail that tapers to a point.

  • Length: 11.0-12.2 in (28-31 cm)
  • Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz (110-160 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in (42-51 cm)

Flickers are beautiful brown colored woodpeckers with a rich pattern of black spots. Their wings and tails have flashes of yellow. There is also a white patch on the rump, often visible when perched. 

Although they use the typical hammering on wood like other woodpeckers, the Flicker is the only woodpecker that prefers to find its food on the ground. They use their long and barbed tongues to lap up the ants. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet, and other insects can include flies, butterflies, beetles, and moths.

Flickers will also eat berries and seeds, especially during the winter, including poison oak and poison ivy.

The call of a Northern Flicker is a loud and sharp yelp. It is a piercing tone that can rise and fall in volume lasting 7 to 8 seconds. You will hear it in the spring and early summer when the birds establish territories and mate.

Where to Northern Flickers

You can find northern Flickers walking through open woods or forest edges. You will also want to scan the ground. Occasionally, you will flush out a flicker from a feeding spot.

Interesting Fact: The Northern Flicker is one of the few North American woodpeckers that is strongly migratory.

How to Attract Northern Flickers Your Backyard Feeder

Northern Flickers do not habitually visit bird feeders. You might find them in backyards and at birdbaths.  

Like the Pileated Woodpecker, consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Be sure to do this well before breeding season.  

6. Red-bellied Woodpecker

@ John Brighenti | Flickr

The Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be in New Jersey all year, and they can often be mistaken for the Red-headed Woodpecker. However, Red-headed Woodpecker’s entire head and neck are red and have a solid black back.

  • Length: 9.4 in (24 cm)
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in (33-42 cm)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are medium-sized (about the size of the Hairy Woodpecker), appearing pale overall. They get their name from their soft and pale red bellies that can be difficult to spot. Also, Red-bellied woodpeckers have the familiar black and white markings found on many woodpecker species.

Their red napes can distinguish the female Red-bellied Woodpecker, and they lack the distinctive red crown of the male.  

Red-bellied woodpeckers eat nuts, seeds, and other foods. They have barbed tongues that can dart out 2 inches beyond their bill, and this helps the woodpecker catch prey found deep in crevices.  

Where to Spot Red-Bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied woodpeckers are commonly seen in the eastern US in woodlands and forests. They can also be found at bird feeders if you live near these wooded areas and can be spotted drinking nectar from hummingbird feeders.

This woodpecker species is very loud and frequently calls during the spring and summer months. The most common call is a shrill rolling “kwirr” or “churr”

The Red-bellied woodpeckers can nest in dead trees and use the same nest each year. They will use beds of wood chips to lay between 4 to 5 eggs.

How to Attract More Red-bellied Woodpeckers to Your Backyard Feeder

Try using an upside-down suet feeder to entice Red-bellied woodpeckers to your backyards. This particular feeder will help stop squirrels and bully birds.  

Also, you can use black oil sunflower seeds in combination with suet to attract more Red-bellied woodpeckers to your yard. Try using a suet and hopper feeder for a two-in-one.  

Planting native berry trees such as hawthorn or mountain-ash will help lure in the Red-bellied Woodpecker during fall and winter if you are up to the task.  

7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

@ Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren | FlickrMale Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s size is comparable to a robin. They are small migratory woodpeckers that breed in New Jersey before migrating south for the winter.  

  • Length: 7.1-8.7 in (18-22 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz (43-55 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 in (34-40 cm)

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are primarily black and white with boldly patterned faces. Both the males and females have red-colored foreheads; however, the males also have red throats.  

They have long wings that extend about midway to the tip of the stiff and get their names from their white and yellowish tinted underparts.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perches upright on trees while leaning on their tails like other woodpeckers. They drill neat and shallow rows using their stout, straight bills and brush-tipped tongues to get sap out from the trees. 

The neat rows of holes created by the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker woodpecker assists in the flow of sap being maintained for consumption. 

Where to Spot Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers

The habitat of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is both hardwood and conifer forests up to about 6,500 feet in elevation.

They can be seen in nests of small trees like aspens and tend to spend the winters in open woodlands. Sapsuckers can often be found on birch or maple trees, where they drill neat rows of sap wells for feeding.  

They can also be found in young paper birch, yellow birch, red and sugar maple, and hickory trees on branches occasionally when hunting for insects.  

During the springtime, listen for their signature scratchy, nasal mewing calls and irregular but distinctive drumming. The hesitant cadence of their drumming can sound like morse code. They tend to perch motionless while calling. Look for their contrasting black and white faces and the bright red patches on their heads. 

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker will nest in tree cavities and usually have between 5 and 6 white eggs.  

How to Attract More Yellow-Bellied Woodpeckers to Your Backyard Feeder

You won’t see many Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at bird feeders, making it challenging to find them in your backyard; however, they will sometimes come for suet. Try installing a squirrel-proof suet feeder using mealworm suet or peanut butter suet.  

If you happen to have young birch or maple trees in your yard and you live in the range of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, you may get to see one drilling sap wells firsthand.  

Interesting Fact: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to harvest sap using two kinds of holes. First, they drill deep round holes in the tree, and they will use this hole to look and probe for sap.  

The second hole is rectangular and shallow, allowing a continuous sap flow. The sapsucker will lick the sap from these holes and eat the tree’s cambium. New holes typically are made in line with the old ones or above the old ones.  

How to Attract Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

With so many bird feeders and food, it can be tough to know what is best to buy. I tried my best to round up some of my favorite options for woodpeckers to save you some time and money.  

Best Bird Feeders to Attract Woodpeckers

The Best Suet and Birdseed to Attract Woodpeckers

  • Bulk pack of suet cakes: Buying the bulk pack of suet cakes is an economical way of purchasing.  
  • Black oil sunflower seeds: Certain seeds, such as the black oil sunflower seeds, have a much thinner shell, making it easier for the birds to open and enjoy.
  • Peanut butter suet: Use peanut butter suet for the winter months. It is a high-energy feed that will keep woodpeckers going during the colder season.
  • Mealworm suet: Use mealworm suet; it is a tasty treat for woodpeckers.

Nest Boxes to Attract More Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

  • For Breeding Pairs:  These nest boxes would be my choice for attracting breeding pairs of woodpeckers.
  • Northern Flickers: This is an excellent choice for the Northern Flickers; try these nest boxes.

Native Berry-Producing Plants to Attract More Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

For those looking for a natural way to attract more woodpeckers to the backyard, try planting a few native berry-producing plants. Many of our woodpeckers on this list have diets that consist of the following:

  • Grapes
  • Bayberries
  • Elderberries

When to See Woodpeckers in New Jersey

Here I have drafted up a list of woodpeckers spotted most commonly during the summer months between June and July, the winter months of December and January, and all year round. Use this data to help while out and about.

Woodpeckers in New Jersey Year Around:

Red-bellied Woodpecker (33%)
Downy Woodpecker (30%)
Northern Flicker (23%)
Hairy Woodpecker (10%)
Pileated Woodpecker (4%)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (>1%)

Woodpeckers in New Jersey during the Summer:

Red-bellied Woodpecker (28%)
Downy Woodpecker (25%)
Northern Flicker (22%)
Hairy Woodpecker (8%)
Pileated Woodpecker (4%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (>1%)
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker (>1%)

Woodpeckers in New Jersey during the winter:

Downy Woodpecker (31%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (29%)
Northern Flicker (14%)
Hairy Woodpecker (10%)
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker (5%)
Pileated Woodpecker (3%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (>1%)