7 Native Woodpeckers in New Jersey and How to Identify Them

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 Woodpeckers 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 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.

We will discover how to identify each species and where they are located. We will also 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

Red-headed woodpecker in a tree
@ 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 concerned 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.

2. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker on a branch
@ Jerry McFarland | Flickr

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker 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.  

3. Hairy Woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker (Left), Female Hairy Woodpecker (Right)
@ David A Mitchell | Flickr – Male 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 the 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.

4. Downy Woodpecker

Male Downy (Left), Female Downy (Right)
@ Fyn Kynd | Flickr – Male Downy (Left), @ David A Mitchell | Flickr – Female 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.  

5. Northern Flicker

Beautiful Northern Flicker perched on a limb
@ Jerry McFarland | Flickr – Male 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.

  

6. Red-bellied Woodpecker

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.

7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Male Yellow Bellied Sapsucker
@ Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren | Flickr – Male 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.  

Best Time to Scout For Woodpeckers in 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.

Seasonal Time: All 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%)

Seasonal Time: 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%)

Seasonal Time: 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%)