Common and Migratory Woodpeckers in Michigan Guide: Where to Spot and How to Attract Them to Your Backyard

Whether you prefer to watch woodpeckers in Michigan in the woods or your backyard, there is never a dull moment.

Michigan has plenty of woodpeckers. Ask any Michigan state resident. And they will probably tell you they have woodpeckers in their backyards all year round, though you should also know that a few species are migratory. 

Michigan’s diverse ecosystem supports eight species of woodpeckers. Here, you will spot the smallest to the largest, the common to the rarest, and the most stunning ones. 

Whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned birder, I got you covered. I will give you all the information you’re looking for in my woodpeckers in Michigan guide. I will also show you where to spot them and how to attract them to your backyard.

Bottom Line Up Front

Michigan has eight species of woodpecker, a common sight throughout the state. Of these eight species, five are nonmigratory.

The nonmigratory woodpeckers in Michigan include:  

Migratory species are:

The migratory species winter in the south and return to their summer homes as soon as the cold season ends. 

Woodpeckers are naturally forest dwellers but will also come to your backyard. This is especially true if you provide them with suet feeders, birdhouses, and bird tabs. Planting various trees and keeping dead trees will also bring them to your backyard.

Common All-Year-Round Woodpeckers in Michigan

Some species of woodpeckers never leave Michigan, whether in summer or winter. You will see them throughout the year. 

Let’s look at them.

Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers

Loved for their curiosity and personality, downies are the most adored woodpeckers in Michigan. 

At a glance, their‌ diminutive bodies suggest they can’t compete with other species. After all, they weigh about an ounce or less. Yet, they are super active and a familiar sight throughout the state. 

Look for the black and white plumage and checkered backs to recognize them. Their heads are heavily striped. A broad white streak of downy feathers stands out at the center of their back. These prominent soft downy feathers is where the bird got its name.

Black and white stripes decorate the faces and necks of both sexes. Males are different, with a noticeable red patch on the back of their heads. Females lack the red patch and instead have a black nape. 

Quick Facts 

  • Scientific Name: Dryobates pubescens
  • Length: 5.5-6.7 in 
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz 
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in 

This bird will blow your mind with its acrobatic antics while feeding. It hangs upside down on branches and twigs, foraging insects and spiders. Other times, it hit around tree trunks and branches to glean arthropods.

Its diet consists mainly of beetle larvae captured inside wood and tree bark. It also eats ants and caterpillars. And during winter, it consumes plant food sources such as acorns, berries, and seeds. 

Downy Woodpecker Calls

The Downy Woodpecker has several calls serving different purposes. One of these calls is a high-pitched “chip,” which you can hear from a distance. Another is a lower-pitched “chirp,” usually uttered during flight or resting. 

And while you are birding, either early in the morning or evening, listen carefully for its unique call. The high-pitched call sounds like a squeak or winning pip, with a reducing pitch at the end. And when not singing, it uses its powerful beak to hit tree trunks while searching for food.

Like other woodpeckers, downies drum loudly to attract mates and mark territories. They also make other sounds. Both sexes make whining calls during the breeding season. 

A Downy is a Strategic Bird

Each fall, the downies excavate several cavities in dead trees or branches. Such a forward-thinking strategy from the downy is just in case some mammals or larger birds force it out of its primary cavity. And if its favorite roosting tree gets destroyed, it will simply move to the next one. 

Where to Spot Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers

Downy woodpeckers are common in the US and Canada. However, they don’t venture to the southwest and tundra deserts. In Michigan, expect to see them all year round in forests. You can also spot them in urban areas, city parks, and backyards.

During winter, they form mixed flocks with chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice.

Downy woodpeckers are not migratory. They brave the chilly nights in their home ranges. But the more northern ones often travel southwards during the winter. Those in the mountain areas also move to lower elevations. 

How to Attract Downy Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

Would you like to see a downy woodpecker up close and personal? You could attract them to your backyard in the following ways.

Provide Bird Feeders

The most effective way to attract downy woodpeckers to your garden is to provide them with what they need. Give them food. They love suet feeders. Install one, and you will enjoy watching them as they munch on their favorite meal. 

Offer them black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, chunky peanut butter, and millet. 

Provide a Birdhouse

A birdhouse is also a great way to attract woodpeckers to your backyard. Since the downy woodpecker prefers to excavate their nests, you can use the same strategy to attract them. Cram their houses with wood chippings. This way, the bird will naturally excavate the chips just like it would in a dead tree.

With winter approaching, the downy woodpecker will occupy a birdhouse to keep warm, just like you. However, the bird will abandon it as soon as the cold season turns warm. And during breeding, it looks for a more natural location, usually a dead tree. If there are no rotting trees, the bird could then start a family in a birdhouse. 

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker is another common bird you’ll see all year round in Michigan. It’s named after the hairs around its beak. It also visits backyards and parks. 

This medium-sized bird measures up to 12 inches long at full growth. It’s bigger than a sparrow but smaller than the American robin. 

