Today, I am sharing my guide to the woodpeckers of Louisiana. I have gathered the best information and sound recordings for each species. I have also created custom identification images from pictures of woodpeckers highlighting field marks of male, female, and juvenile birds. This guide will help you, not only identify all the 9 woodpecker species that occur in the State of Louisiana but also open a window into their fascinating natural history. Let’s see what I have put together!
- Click-open the table of contents below to jump to a species account, or scroll down and navigate this page.
- The largest and smallest Louisiana woodpecker
- The nest cavity of woodpeckers
- What do woodpeckers eat?
- Most common and rarest woodpecker in Louisiana
- Listen to calls and sounds and learn about the 9 species of woodpeckers known to occur in Louisiana
- #1. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- #2. Red-headed Woodpecker
- #3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- #4. Downy Woodpecker
- #5. Hairy Woodpecker
- #6. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
- #7. Pileated Woodpecker
- #8. Northern Flicker
- #9. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
In Louisiana, most woodpeckers have a combination of black, white, and red feathers. Males and females are distinguished by patches of red on the backs of their heads. Males have red patches, which are missing in the females. The handsome red-headed woodpecker is an exception. It has a bright crimson head, and males and females are indistinguishable.
The largest and smallest Louisiana woodpecker
The woodpeckers found in Louisiana can be divided into four size groups based on their size. Both pileated woodpeckers (10.5 oz) and northern flickers (4.7 oz) are noticeably larger than the others.
Among the medium-sized woodpeckers are red-bellied, red-headed, and hairy woodpeckers, averaging 2.5 ounces in weight.
The small-size group consists of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and downy woodpeckers. The minute downy woodpecker weighs about 0.8 ounces, making it the smallest of all woodpeckers.
There is a relatively small difference in size between the two smaller groups. In the field, size differences may not allow species to be distinguished reliably.
Table showing the individual weights and lengths of Louisiana woodpeckers.
|Weight (ounces – oz)||Length (inches)|
The graph below illustrates the proportional difference in size among Louisiana woodpeckers. The largest pileated woodpecker is 13.5 times bigger than the smallest, downy woodpecker.
The nest cavity of woodpeckers
Woodpeckers in Louisiana have similar breeding habitats. In all species, the male and female excavate a nesting cavity in dead wood, incubate the eggs, and feed the young.
Excavating a new nesting cavity may take 2-3 weeks for woodpeckers that make them in dead wood. The red-cockaded woodpecker is the only one that excavates in life pine trees and may take up to a year to complete a cavity.
Interestingly, woodpeckers do not build a typical nest inside the cavity but lay the eggs in a bed of wood chips accumulated there during the excavation of the cavity.
Depending on the species, a female woodpecker lays from 2 -10 eggs where both parents incubate the egg during the day, but males always incubate during the night. The incubation period lasts only between nine and 14 days.
Size and shape of a woodpecker entrance hole
The measurements of the nesting cavity entrance hole, depth, and size of the chamber vary according to the woodpecker species.
It is possible to associate a nesting cavity to the species of woodpecker based on the shape and size of the cavity entrance hole. Pileated woodpeckers make large oval entrance holes, while northern flickers make smaller semi-oval ones.
All other woodpeckers have smaller round cavity entrance holes that vary in diameter depending on the species.
Louisiana woodpeckers do not reuse the same cavity the next breeding season but excavate a new one.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers are the only ones that reuse the same cavity for breeding or as roosting sites.
Most Louisiana woodpeckers are monogamous. A breeding pair is composed of one male and one female.
The red-cockaded woodpecker is also monogamous but uses a cooperative breeding system. Only an alfa pair breeds yearly, assisted by multiple non-breeding male and female helpers. The helpers are siblings from earlier broods.
What do woodpeckers eat?
Louisiana woodpeckers can be divided into 3 separate groups based on the food type and how they obtain it:
- Typical woodpeckers: include all woodpeckers except the flickers and sapsuckers. Typical woodpeckers hitch along trunks and branches where they peel off bark or drill into the wood for insects, beetles, or ant larvae.
