PICIFORMES of North America

The order Piciformes is made up of the woodpecker family Picidae plus 8 other families. Picidae make up about half of the species. In general, the Piciformes are insectivorous, but some exceptions eat mostly fruit. Nearly all Piciformes have parrot-like feet—two toes forward and two back, an arrangement that has obvious advantages for birds that spend much of their time on tree trunks. And most Piciformes do not have down feathers at any age, only true feathers. All nest in cavites. [abstracted from Wikipedia]


Woodpeckers and Allies

Order Piciformes    Family Picidae

The woodpeckers family members are found almost worldwide. Most species live in forests or woodland habitats, although a few species are known to live in treeless areas such as rocky hillsides and deserts. They range in size from 8-50cm. Many species exhibit patches of red and yellow on their heads and bellies, and these bright areas are important in signalling. Although the sexes of Picidae species tend to look alike, many have more prominent red or yellow head markings in males than in females.

Members of the family Picidae have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees and long sticky tongues for extracting food. Species that use their bills in soil or for probing as opposed to regular hammering tend to have longer and more decurved bills. To prevent brain damage from the rapid and repeated decelerations, woodpeckers have evolved a number of adaptations to protect the brain. These include small brain size and the short duration of contact. The millisecond before contact with wood a thickened membrane closes, protecting the eye from flying debris. The nostrils are also protected; they are often slit-like and have special feathers to cover them. In addition to the strong claws and feet woodpeckers have short strong legs, this is typical of birds that regularly forage on trunks. The tails of most woodpeckers are stiffened, and when the bird perches on vertical surfaces, the tail and feet work together to support it. Picidae species can either be sedentary or migratory.

Genus Celeus
These mainly South American woodpeckers are often chestnut colored. They have a crest which is usually lighter than the body. Male has red malar stripe.

Woodpecker, Chestnut-colored  Celeus castaneus  Found: Mexico, Central America
The Chestnut-colored Woodpecker has mainly dark rufous plumage with black chevrons; a lighter chestnut head; pale yellow bill.
Image by: 1) Amy McAndrews - Mexico  2) Michael Woodruff - Costa Rica  3) Don Faulkner - Costa Rica



Genus Colpates
Colaptes woodpeckers typically have a brown or green back and wings with black barring, and a beige to yellowish underside, with black spotting or barring. There are usually colorful markings on the head. Many of these birds – particularly the northerly species – are more terrestrial than usual among woodpeckers. They are found in the Americas.

Flicker, Gilded  Colaptes chrysoides  Found: southwest United States, northern Mexico
The Gilded Flicker most frequently nests in the saguaro cactus.
Similar to: Red-shafted Flicker.  Gilded Flicker has golden underwings versus red underwings for the Red-shafted Flicker. Gilded Flicker has brighter cinnamon crown.
Image by: 1) Evan Bornholtz - Arizona  2, 3) Glenn Seplak - Arizona
1, 2) Male


Flicker, Northern Colaptes auratus   Found: North America and Central America
The Northern Flicker has a brown back with black bars; black patch on upper breast; beige lower breast and belly with black spots.
Yellow-shafted Flicker (eastern): Male has black malar stipe, female has gray crown.
Red-shafted Flicker (western): Male has red malar stipe, female has brown crown.
Similar to: Gilded Flicker.  Gilded Flicker has golden underwings versus red underwings for the Red-shafted Flicker. Gilded Flicker has brighter cinnamon crown.
Image by:   1, 2, 3) Dick Daniels - North Carolina  2) Syd Phillips - Tennessee  4) Mike & Chris - New Jersey  5, 5, 8)  Elaine R. Wilson and Alan D Wilson in Oregon and British Columbia  7) Minette Layne - Washington 
 1, 2) Yellow-shafted female  3, 4) Yellow-shafted male  5, 6) Red-shafted female  7, 8) Red-shafted male


Woodpecker, Gray-crowned  Colaptes auricularis  Found: Mexico
The Gray-crowned Woodpecker has a gray crown, nape; olive upperparts; light underparts with barring.
Image by: John Gerrard Keulemans
1) Male, left;  Female, right


Genus Dryocopus

These are large powerful woodpecks, usually with a black back and red on the head. In their quest for insects, as well as for rearing their young, they chip out large hoes in trees.

