Woodpeckers in Alaska

Woodpeckers are one of the most fascinating avians you can find in your backyard – and did you know that there are 7 species in Alaska?

There’s a good chance that if you have more than one woodpecker visiting you, you may actually be playing host to a few different species!

Although the list below contains all the usual woodpeckers found in Alaska, it’s possible to find a vagrant species of woodpecker that’s not native to this particular state. If you do see a vagrant species, it should be considered an extremely rare sighting!


The following legend can be used for each woodpecker species map to determine what time of year you can see each woodpecker in your area.

Legend for the following woodpecker migration and range maps

7 woodpecker species are found in Alaska, including the Black-Backed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Downy Woodpecker. Several of these woodpecker species are permanent residents, while others are much rarer and can be only spotted seasonally.

The 7 Woodpecker Species in Alaska


Black-Backed Woodpecker

Picoides arcticus

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 9.1 in (23 cm)


The black-backed woodpecker is a fellow Picidae alongside the American three-toed variety, though as the name suggests, these birds can be easy enough to tell apart. These particular birds have the rather odd habit of striking trees that have died. There’s a reason for this – they forage in burnt trees to go hunting for unsuspecting insects. Black-backed woodpeckers will normally start pecking away on burnt wood a few weeks after it’s been scorched. What’s also fascinating is the fact that they will feed on this wood for up to eight years!

How to Identify

This Picidae, as its name suggests, has a shiny, black, feathery plumage, which can be excellent in helping to camouflage it in darker, burnt forests. They are becoming more and more common as they hunt for grubs and larvae, and it’s likely you’ll spot them alongside their three-toed cousins.

Black-Backed Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

There are said to be more than 1.8 million black-backed Picidae in North America right now, and you’ll spot them all across the northern states heading into Canada. Again, much like the three-toed variety, this bird commonly frequents Alaska and out east – if there are burnt trees, they’ll be close by.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 7.1 – 8.7 in (18 – 22 cm)


This woodpecker is a variety of bird that will happily drill holes to drink tasty sap from within, something that’s very welcoming to other species. These birds are fairly similar to other sapsuckers in terms of behavior and in terms of looks. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers tend to be very unique drillers – you will likely recognize their staggered pecking if they happen upon wood or metal near your yard. These birds are known for pecking and making nests extremely high up – over 6,000 feet in the air.

How to Identify

As the name suggests, you will normally be able to spot a yellow-bellied sapsucker for its bright stomach, however, it often has a reddish crown and nape, with stunning black and white bars and flecks down its body, tail, and wings.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Range & Migration Map

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most migratory woodpecker in the world, breeding as far north as eastern Arkansas and the northern boreal forest, and wintering as far south as Panama and the Caribbean. Much like other US native sapsuckers, this bird will normally be found in forest spots, though this species will migrate from the central plains and lower midwest southward towards the west of the Appalachians.


Red-breasted Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus ruber

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 7.9 – 8.7 in (20 – 22 cm)


The red-breasted sapsucker is a west coast Picidae that tends to enjoy flocking to forests to suckle on sap – hence its name. Many other woodpeckers depend upon and can follow the red-breasted sapsucker in search of food, as their holes tend to be very handy to get sap from! The red-breasted sapsucker tends to be a fairly organized worker, drilling rows to suck sap from and to feed on insects. Interestingly, you’ll also find these birds flocking towards the coast, too.

How to Identify

These striking birds have gorgeous reddish heads and plumage, often with black and white feathers on their wings and tails. They are mid-sized birds and tend to flock more towards the forest reaches than to yards. In any case, you may get lucky.

Red-breasted Sapsucker Range & Migration Map

You will find this Picidae to frequent west coast territories, traditionally to the west of the Rockies. West coast gardeners in California, Oregon, and Washington close to the forest edges may spot one or two if there are conifers close by.


American Three-toed Woodpecker

Picoides dorsalis

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 8.3 – 9.1 in (21 – 23 cm)


These woodpeckers are so-named thanks to the obvious differences in their feet – they tend to lean back further than most woodpeckers thanks to their three toes! They also tend to be some of the noisier, more aggressive peckers, so that they can get a better strike on the bark they attack. American Three-toed woodpeckers tend to spend a lot of time pecking and scaling away at one or two trees before they will choose to go elsewhere – and they never get too deep into the bark.