- Flickers: In Louisiana, this group includes only the northern flicker. Flickers differ from other woodpeckers in being mostly ground woodpeckers. Flickers have specialized in a diet consisting of mostly ants and ant larvae. Instead of pecking on wood, flickers peck on the ground at ant nests digging for the nutritious larvae found in ant colonies.
- Sapsuckers: include only the yellow-bellied sapsucker, which has specialized in a diet based on sap from trees. They drill rows of sap wells and consume not only the sap flowing out of the wells but also the insects attracted and trapped in the sap well. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers also peel off bark to find insects and supplement their diet with berries.
Most common and rarest woodpecker in Louisiana
The most common woodpecker in Louisiana is by far the red-bellied woodpecker. They can be found in just about any habitat type and have adapted well to urban environments.
The two less numerous woodpeckers are the red-headed and red-cockaded woodpeckers. In the last few decades, the red-headed woodpecker has experienced a significant population decline. The causes for the decline are still poorly understood.
The rarest woodpecker in Louisiana is the red-cockaded woodpecker. This bird is closely associated with old stands of long-leaf pine, most of which have been lost, leaving only a few intact stands.
The red-cockaded woodpeckers are currently considered a critically endangered species.
Listen to calls and sounds and learn about the 9 species of woodpeckers known to occur in Louisiana
The following are the 9 woodpeckers that regularly occur in Louisiana. Additional woodpecker species have been recorded in the state but are considered vagrants and are not included in this article.
The ivory-billed woodpecker occurred in most of the state. However, it is now considered an extinct species. Old hardwood forests in North Louisiana were one of the last strongholds of this magnificent woodpecker. Sight records of the ivory-billed woodpecker emerge from time to time from north Louisiana and adjacent states. Yet no report has provided conclusive evidence.
- Monthly frequency/abundance: The monthly abundance bar for each species is based on the number of times it is reported on checklists submitted to eBird for the State of Louisiana.
#1. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
In Louisiana, the yellow-bellied sapsucker is a non-breeding winter visitor. If you see shallow holes in tree bark, it is a telltale sign that you may be in a sapsucker territory.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker is the only woodpecker that drills holes in tree bark to drink the leaking sap and eat the trapped insects there with its specialized tongue. Sapsuckers tend to sit still on trunks next to their sap wells for long periods of time while feeding.
Look for yellow-bellied sapsuckers in young deciduous forests. Also, listen to their cat-like mewing calls.
Identification: The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) has a black and white back with a characteristic solid white wing patch. The belly is mostly white. Males have a red cap and throat, while females have a white throat. Juveniles have a brownish-gray color pattern.
Food: The yellow-bellied sapsucker relies on sap as the main food source. It drills rows of sap wells into tree bark to harvest the content. It also eats ants and spiders and catches insects in the air. They also eat fruit.
Habitat: It favors hardwood and coniferous woodlands. It is fairly common in semi-open forested suburban areas.
Behavior: The yellow-bellied sapsucker clings to trunks and branches of trees, usually alone. It typically drills rows of sap wells into tree bark to obtain sap. Its typical drumming sounds like morse code.
Nest: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers excavate their cavities in dead wood. Cavities can be excavated in 2-3 weeks and are approximately 10 inches deep. The entrance hole is round, about 1.5 in diameter.
Breeding season: Yellow-bellied sapsucker breed in mid-May through mid-July.
Breeding period: This sapsucker lays 4-6 white round eggs. It takes about 40 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 28 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers live at least 7 years and 9 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in North America is 14 million individuals.
#2. Red-headed Woodpecker
The red-headed woodpecker is the only Louisiana woodpecker with an entirely crimson head where males and females look alike. Among woodpeckers in the state, this bird is perhaps the most striking.
Having a crimson head and baldly pattern of black and white plumage creates a striking visual effect.