Woodpecker, Pileated Dryocopus pileatus Found: North America
The Pileated Woodpecker has black upperparts and lowerparts; white throat and neck; black line on nape; black eye-line. The male has red stripe above the chin; female has black stripe.
Similar to: Lineated Woodpecker. Their ranges do not overlap.
Image by:   1, 2, 3, 7) Dick Daniels - Ash, North Carolina  4) Dick - Sandwich, New Hampshire   5, 6) Alan D Wilson - Black Creek, British Columbia
1, 2, 3)   4, 5, 6) Male




Genus Melanerpes
Their name means "black creeper". These New World woodpeckers all have some black on their upperparts and all have black bills.

Woodpecker, Acorn Melanerpes formicivorus Found: southwest North America (southwest) to South America (Columbia)
The Acorn Woodpecker has black back, wings, and tail; black patch around the bill; black eye patch; white cheeks, throat, and forehead; red crown. The female has black between the red crown and white forehead; the male does not.
Similar to: White-headed Woodpecker. Acorn Woodpecker has black around base of bill; White-headed Woodpecker has a white face and throat.
Image by: 1)  Steve Ryan  2) Alan D. Wilson - Madera Canyon, Near Green Valley, Arizona   3)   Katy & Sam - Arizona  4) Kevin Cole  5) New Jersy Birds   6) Dick Daniels - California
1, 2, 3, 4) Female 5, 6) Male



Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Melanerpes pucherani  Found: Mexico, Central America, northern South America
The Black-cheeked Woodpecker has black upperparts with white barring; white spots on the wings and a white rump; black tail with some white barring; pale buff-olive underparts; red central belly; black patch around the eyes and on the cheeks; yellow forehead; red nape.
Similar to: Golden-naped Woodpecker. Black-cheeked Woodpecker has red nape; Golden-naped Woodpecker has yellow nape.
Image by:  1, 3) Jerry Oldenettel - Costa Rica  2) David Cook - Ecuador  4) Kat and Sam - Costa Rica


Woodpecker, Gila  Melanerpes uropygialis  Found: desert regions of southwest United States, Mexico
The Gila Woodpecker has black upperparts with white barring; grayish-tan neck, throat, belly and head. Male has small red cap head; female does not.
Similar to: Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker. The range of Gila does not overlap with the other two. Golden-fronted has orange-yellow nape, Red-bellied has red nape. In all 3 species the male has a red crown, the female does not.
Woodpeckers with similar backs: Golden-cheeked, Golden-fronted, Hoffman's, Ladder-backed, Nuttall's, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded, Red-crowned.
Image by: 1) Mike and Chris  2) Dick Daniels - the North Carolina Zoo    3) Alan D. Wilson - Deschutes National Forest, Near Fort Rock, Oregon  4) Chris Queen
2, 3, 4) Male


Woodpecker, Golden-cheeked  Melanerpes chrysogenys  Endemic to Mexico 
The Golden-cheeked Woodpecker has black and white barred back and tail; pale gray underparts with yellow-tinged belly; small black eye patch; faint yellowish wash on cheeks; yellow forehead and nape. Male has red crown patch,; female has pale gray crown patch.
The "black eye" of the Golden-cheeked Woodpecker is unique. Woodpeckers with similar backs: Gila, Golden-fronted, Hoffman's, Ladder-backed, Nuttall's, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded, Red-crowned.
Image by: Len Blumin - San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico


Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Melanerpes aurifrons   Found: United States (Oklahoma, Texas), Mexico, Central America
The Golden-fronted Woodpecker has black and white barred back; white rump; yellowish orange nape; golden forehead. Male has red crown; female does not.
Similar to: Gila Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker. The range of Gila does not overlap with the other two. Golden-fronted has orange-yellow nape, Red-bellied has red nape.
Woodpeckers with similar backs: Gila, Golden-cheeked, Hoffman's, Ladder-backed, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded, Red-crowned.
Image: 1) Brian Ralphs - Texas  2) Jerry Oldenettel  3) Alan D. Wilson 
1) Female 2, 3) Male


Woodpecker, Gray-breasted  Melanerpes hypopolius  Found: Mexico
Image by: 1) Dominic Sherony  2) Amy McAndrews


Woodpecker, Lewis's  Melanerpes lewis  Found: west North America
Lewis's Woodpecker can be identified by its dark head and red face. Its flight is slow and even, more like a crow than a typical woodpecker flight.
Image by: 1) Len Blumin     2) Alan D Wilson - Near Fort Rock, Oregon  3) Alan D. Wilson - Near Fort Rock, Oregon   4) Charlie Westerinen - the Klamath River in Northern CA


Woodpecker, Red-bellied  Melanerpes carolinus   Found: east North America
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has black and white barred upperparts; light gray on the face and underparts; red nape and red forehead. The belly may have a red tinge. The male also has a red crown.
Similar to: Gila Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker. The range of Gila does not overlap with the other two. Golden-fronted has orange-yellow nape, Red-bellied has red nape. In all 3 species the male has a red crown, the female does not.
Woodpeckers with similar backs: Gila, Golden-cheeked, Golden-fronted, Hoffman's, Ladder-backed, Nuttall's, Red-cockaded, Red-crowned.
Image by: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) Dick Daniels - North Carolina 
1, 2, 3) Female   4 - 8) Male   3) Note the RED on the belly.


Woodpecker, Red-headed Melanerpes erythrocephalus   Found: east North America to South America (Columbia)
The Red-headed Woodpecker has black upper back, tail; red head, neck; white lower back, belly.
Image by: 1) Laura Gooch - Ohio  2, 3, 4) Dick Daniels - North Carolina 
1) Juvenile


Woodpecker, Yucatan  Melanerpes pygmaeus  Found: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Hondoras 
Image by: Amy McAndrews



Genus Picoides
Birds in this genus are found mainly in North America. Most are mainly black and white.

Woodpecker, American Three-toed  Picoides dorsalis  Found: Northern United States, Canada
The American Three-toed Woodpecker has 3 toes versus the normal 4 for most woodpeckers. It has black back, wings, and rump; black and white barred flanks with emphasis on the white; white throat and belly; white eye-ring continuing as white line to the back. The male has a yellow cap.
Similar to: Black-backed Woodpecker. Both are three-toed. The Three-toed Woodpecker has some white on its back, the Black-backed Woodpecker does not.
Similar to: Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. The American Three-toed Woodpecker and Eurasian Three-towed Woodpecker were once consider one species. Their ranges do not over lap.
Image by: 1) Leyo - Colorada  2, 4) Pbonefant   3) Jerry Oldenettel - New Mexico   5) Charlie Westerinen - Utah  6) Dick Daniels - Palmer, Alaska  7)   Bruce Cyg - Colorado
1) Pair 2, 3) Female 4 - 7) Male  



Woodpecker, Arizona  Picoides arizonae  Found: United States (Arizona), Mexico
The Arizona Woodpecker has a brown back; white underparts with black spots; mainly white nape; dark eye patch with white area above; red crown, nape. Female is duller than male.
Similar to: Strickland's Woodpecker. They used to be consider one species.
Image by: 1, 2) Alan D. Wilson  3)  New Jersy Birds 
1) Female 2, 3) Male