How to Identify

As well as only having three toes, the American three-toed woodpecker is notable for having black / brown and white feathers, speckled, with a striking patterned face. Again, they can also be easy to spot thanks to their pecking habits.

American Three-toed Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

This Picidae is sadly one of the most endangered, though there are thought to be more than 1.4 million of them living across North America. They tend to inhabit forested mountain areas, and they also largely inhabit the upper half of the continent. If you live in Alaska, British Columbia, or out towards Canada, you may be lucky enough to spot one or two.


Hairy Woodpecker

Dryobates villosus

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 7.1 – 10.2 in (18 – 26 cm)


If there is a chance you’re going to spot a woodpecker in your backyard somewhere in the states, then it’s probably going to be a hairy species! The Dryobates villosus is extremely common, but it’s actually fairly shy and retiring. They have very simple calls but will be happy to drill and drum on just about anything. They are also prime opportunists – they’ll steal sap from holes drilled by other birds! The hairy woodpecker is also known for its mighty peck – it looks small, but it drills loudly!

How to Identify

The hairy woodpecker naturally has a fairly hairy appearance, though it’s also notable for its relatively long, pointed bill, as well as its distinct black and white coloring. Some species, however, can carry a brownish tint. They are generally white to the chest and are speckled to the wings.

Hairy Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

Where to start? This Picidae doesn’t tend to be fussy about climate, though you’ll normally see it amongst conifers. There are more than eight million of these birds across the continent, and their numbers are growing – there are no particular states where they are most prolific.


Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 11.0 – 12.2 in (28 – 31 cm)


This Picidae is known by many, many different names – and you may well have seen it referred to as the Yellow or Red-shafted Flicker. It’s a fairly common bird and is also one of the largest woodpeckers living across the states. Unlike most peckers, however, they tend to feast mainly on ground insects – ants, in particular! This Flicker will choose to hop around to eat, but may even choose to site itself on branches occasionally when it fancies a fruit treat or two.

How to Identify

The Northern Flicker has plumage colors that can vary (hence its many names), but you can commonly spot these birds thanks to their flecked tails and wings. They often have black markings around their faces and crests, and you’ll be able to tell them apart from other Picidae on sheer size alone.

Northern Flicker Range & Migration Map

Northern Flickers tend to live out east but can be found high up in the northwest reaches of Alaska, and even down towards the west coast – that applies to the yellow-shafted variety, in any case! Flickers of this genus tend to be fairly common across the US, with almost ten million specimens estimated at present in North America.


Downy Woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 5.5 – 6.7 in (14 – 17 cm)


Truly tiny, the cute downy woodpecker is a Picidae that’s common across the north to central states. In fact, they are the smallest native woodpeckers in the country. They tend to prefer milder climates on the whole but are known to travel around. They use sharp, single calls, and tend to enjoy feeding on seeds in feeders. If you have any woodpeckers in your backyard, there is a very good chance it is a Dryobates pubescens. They are just bigger than your common garden sparrow.

How to Identify

Exceptionally small but unabashedly noisy, the downy woodpecker is largely black and white with spots, and the males tend to have red crowns. They have varying spots and stripes across their wings and feathers – meaning that neither one nor two may ever look the same!

Downy Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

The downy woodpecker lives just about everywhere across the United States, with sightings across states as diverse as Florida and Alaska! If the climate is mild enough – and not too sunny – then there’s every chance you’ll spot this bird in your yard. There are around 13 million of them across the continent.


How to Attract Alaska Woodpeckers to Your Yard

Want to see more woodpeckers in your backyard?

As you can see, there are more than a few wonderful woodpecker species to look out for across Alaska. Some may not flock to gardens and backyards in favor of forests and woodland reaches – however, there’s a chance a rare bird or two may make its way to you.

If you’re keen to start spotting woodpeckers in your yard, why not take a look at our guide on how to attract woodpeckers? That’ll give you the basics of what’s required to attract woodpeckers.

Then, we’d recommend reading our buyer’s guide on choosing the best woodpecker feeder. Setting up a woodpecker feeder or two is the best way to guarantee that woodpeckers will visit your yard. While you’re at it, do make sure to read our full guide on what to feed woodpeckers, too – as getting their diet right will make a lot of difference!

There are a bunch of other ways to attract woodpeckers such as getting a bird bath and planting native trees that woodpeckers love.

All State Woodpeckers

Want to see what woodpecker species are found in other states? Here’s our complete list of woodpeckers found in each state:

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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