Unlike other woodpeckers in Louisiana, the red-headed woodpecker captures most of its food from mid-air instead of drilling dead wood.
Red-headed Woodpeckers can be found in open and semi-open habitats such as woodlots, pine savannas, and even urban areas. You can listen to their raucous calls to identify a family group.
Due to habitat loss and changes in the food supply, the red-headed woodpecker has experienced severe population declines throughout its range.
Identification: The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) has an unmistakable plumage pattern. The head is crimson, the back is black with a solid band of white. The underparts are pure white. Male and female have the same plumage. Juveniles have brown heads.
Food: Red-bellied woodpeckers have a mixed diet that includes invertebrates and plant-based food. They eat spiders, beetles, acorns, berries, and seeds.
Habitat: Red-head woodpeckers favor open and semi-open woodlands with short or clear understory. It also occurs in similar habitats in suburban areas.
Behavior: Red-headed woodpeckers perch on bare branches, snags, and utility poles they often use as a base for sallying out to catch insects. They are usually seen in pairs or family groups. In the fall, they collect nuts and acorns.
Nest: Red-headed woodpeckers can excavate a new cavity in about 2 weeks. Nest cavities are excavated in dead wood and are approximately 5 inches deep. They have a round entrance hole of about 2 inches in diameter.
Breeding season: Red-headed woodpeckers breed in mid-March through early September.
Breeding period: The red-headed woodpecker lays 3-10 white round eggs. It takes about 40 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 28 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Red-headed woodpeckers live at least 9 years and 11 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of red-headed woodpeckers in North America is 1.8 million.
#3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Louisiana’s most common and ubiquitous woodpecker is the red-bellied woodpecker. In the state, they are the all-terrain type of woodpecker, using many habitat types and feeding on insects, fruit, seeds, nuts, and seeds.
Red-bellied woodpecker store food in cracks and crevices of trees and fences and are among the most common backyard bird feeder visitors.
In all aspects, red-bellied woodpeckers can do it all, explaining why they are numerous. During the Spring and Summer, they make their characteristic rolling calls more frequently. Red-bellied woodpeckers often allow close-up views of their bright red nape and crown. They are often called “red-headed woodpeckers” in Louisiana and other parts of its range. Nevertheless, their barred back distinguishes them from the real red-headed woodpecker.
Identification: The red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) has black and white barring on the back and wings and light warm brown on the sides of the head, breast, and belly. Males have red on the nape and crown, while females only on the nape.
Food: Red-bellied woodpeckers have a mixed diet that includes invertebrates and plant-based food. They eat spiders, beetles, acorns, berries, and seeds. They can even eat small lizards if they can catch them.
Habitat: The red-bellied woodpecker is the most widespread of all Louisiana woodpeckers. It is found just about anywhere with trees, in deciduous woodlands and semi-open habitats. It is also common in forested suburban areas.
Behavior: Red-bellied woodpeckers hitch along trunks and branches of trees, usually alone. They do more picking at the bark to find insects than drilling into it. It has a characteristic undulating flight pattern.
Nest: Red-bellied woodpeckers excavate their cavities in dead wood. Nest cavities are approximately 27 cm deep and typically have a round entrance hole of about 11 cm in diameter. It is one of the few woodpeckers that take nesting boxes.
Breeding season: Red-bellied woodpeckers breed in early April through mid-September.
Breeding period: It lays 2-6 white round eggs. It takes about 38 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 26 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Red-bellied woodpeckers live at least 12 years and 3 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of red-bellied woodpeckers in North America is 16 million.
#4. Downy Woodpecker
The tiny and hyperactive downy woodpecker is Louisiana’s smallest woodpecker. This familiar black and white woodpecker works on tiny branches and twigs, where it often perches upside down while drilling holes in search of ant larvae.
Throughout its range, the downy woodpecker joins flocks of titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches, all of which are only slightly smaller than the woodpecker itself. The color pattern and foraging style of the downy woodpecker resemble those of a black-and-white warbler.