Woodpecker, Black-backed   Picoides arcticus  Found: Northern United States, Canada
The Black-backed Woodpecker has 3 toes versus the normal 4 for most woodpeckers. It has black upperparts; black face with white stripe; white underparts; black and white barred flanks with emphasis on the white. The male has a yellow cap.
Similar to: Three-toed Woodpecker. Both are three-toed. The Three-toed Woodpecker has some white on its back, the Black-backed Woodpecker does not.
Image by: 1) Don Brubacher - New Brunswick  2)   USFWS - Vermont  3) Steve Urszenyi - Ontario    4) S Fitzgerald - Michigan 
1) Female  2, 3, 4) Male


Woodpecker, Downy Picoides pubescens   Found: Canada, United States
The Downy Woodpecker has mainly black upperparts with white in the center of the back; white underparts; white spotting on the wings; white streak above and below the eye; black eye-line. The male has red spot on back of the head.
Similar to Hairy Woodpecker. Downy Woodpecker has shorter bill than Hairy Woodpecker. Hairy Woodpeckers are considerably larger than Downy Woodpeckers.
Image by: 1) Dick Daniels - North Carolina    4) Dick - Maryland   2, 3) Alan D Wilson - Black Creek, Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia
 1, 2) Female   3, 4) Male (red on back of head)


Woodpecker, Hairy Picoides villosus   Found: North America and Central America
The Hairy Woodpecker has mainly black upperparts with white in the center of the back; white underparts; white spotting on the wings; white streak above and below the eye; black eye-line. The male has red spot on back of the head.
Similar to Downy Woodpecker. Downy Woodpecker has shorter bill than Hairy Woodpecker. Hairy Woodpeckers are considerably larger than Downy Woodpeckers.
Image by: 1) Alan D. Wilson near Fort Rock, Oregon  2, 3) Dick Daniels - Palmer, Alsalso  4) Ted Grussing - Arizona
1) Female  2, 3, 4) Male (red on back of head)


Woodpecker, Ladder-backed  Picoides scalaris  Found: dry bushy areas of southwest United states to Nicaragua
The Ladder-backed Woodpecker has a black and white barred back. The spacing of the bars is wide, resembling a ladder. It has cream colored underparts with spotted flanks. Males have red cap.
Similar to: Nuttall's Woodpecker. Nutthall's Woodpecker has more black on the cheek.
Woodpeckers with similar backs: Gila, Golden-cheeked, Golden-fronted, Hoffman's, Nuttall's, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded, Red-crowned.
Image by: 1) Searchnet Media - Arizona  2, 4) Jeff Whitlock - Texas  3) Mrccos - Texas  5)  Alan D Wilson - the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix  6) Gerardo Santos - Texas  
1) Baby  2, 3) Female  4, 5, 6) Male



Woodpecker, Nuttall's Picoides nuttallii Found: chaparral and oak woodlands of west North America
The Nuttall's Woodpecker has black and white barred upperparts with an unbarred region at top of back; black forehead with white stripes on the sides; white throat and upper breast with the rest of the underparts having faint spots and bars. The male red area at back of the head.
Similar to: Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Nutthall's Woodpecker has more black on the cheek.
Woodpeckers with similar backs: Gila, Golden-cheeked, Golden-fronted, Hoffman's, Ladder-backed, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded, Red-crowned.
Image by:    1, 2, 5) Mike Baird - California  3) Charlie Westerinen - Sonoma, California  4) Len Blumin - Gallinas, San Rafael    6) New Jersy Birds  7) Steve Corey - California  8) Nick Chill - California
1, 2, 3, 4) Male  5, 6, 7, 8) Female


Woodpecker, Red-cockaded   Picoides borealis    Found: southeast United States (pine forests)
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker's most distinguishing feature is a black cap and nape that encircle large white cheek patches.
Woodpeckers with similar backs: Gila, Golden-cheeked, Golden-fronted, Hoffman's, Ladder-backed, Nuttall's, Red-bellied, Red-crowned.
Image by:  1) Matthew K Hacker   2) Julio Mulero - Florida  3) Jerry Oldenettel - Mississippi   4) Francesco Veronesi - Texas


