Woodpeckers in Kentucky

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

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 Kentucky, 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 Kentucky, including the Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red-Headed Woodpecker, and Hairy 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 Kentucky


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.


Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 15.8 – 19.3 in (40 – 49 cm)


Large and loud, this woodpecker is fairly easy to notice – particularly as their mating cries are so distinct! Rather tragically, this burly Picidae is sometimes mistaken for a woodpecker that’s thought to now be extinct – the ivory-billed woodpecker, which hasn’t been seen in the US for many years. The pileated woodpecker, almost crowlike in stature, tends to feast on ants and minibeasts found deep in decaying trees. This species’ hole-making can help give shelter to other animals – making it a welcome sight.

How to Identify

Beyond their loud cries and wood rapping, the pileated woodpecker has a shocking red crown, with monochromatic bodies and long, thin beaks. The male of the species is easy to spot as it has a facial marking rather like a mustache.

Pileated Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

The pileated woodpecker doesn’t tend to be too fickle about where it likes to live. However, you’ll mainly find it living out in eastern states, though as far north as Nova Scotia! If you’re a California native, it’s also not unheard of to spot this common Picidae.


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.


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.


Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 9.4 in (24 cm)


Increasingly common, the red-bellied woodpecker tends to enjoy flocking to backyard feeders and has a call you might just recognize. They only ever drum during mating or attraction, and if you’ve ever tried to tell these birds apart in terms of gender – it’s almost impossible on glance alone. This is a mid-sized bird that doesn’t tend to do too much damage to trees, it’s one of the gentler woodpeckers you’ll find in the US wilds. They tend to prefer pecking away at hardwoods and will flock to forests when they aren’t at the feeder.

How to Identify

The red-bellied woodpecker, of course, has a red stomach, but you will mainly know it for its red-tinged crown and its bar-coated feathers, as well as a brown-colored front and face. Again, it’s hard to tell the males and females apart.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

These woodpeckers tend to be common sights out towards the east and southeastern states, from Texas out to Florida. They don’t tend to move around too much, particularly as they will steal nesting spots from other birds!


Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Order: Piciformes

Family: Picidae

Size: 7.5 – 9.1 in (19 – 23 cm)


This large, boldly-colored bird is a wonderful sight for many, and while you might not hear it call too often, its rattles and drumming on trees will likely be a common sound across its native states. However, it doesn’t actually peck at trees for food – it snatches flying beasts as they flitter past. This woodpecker has sadly fallen in numbers over the years due to food scarcity. However, when it can’t snatch a bug or two, it happily feasts on nuts and acorns.

How to Identify

Their name is a giveaway – they have bright red crowns and heads, with white body feathers and monochrome wings and tails. You probably won’t hear their calls too loudly.

Red-headed Woodpecker Range & Migration Map

These acorn-foraging birds frequent the eastern to central states, stretching up as far as outer Canada. They tend to enjoy the warmer reaches, however, as they will frequent spots in Florida and down in New Mexico.


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.


How to Attract Kentucky 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 Kentucky. 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 The 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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