Downy woodpeckers have a similar black and white plumage to the slightly larger and longer-billed hairy woodpeckers. Identification of these two woodpeckers can be a challenge when they are not seen side by side.
The downy woodpecker is a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeders in Louisiana.
Identification: The downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is a tiny black and white woodpecker. Males have a red spot on the nape, which is missing in the female. Note the relatively short bill.
Food: Downy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects that live inside the wood, as well as ants and caterpillars. Their diet also includes berries, acorns, and grains. They are frequent visitors of backyard bird feeders.
Habitat: It favors deciduous woodlands. They also forage in tall bushes and landscape plants. They are common in semi-open woodlands in urban areas.
Behavior: Downy woodpeckers hitch acrobatically up, down, and around small branches and twigs, peeling and hammering into bark and wood for beetle larvae, ants, and other invertebrates.
Nest: Downy woodpeckers excavate their cavities in dead wood in 1 to 3 weeks. Nest cavities are approximately 9 in deep and typically have a round entrance hole of about 1-1.5 in diameter.
Breeding season: Downy woodpeckers breed in early April through late July.
Breeding period: This woodpecker lays 3-8 white round eggs. It takes about 31 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 19 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Downy woodpeckers live at least 11 years and 11 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of downy woodpeckers in North America is 13 million.
#5. Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpeckers are slightly larger than downy woodpeckers and work the big limbs and main trunks in search of food. Hairy woodpeckers favor habitats with many dead trees, such as those created by fires or patches of forest killed by insects and diseases.
A Hairy Woodpecker’s louder tapping is often heard while it is foraging. They are usually found in pairs or alone.
Like their smaller counterpart, hairy woodpeckers are also visitors to backyard bird feeders in Louisiana, although in smaller numbers than downy woodpeckers.
Identification: The hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) has a black and white head, back, wings, and white underparts. Adult males have a red nape patch, which is missing in females. It is larger and longer-billed than the downy woodpecker.
Food: Hairy woodpeckers feed mostly on larvae of wood-boring beetles, ants, and other invertebrates. A small part of its diet includes fruit and seeds. It is a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeders.
Habitat: Hairy woodpeckers use a variety of forest types, but they tend to prefer mature forests where wood-boring beetle larvae are readily found. It often concentrates in areas with many dead trees, particularly after burns. It occurs in suburban areas.
Behavior: Hairy woodpeckers hitch along the trunk and branches at all heights, from near the ground to tree tops. It actively drills bark and deadwood to find beetle larvae.
Nest: Hairy woodpeckers excavate their cavities in dead wood. Nest cavities are approximately 10 in deep and typically have a slightly oblong entrance hole of about 2 in high and 1.5 in wide.
Breeding season: Hairy woodpeckers breed in mid-March through late July.
Breeding period: This woodpecker lays 3-6 white round eggs. It takes about 31 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 29 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Red-bellied woodpeckers live at least 15 years and 11 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of hairy woodpeckers in North America is 8.7 million.
#6. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
The red-cockaded woodpecker is the only woodpecker in Louisiana that excavates a cavity in a live pine tree. This woodpecker lives in family groups that work together to dig cavities and raise their young. They require large pine trees that have the red-heart disease, which makes the inner wood softer. Excavating a new cavity can take a family group several years to complete.
The red-cockaded woodpecker is the only federally endangered woodpecker in the state of Louisiana. It also has a black and white plumage but is distinguished from the similar downy and hairy woodpeckers by being restricted to pine forests, typically longleaf pine, with short understory. It never visits backyard bird feeders.
Identification: The red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) has a black and white head, back, and wings. The underparts are white with black markings on the sides. Males have a small red spot on the nape, which is missing in the female.
Food: Red-cockaded woodpeckers eat mostly beetles, ants, and insect larvae found in the bark of pine trees. They also include berries and pine seeds found in pine forests. They do not visit backyard bird feeders.