Woodpecker, Strickland's   Picoides stricklandi  Found: Mexico
The Strickland's Woodpecker has brown on top with a dark rump; white underparts speckled with many brown spots; usually three white bars; two white stripes across their face which join with another white bar on their neck. Male has red patch on nape.
Similar to: Arizona Woodpecker. They used to be consider one species.
Image by: 1) Jorge Montejo - Mexico  2) Amy McAndrews - Mexico


Woodpecker, White-headed  Picoides albolarvatus  Found: western mountains of North America
The White-headed Woodpecker has a black body; white head, white primarary feathers. Male has red spot at back of head.
Similar to: Acorn Woodpecker. Acorn Woodpecker has black around base of bill; White-headed Woodpecker has a white face and throat.
Image by:  1, 3) Dave McMullen - California  2) Marcel Holyoak - California   4) Alan D. Wilson - Near Fort Rock, Oregon
1) Female  2, 3, 4) Male



Genus Sphyrapicus
The Sapsuckers are found in North America. They feed mainly on the sap of trees which the tap by making small holes. Insects often get stuck on the sap and are eaten to.

Sapsucker, Red-breasted
  Sphyrapicus ruber  Found: North America (west coast)
The Red-breasted Sapsucker has red breast, throat, head; black back with white; black wings; large white wing patch; white near base of bill; white lower belly and rump.
Similar to: Red-naped Sapsucker, The Red-breasted Sapsucker has red throat and upper breast; the Red-naped Sapsucker has red throat.
Similar to: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The Red-breasted Sapsucker has red throat and upper breast. The male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a red throat, the female has a white throat. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a yellow breast and upper belly.
Image by: 1)  Mack Ewalt - Oregon  2) USFWS - Washington  3) Linda Tanner   4) Len Blumin - California
1) Juvenile


Sapsucker, Red-naped  Sphyrapicus nuchalis Found: west North America
The Red-naped Sapsucker has black back and wings with white bars; large white wing patch; red crown sometimes extending to nape. Male has completely red throat; female has white at top of throat, red at lower part.
Similar to: Red-breasted Sapsucker, The Red-breasted Sapsucker has red throat and upper breast; the Red-naped Sapsucker has red throat.
Similar to: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The Red-breasted Sapsucker has red throat and upper breast. The male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a red throat, the female has a white throat. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a yellow breast and upper belly.
Image by: 1) Wildbill_Co - Colorado  2) Alan D. Wilson - Nature Trail, Logan Lake, British Columbia   3) Jerry Oldenettel - New Mexicoa   4) Jeff Whitlock - Colorado   5) Matt MacGillivray - Alberta, Canada 
1, 2) Male  3, 4, 5) Female



Sapsucker, Williamson's  Sphyrapicus thyroideus  Found: west North America
Male Williamson's Sapsucker has black back, head, throat and upper breast; large white wing patch; white stripe behind eye and a lower white stripe on the face. Female has black back with fine white bars; brown head; yellowish breast.
Image by: 1) Bill Bouton - Oregon  2) Marcel Holyoak - Colorado   3) Jerry Oldenettel - New Mexico   4, 5)   Charlie Westerinen near Carson Pass, CA at 9000'
1, 2) Male  3, 4, 5) Female



Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Sphyrapicus varius   Found: much of Canada, east United States, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has black back and wings with white bars; white wing patch; black head with white lines on the sides; red forehead, crown; yellowish breast, upper belly; white lower belly, rump. Male has red throat; female has white throat.
Similar to: Red-breasted Sapsucker, The Red-breasted Sapsucker has red throat and upper breast. The male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a red throat, the female has a white throat. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a yellow breast and upper belly.
Similar to: Red-naped Sapsucker. The Red-naped Sapsucker has red throat. The male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a red throat, the female has a white throat. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a yellow breast and upper belly.
Image by:  1)  Keith Williams - Yukon Territory, Canada   2)Tony Harvey - Kentucky    3) Dominic Sherony  4) Dick Daniels - Ash, North Carolina
1) Female  2, 3, 4) Male.






Back to Top