Quick Facts

  • Scientific Name: Dryobates villosus
  • Length: 7.0–12 inches
  • Weight: 1.5–3.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13–16.5 inches

It is a predominantly black and white bird. To positively identify it, look for two white stripes on its head and check for horizontal stripes on its wings. A conspicuous white patch running down the center of their black back adds to its identification.

Notice the square head and a long, straight, chisel-like beak almost the same length as the head. It has long, stiff tail feathers that help it prop against trees.

A Hairy Woodpecker Comparison to A Downy Woodpecker

I live in Michigan. I was bored one day and didn’t know what to do with myself, so I visited the nearby woods to let off steam. My thirteen-year-old son begged to accompany me. After going back and forth with him, I let him. We got into the woods and settled on a fallen branch, cracking silly jokes and laughing our heads off. A hairy woodpecker flew very close to us out of the blue, almost touching the tip of my long nose. My son went berserk. He was jumping up and down like a three-year-old. “Daddy, that downy woodpecker almost ripped your nose off!” What a sweet revenge! My boy thought the bird was getting back at me on his behalf because I had admonished him for hanging out with a girl eight years his senior. I looked at him and lovingly said, “Are you sure, son?” 

My son confused a downy woodpecker with a hairy woodpecker. Don’t be like him. Here’s how to differentiate between the two.

  • The Downy Woodpecker has a smaller bill.
  • Downy woodpeckers‘ outer tail feathers have black spots.
  • Hairy woodpeckers have a comma-like marks on their shoulders.

The hairy woodpecker mostly eats pupae, insects, spiders, and larvae. But they eat berries, nuts, twigs, and seeds during the cold season.

To raise a family, hairy woodpeckers excavate nests in dead trees. It then lays between three and six white eggs. 

Where to Find Hairy Woodpeckers

They are all-year-round birds in Michigan. You will mostly see them in urban parks, wooded areas, and recently burned forests.

How to Attract Hairy Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

Hairy woodpeckers are easy to attract to backyards. Provide them sunflower seeds, suet, and peanut butter, and they will land in your backyard in droves. Give them water, birdhouses, trees, and rotting timber.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

If you love mohawks, you will instantly notice the pileated woodpecker has one, too, a red-dyed mohawk. Its mohawk is a triangular red crest, making it stand out from other woodpeckers. This bird inspired the Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

The pileated woodpecker is not common in Michigan. But that does mean you will have difficulty spotting it in the woods. The conspicuous red crest alongside a massive body makes it easy to spot from afar.

At 19 inches long, the pileated woodpecker is a gigantic bird, almost the size of a crow. This makes it the largest woodpecker in Michigan, but not globally. The imperial woodpecker is the largest in the world.

Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
  • Length: 15.8-19.3 inches
  • Weight: 8.8-12.3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 inches

Besides the distinctive red crest,  pileated woodpeckers have other unique features that set them apart from other woodpeckers. 

First, their black bodies are broken by white markings on their throats and faces. Second, they have white underwings, which are visible during flights. Males, however, have red stripes on their heads. 

They are omnivorous birds with varied diets. Dead trees and fallen logs are familiar places for them to get insects such as beetles, carpenter ants, and termites. They also eat fruits, berries, and nuts.

Pileated woodpeckers have unique feeding and mating behaviors. To tap sap, they make rectangular holes in trees. And during mating season, the males must first construct a nest to attract a mate. They never nest in the same hole twice. So every breeding season, they dig a new one. 

Places Where You Can Spot Pileated Woodpeckers

It thrives in mature forests with lots of dead trees. They also visit backyards, especially if you provide them with their favorite snack: suet.

Simple Ways to Attract More Pileated Woodpeckers to Your backyard

Pileated woodpeckers love suet. They’ll flock to your backyard feeder in droves if you provide them with it.

Here are some ideas for what to put in their feeders:

  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Hulled sunflower seeds
  • Mealworms
  • Peanuts

They are natural cavity breeders, so a breeding pair will readily occupy a birdhouse.

More ways to attract them include suet with added mealworms and suet feeders with tail props.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

You can easily mistake a red-bellied woodpecker from a distance for its red-headed kin. A red-bellied woodpecker has pinkish smudges on a gray-whitish underbelly. A big contrast to what its name suggests. The bird doesn’t have a red belly.

Though it is not a migratory bird, it may travel southwards within its region during winter. It has a reddish hue on its belly, which gave it its name. You will quickly identify it, but not with the red color on its belly. It is hard to spot the pinkish underbelly except under very close observation.  

When identifying this stunning and unforgettable bird, check out the black-and-white checkered back and gleaming red cap. It is gray on the face and underparts. You can also identify it by its loud rolling call.

Males have a red cap extending from the bill to the nape. On the other hand, females have two red patches on their napes and above their bills. 

They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, nuts, fruits, and even nestlings. Whenever it comes across a large nut, it lodges it in crevices and then whacks it to small pieces with its beak.

Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Length: 9.4 inches
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 inches

The red-bellied woodpecker prefers to take over the nests of smaller birds, like the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Researchers are still unsure why it prefers to do so when it has all the skills to construct a nest itself. In most cases, it is a victim of the invasive European starling.