Habitat: It is found nearly exclusively in mature stands of pine forests with a short and clear understory that burns frequently. It is not found in suburban areas. The red-cockaded woodpecker is very rare and considered a critically endangered bird.
Behavior: Red-cockaded woodpeckers forage for food in noisy family groups. Families or clans maintain and defend fixed territories around clusters of nesting cavities.
Nest: The red-cockaded woodpecker is the only woodpecker that excavates its cavities in live pine trees. It may take up to two years to finish a cavity. Nest cavities have a round entrance hole of about 3.5 in, in diameter.
Breeding season: Red-cockaded woodpeckers breed in early mid-April through late July.
Breeding period: This woodpecker lays 2-5 white round eggs. It takes about 38 days from egg-laying (incubation period 11 days, nestling period 27 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Red-cockaded woodpeckers live at least 16 years and 1 month.
How many are there?: The estimated number of red-cockaded woodpeckers in North America is 19 thousand individuals.
#7. Pileated Woodpecker
The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest and most striking woodpecker of Louisiana. With a height of 15-17 inches, it’s almost as big as a crow. This woodpecker is easily recognized by its black plumage with white stripes down the neck and bright-red crest. When in flight, it shows white on the underside of the wings and large white patches on the upper sides.
The pileated woodpecker is considered a keystone species, which means other species rely on it for nesting sites. After pileated woodpeckers abandon their nesting cavities, other birds and mammals use them for breeding.
Pileated Woodpeckers are rare visitors to backyard bird feeders in Louisiana.
Identification: The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is mostly black with white stripes on the head and neck. Male and female have red crests, but only the male shows a red malar stripe. In flight, the extended wings show white patches and white underneath.
Food: Pileated woodpeckers feed mostly on insects, particularly carpenter ants. It also eats beetle larvae and other invertebrates it finds inside the bark and wood. They also include fruit, berries, holly, and dogwood in their diet.
Habitat: It is typically found in mature deciduous or coniferous forests with large trees. It uses semi-open woodlands in suburban areas.
Behavior: The pileated woodpecker forages for food alone or in pairs. It often excavates large rectangular holes in search of carpenter ants and beetle larvae. The sound of its wood chopping action can be heard from a distance.
Nest: Pileated woodpeckers can excavate a nesting cavity in 3-6 weeks. Unlike other woodpeckers, the entrance to a pileated woodpecker cavity is oblong rather than circular. Nest cavities are approximately 16 in deep. It almost never reuses the same cavity after use for breeding.
Breeding season: Pileated woodpeckers breed in early March through mid-July.
Breeding period: The pileated woodpecker lays 3-5 white round eggs. It takes about 45 days from egg-laying (incubation period 17 days, nestling period 28 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Pileated woodpeckers live at least 12 years and 11 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of pileated woodpeckers in North America is 2.6 million.
#8. Northern Flicker
In Louisiana, the northern flicker is the second largest woodpecker. Its plumage has a unique tone of brown with large black spots below and black bars above. Both males and females have a prominent black crescent on their chests. In flight, it shows yellow under the wings and tail. A flicker’s bright white rump is also readily noticed when the bird is in flight.
Flickers are somewhat different from other woodpeckers. They find most of their food on the ground, where they dig for ant and beetle larvae and other invertebrates. Its bill is not straight but slightly curved, suitable for digging on the ground.
Northern Flickers are also different from other woodpeckers by being the only one that migrates. Although northern flickers in Louisiana are year-round residents, the ones in the northern parts of their range migrate south for the winter..
Identification: The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) is one of the largest woodpeckers in Louisiana. It is warm brown with black barring on the back and wings and large black spots on the belly. It has a conspicuous black crescent on the chest. Males have a black malar stripe, which is missing in the female.
Food: Northern flickers eat insects, particularly ants and beetles on the ground. They peck at ant colonies in search of ant larvae. They also hammer cow patties to get the insect larvae inside or underneath. Northern flickers also include fruits and seeds in their diet, particularly in the winter months.
