Florida is famous for many things, including the woodpecker. There are several woodpecker types in the Sunshine State, each unique. Whether it be the wing span, color, or where they live, the subtle and vast differences set each bird apart. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission details each type intentionally, pointing out unique color and pattern characteristics, feeding habits, and where they are.
But seeing pictures of one of Florida’s indigenous woodpeckers and spotting one in person is a different story. Enthusiasts record recent sightings of the birds, letting other bird lovers know where they might see one of these fabulous tiny birds in flight or doing what they do best — peck some Florida wood.
And like their physical differences, Florida woodpeckers have distinct contact calls that set boundaries around them while luring female mates with specific frequency and duration. Along with distinct drumming calls comes that constant notorious pecking. But to the woodpecker, the sound is far from annoying. A study on woodpeckers reveals the birds’ drumming is a birdsong to them.
However, handling an annoying woodpecker is a legal matter for those who do not prefer the persistent pecking on their homes. Protected under federal law, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has special protection for the species. Not giving the woodpecker the respect it deserves could result in severe fines. But more on that later. For now, let’s take a closer look at the colorful species.
1. Red-Headed Woodpecker
The red-headed woodpecker is a patriotic-looking bird with a red head, white chest, and dark blue wings. It breeds year-round and favors weathered bark in the open woods and wetlands. You can find them around wild and cultivated fruit, making Florida a prominent nesting spot. With no exact migration route or time, they settle throughout April/May and September along the Gulf Coast. The red-headed woodpecker has wheezy queeah or queerp contact call.
2. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
The red-bellied woodpecker is ironically not red on the belly, but rather the head. The backs of the red-bellied woodpecker’s wings have stripes, which distinguish it from the red-headed woodpecker. This unique medium-sized woodpecker gets around, breeding from South Florida to Canada. When it comes to the Sunshine State, this woodpecker inhabits mixed wood forests, hardwood and cypress swamps, and flatlands. A good place to spot a red-bellied woodpecker is in the Everglades and southwest Keys. They also hang around the Panhandle foraging for subtropical fruit and pulp, as well as insects and seeds. The call of a red-bellied woodpecker is a rolling sound like chirr or qurr. It also has a constant cha-cha-cha resonance.
3. Downy Woodpecker
The tiniest of Florida’s woodpeckers and more widespread, the male downy woodpecker also boasts a bit of red on its black-and-white striped head. Other unique characteristics of the bird are the dots and large, white stripes along the backs of its wings. In some urban and suburban areas in Florida, the downy lives in mixed woods, sandhills, cypress, and hardwood swamps. The Blackwater Heritage Trail boasts sightings of the diminutive woodpecker, famous for eating insects and foraging on tree trunks and limbs; the Downy woodpecker often pecks away upside down. The downy’s call is high-pitched and dainty, like its shape.
4. Hairy Woodpecker
Like the downy, the hairy woodpecker also sports similar black-and-white features and patterns. The most significant difference between the two is their size and bills. A downy has a dainty nose, while the hairy has a railroad-spiked beak. Hairy woodpeckers are widespread in Florida, minus the Keys or the areas in the southeastern peninsula. It often feeds and excavates in second-growth forests to Florida backyards. Like other Florida woodpeckers, it enjoys insects and seeds and will even feed on the sap of damaged trees. The hairy woodpecker’s call is similar to the downy’s in sound and pitch, but it’s faster and shorter in duration.
5. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
The only endangered woodpecker on the list, the red-cockaded needs old-growth pine forests to nest in between April and June. With a large white patch on its cheeks and a black head and neck, the male red-cockaded woodpecker has a small red streak above the cheek. Ants, beetles, termites, and roaches are just a few of the red-cockaded’s favorite things to eat. Once common in southeast pine forests, the species will only excavate in trees at least 70 years old, which are often infected with red heart disease. Spotting a red-cockaded in Florida is only likely on federally owned land. However, they can live in state forests, including Blackwater and Withlacoochee, and wildlife management areas, such as the Webb and Corbett management areas. This rare woodpecker has a churt repeated every few seconds and a rattling sound when nesting.
6. Northern Flicker
The Northern Flicker is not as loved as other woodpeckers due to its habit of pecking metal surfaces, specifically house eaves. The northern flicker is commonly seen in residential areas, as well as in open pine and mixed woodland regions. This bird has a finicky appetite, preferring ants and beetles. You will find them around ant hills, which are plentiful in Florida, and in lawns and parks. You know a northern flicker is around when you hear their distinct rattle call or the incessant drumming on metal they are famous for making.
7. Pileated Woodpecker
One of the state’s largest woodpeckers, the pileated is a rare breed. Its unique head shape, long beak, and black, red, and white neck give it a royal look. Though it may look pretentious, its low-maintenance diet of ants and beetles keeps it grounded to feed. Not to mention, they are known to settle down on the tops of utility poles rather than ornate trees. Found anywhere in Florida but the Keys, there is a concentrated breeding population of the Pileated in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Orlando. The Pileated woodpecker has multiple distinct calls, including lighter repeating cuk, cuk, cuk sounds.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers tips for those who live near wooded areas that may attract woodpeckers seeking food and shelter. Yes, woodpeckers do like to seek shelter in wood or metal side trim and structures, including your home, but it can be a good thing sometimes. If a woodpecker is in fact pecking away at siding, it could be a sign of insect damage in the structure, otherwise known as dinner to the bird.
Ideally, better seen than heard, if a northern flicker, for example, has found residence in a home, getting rid of one is a legal matter since they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. As read, that particular woodpecker prefers forested and urban settings, where there are plenty of trees and homes. No matter what type, Florida’s seven indigenous woodpeckers, unique in their own way, represent a state renowned for bright colors. And they do it very well.
Summary of Indigenous Florida Woodpeckers
|Red-Headed Woodpecker||Black, white, and red||Bees, seeds, insects, berries|
|Red-Bellied Woodpecker||Black, white, and red||Subtropical fruit, insects|
|Downy Woodpecker||Black and white||Insects, seeds, berries|
|Hairy Woodpecker||Black, white, and red||Insects, seeds, tree sap|
|Red-Cockaded Woodpecker||Black and white. Red in males||Termites, roaches, ants|
|Northern Flicker||Yellow, black, red, and white||Ants, beetles|
|Pileated Woodpecker||Black, red, and white||Ants, beetles|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock.com
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