Common Woodpeckers Found In Illinois

Old dead trees harbor hundreds of life forms, and the woodpeckers of Illinois are among the beneficiaries of these natural condominiums.

Dead trees provide nesting cavities for many birds and animals, including woodpeckers. They also provide food through the dozens of types of insects involved in the process of decomposition. Pileated woodpeckers, for example, drill oval-shaped holes in their search for carpenter ants. Others may search for insect eggs and other treats hidden in the loosening bark.

Because hardwood trees like oaks take hundreds of years to mature and die, these naturally created homes can take more than a human lifetime to replace.

Consider leaving dead trees that do not pose a threat to property or safety. In cities, dead trees are removed for safety reasons. Those with acreages in the country, however, may be able to leave at least a portion of the trunk for wildlife habitat.

Click here for more about the value of dead trees.

Click here to see a photograph of a downy and a hairy woodpeckers together for size comparison.
Populations of red-headed woodpeckers have been on the decline, possibly due to habitat loss. They have a red head and very distinct white markings on their wings which are visible during flight. Downy woodpeckers are common in woodlands and backyards. The male has a small red spot on his head. Downies are small, only 5 or 6 inches tall. Hairy woodpeckers are somewhat larger with longer bills. The hairy woodpecker is simply a larger version of the downy. Both have a white back, but the hairy has white outer tail feathers. They are not as numerous as downy woodpeckers, but are found in parks and backyards as well as wooded areas.


The pileated woodpecker is usually found only in heavily forested bottomland. It is most common in the southern part of the state and rare in the northern part. It is a large, crow-sized woodpecker with a loud call resembling that of a flicker.

Click here for more pictures.

Northern flickers are woodpeckers, but are sometimes seen on the ground searching for ants to eat. Nearly all flickers occurring in Illinois are the "yellow-shafted" form. Note the yellow coloring under the wings which is visible in flight. Red-bellied woodpecker numbers have been on the rise in central Illinois for many years. They inhabit wooded areas as well as residential areas. They make their nest in the excavated cavity of a dead tree. There is a faint red mark on the belly, but the red cap is a far easier way to identify this bird.

 photographs by Chris Young
The yellow-bellied sapsucker has a red forehead patch and yellowish underside. Males have red on their necks too. They are seen most often in winter. They are the most migratory of Illinois woodpeckers.
Also please see our pages on woodland birds and warblers
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