Habitat: It is typically found in semi-open or open habitats with scattered trees. Lightly wooded suburban areas and edges of agricultural land are also favored by the northern flicker.
Behavior: Unlike other woodpeckers in Louisiana, the northern flicker forages for food on the grounds and tends to perch on horizontal rather than vertical branches, not using its tail as a prop. It has an undulating flight pattern.
Nest: The northern flicker excavates its cavities in dead wood. Typically, nest cavities are 14 inches deep with semi-oval entrance holes of 3 inches in diameter.
Breeding season: Northern flickers breed in late April through early August.
Breeding period: The northern flicker lays 5-8 white eggs. It takes about 37 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 25 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Red-bellied woodpeckers live at least 9 years and 2 months.
How many are there?: The estimated number of northern flickers in North America is 11 million.
#9. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
The Ivory-billed woodpecker is now considered extinct in Louisiana. It was an impressively large bird regarded as the world’s third-largest woodpecker.
It occurred in Louisiana, other southern states, and Cuba. Due to forest destruction during the 1800s, only a few survived into the 20th century.
In 2004, multiple reports of ivory-billed woodpeckers were reported. However, based on the evidence presented, it wasn’t clear whether it was an ivory-billed woodpecker or a pileated woodpecker.
The ivory-billed woodpecker’s black and white plumage pattern resembled that of the much smaller red-headed woodpecker. They both have white secondary wing feathers. Seeing the black-and-white effect of a modern-day red-headed woodpecker in flight makes one think of what an ivory-billed woodpecker might have looked like flying through the old-growth southern forests.
Identification: The ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephius principales) is all black with broad white stripes along the neck and back. About half of the folded wings are pure white. The males have a crimson crest, while the females have a black crest. Both sexes have an ivory color bill. This woodpecker is considered extinct.
Food: The ivory-billed woodpeckers fed mostly on beetle larvae and other large invertebrates. They also included acorns, berries, and other fruits in their diets.
Habitat: Ivory-billed woodpeckers lived in large stands of upland and mature forests. They depended on dead trees to find food and concentrated in areas with many large dead trees, areas that burnt after a fire.
Behavior: Ivory-billed woodpeckers were observed foraging in pairs and often in small flocks when several birds were attracted to areas with many dead trees where wood-boring beetle larvae became abundant.
Nest: According to accounts written by naturalist John James Audubon, Ivory-billed woodpeckers excavated cavities with an oval entrance hole of 4.5 wide to 5.5 inches tall. The cavity’s depth may have reached about 2 feet deep.
Breeding season: All nesting records of this woodpecker suggest that it bred in January through August.
Breeding period: It is known that the ivory-billed woodpecker laid 1-5 eggs. No further specific details are known about incubation time and nestling period.
Lifespan: No data.
How many are there?: The ivory-billed woodpecker has been declared extinct. There are isolated sightings of the species, but none has produced solid evidence of their presence.
Photographic material used in this guide was made available on various websites. Many thanks to, Mark Mochell, Elizabeth Milson, Dennis Church, Rick From Alabama, Mick Thompson, Kelly Colgan-Azar, Andy Reago, Chrissy McLarren, Tom Murray, Doug Greenberg, Julio Mulero, Brian Ralphs, Alan Schierer, Jen Goellnitz, Jeff Bryant, and Denis Fournier.
References and Sources:
- Birds of the World.
- Sibley, David, 2000, The Sibley Guide to Birds.
- Species Longevity Data: United States Geological Survey (https://www.usgs.gov/)
All About Birds (www.allaboutbirds.org)
- Wikipedia. (https://www.wikipedia.org/)
This guide contains information about the woodpeckers of Louisiana as well as sound recordings. My custom identification images of woodpeckers highlight the most relevant field marks of each species. I hope that you will find this guide useful for identifying the woodpeckers of Alabama and learning about their natural history.