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8 Wisconsin Woodpecker Species Guide (Where to Find Them)

Woodpecker bird on a tree

You'll know there are woodpeckers in your backyard before you see them.

Yes, because...

Their loud drumming noise tells you who's the boss of dead tree trunks in your backyard.

When birding in a conservation area, if it has hardwoods, woodpeckers are probably there.

So, where can you spot Wisconsin woodpeckers? Before I answer that, I'll tell you the types of woodpeckers in Wisconsin so can ID the ones you see during your birding tour.

The 8 Woodpeckers Of Wisconsin (How To ID Them)

The Red-headed Woodpecker

red head, black and white woodpecker

You'll tell it apart from other woodpeckers because of its stunning crimson-colored head and neck, which makes it the only bird in the state with such a head color.

Further, the red-headed woodpecker’s underparts are white, while its back is blue-black.

This bird is about eight inches long, and you can spot it in many areas of the state throughout the year. It loves eerie habitats like the foliage of a burnt forest and dead trees. Additionally, it feeds on insects.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker

white and gray woodpecker

It's about one inch longer than the red-headed woodpecker above, and it's present in this state all year-round. To ID it, look at its belly.


It has a tan that gives it its name. You can also tell it apart from other woodpeckers in this state because of its barred black and white stripes that look almost like a zebra pattern.

To ID the male and female red-bellied woodpeckers, look at their heads. The male's forehead has a distinct red color that runs down to the crown and the nape. In contrast, only the female's nape is red.

The Red-bellied woodpecker prefers humid forests with pine and hardwood trees, where it gets a generous supply of fruits and seeds. It rarely hunts insects in trees.

We move on to another woodpecker, the smallest you'll see in this state. I'm talking about:

The Downy Woodpecker

white and gray woodpecker in a forest

It's just six inches long with black and white plumage. This bird loves suet; thus, you don't have to leave your most comfortable seat in the house to see it.

Place some sunflower seeds in your feeder, and they'll come to you.

You may confuse it with another resident of WI:

The Hairy Woodpecker

white and black woodpecker on a tree

When looking at pictures of woodpeckers in Wisconsin, you can distinguish it from the downy woodpecker by comparing the two bills.

The length of the hairy woodpecker's bill is almost the size of its head. Plus, it’s thicker than the downy’s.

This bird is only a few inches bigger than the downy woodpecker, and they both have the same black and white plumage. You may also spot it on your bird feeder.

Onto the first migratory bird on our list:

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

yellow and black woodpecker

It has yellowish or whitish underparts that give it its name. When you spot a yellow-bellied sapsucker, look at its crown and throat to differentiate a female and male sapsucker.


The female's crown is red, but the male bird has a red crown and throat.

The Black-Backed Woodpecker

black woodpecker on a tree

It's a rare species in this state, so you might enjoy a few birding tours before you spot it.

When you do, you'll know because it has a distinguishing yellow crown, unlike most of the other woodpeckers in Wisconsin that have a red crown.

But, the crown of the female black-backed woodpecker is black.

The Pileated Woodpecker

black woodpecker with red head

Like the black-backed woodpecker with its yellow crown, the pileated bird also introduces another colorful element - a red crest that looks like a mohawk.

Black dominates its plumage, and black and white stripes run across its face to the neck.

It's large bill drums trees looking for ants, and this is one of the rare birds in WI.


The Northern Flicker

Gray and white woodpecker

It's not very big; it's between 11 and 12 inches long. Two features will prove that you're looking at a Northern flicker:

One, this woodpecker has a curved bill. Two, it has gray-brownish plumage, unlike the black or white plumage of other birds we've talked about here.

Plus, it has a black bib, black spots on its belly, and a barred back.

FYI: If you still haven't satisfied your fill for woodpeckers, then proceed to read the types of woodpeckers in Florida!

I promised to highlight a few birding destinations that are home to woodpeckers. Do you have a pen and paper? It's time to note down the following:

The Best Places To Spot WI Woodpeckers

We'll name a few places you can add to your birding calendar, starting with:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Since red-headed woodpeckers inhabit burnt forests and restored savannah vegetation, they like this refuge. It's a diverse ecosystem with hardwood forests, oak savannas, and shrub swamps.

Goose Pond Sanctuary

It's one of the few places to see the pileated woodpecker, which this sanctuary added to its list of birds in 2017.

Brule River State Forest

You'll spot the black-backed woodpecker in the coniferous bogs where they inhabit cedar, spruce, and alder trees.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area

Its lush oak savannah is home to the red-headed woodpeckers.

Rush River Delta SNA

You'll find red-headed woodpeckers in this area's floodplain forest.

Nicolet National Forest

It's a rich ecosystem with lakes, swamps, and bogs. The black-backed woodpecker lives here all year round, enjoying the unadulterated cedar and alder forests. 

Wyalusing State Park

It's a nesting ground for birds, so you may spot the pileated woodpecker looking for dead hardwoods in which to build nests. 

Popular Questions About Woodpeckers In Wisconsin

What Kind Of Woodpeckers Are In Wisconsin?

You'll spot eight woodpeckers of Wisconsin. These include the tiny downy woodpecker, its close cousin, the hairy woodpecker, and the stunning red-headed woodpecker.

Here's how to identify their rare species:

Can You Shoot Woodpeckers In Wisconsin?

No, it's illegal to shoot these birds even if they're giving you sleepless nights with their drumming. The 1918 Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits even capturing them unless you have a federal permit. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service authorizes activities involving migratory birds, so that's where you can get a permit.

Do Wisconsin Woodpeckers Migrate?

Some of the woodpeckers migrate -- these are the Northern flicker and the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

In Conclusion

You'll enjoy the search for woodpeckers in WI because you have eight types to see. Some, such as the downy and hairy woodpeckers, have almost similar physical characteristics. But, they both frequent bird feeders, where you can take your time to ID each bird.

Others, such as the pileated woodpecker, are elusive; therefore, you'll go into hardwood forests to look for them in nests built in dead tree trunks. Are you up to the challenge?

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