This bird relies heavily on a barbed brush-like tongue and sticky spit for dinner. The barbed tongue and sticky spit easily capture insects and spiders in crevices. Its tongue extends two inches beyond its beak.

They eat insects, nuts, fruits, spiders, and even fledglings.

Both males and females construct nests in dead trees or old stumps. Soft trees such as willows, elms, and maples will serve the purpose. They reuse their nests for several years and drill holes in trees around their breeding site to warn other birds.

The Mistaken Identity

The red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers are strikingly similar birds. And it’s hard to differentiate them out there in the field.

Here is how to differentiate them.

  • The red-headed woodpecker has a black back, a white belly, and an entirely red head and neck. 
  • The red-bellied has a gray face and a gleaming red cap.

Where to Watch Red-Bellied Woodpeckers

According to IUCN, they are not threatened but require large trees in deciduous forests; a place with sufficient food, and a place to search for arthropods in tree trunks or catch insects on flights. 

Simple Ways to Attract Red-Bellied Woodpeckers to Backyard

Red-bellied woodpeckers will visit your bird feeders if you live close to woodlands. And if you install a suet feeder, you will soon enjoy seeing them up close as they come for their favorite treat. They also love woodpecker feeders. But they cherish the delicious juice in hummingbird feeders even more. Plant fruit trees to attract them even more. You could also plant plants like hawthorn and mountain ash.

Black-Backed Woodpecker

Black Backed Woodpecker

The black-backed woodpecker is a nonmigratory bird, but it’s rare in Michigan. You will hardly see it because it is a niche specialist bird with a sparse population. It feeds only on wood-boring beetle larvae found in burnt forests. 

It’s well camouflaged tiny body makes it hard to spot it in the wild. You could be in its natural habitat and still need help to spot it.

They are about the size of robins, and their black backs help them blend with their surroundings. It spends most of its time flaking the bark off dead trees, looking for food.

Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
  • Length: 9.1 inches
  • Weight: 2.1-3.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 inches

It is easy to identify a black-back woodpecker. Look for black and white stripes on its sides and a white underbelly. Males have a yellow cap, which helps to separate them from females.

At a glance, it resembles the American Three-toed Woodpeckers but without the white patch on their backs. Another easy way to identify it, even before seeing it, is through its distinctive single-sharp pik call.

Most woodpecker birds have four toes. But the black-backed species has three toes. 

Black-backed woodpeckers use their nests once. It is a behavior that doesn’t go to waste because it benefits opportunistic or lazy birds that rely on abandoned or used nest holes. 

Where to Spot Black-backed Woodpeckers

While most woodpeckers inhabit green forests, the black-backed species thrives in burnt forests. This makes it extremely hard to spot it in other places. It uses burnt forests less than eight years old. Because the burnt forest produces less food with age, it moves to another site after eight years.

Attracting Black-backed Woodpeckers to Your Backyard

The Black-backed Woodpecker is an elusive bird and rarely visits backyard bird feeders.

Migratory Woodpeckers in Michigan

Michigan has three migratory woodpeckers. They breed in the state and endure a hard journey to their winter homes each year.

Let’s look at them.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
  • Length: 7.1-8.7 inches
  • Weight: 1.5-1.9 ounces
  • Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 inches

Have you ever walked through a forest and noticed rows of shallow holes in tree bark? Hold on a minute! What’s going on here, you wonder? Well, this is the work of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, an enterprising woodpecker that feeds on tree sap. 

It’s a tiny bird, about the size of a robin. You will recognize it by its black and white stripes and red cap. A white stripe from above its eyes extends to the nape. 

Here is how to differentiate between male and female red-bellied woodpeckers.

  • Males have a red throat and chin, while females have a white one. 
  • Both have red caps but are brighter in males than in females.

You can easily miss it in the woods. It sits still for a long time while feeding. Its stuttered drumming or loud mewing call is an effective way to locate and identify it.

Extracting sap from a tree is an easy feat for this bird. It makes holes and waits for sap to ooze out of the tree. It then licks the sap with its brush-tipped tongue. Keep an eye out for neat rows of holes whenever you are in the forest. It loves yellow, red, sugar maple, and paper birch trees. This enterprising bird must also maintain the holes for the sap flow.

Other birds and small mammals also benefit from the sap wells. In fact, during springtime, when the sap wells are at their peak, ruby-throated hummingbirds, porcupines, and bats rely on this sap well.

Where to Spot Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a migratory bird. It migrates south in the winter and north in the summer. And if you live in the south, you will enjoy watching them during the fall migration.

They spend most of their time in young deciduous forests, making neat rows of sap wells on birch or maple trees.

Attracting Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers

Yellow-bellied woodpeckers rarely visit backyards. But if you live in their range, you might have some luck. They love suet feeders. So your best bet is to install a few of them.

If you have young maple or birch trees in your backyard, that’s even better. These trees have excellent sap; they’re their favorite. You will enjoy watching them drill sap wells and lick saps. 

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

The red-headed woodpecker is a rare and migratory bird in Michigan. While it heads southwards during winter, you can spot it in northern Michigan during the breeding season. However, if you are a resident of the southern part of the state, you may see it all year round.

It is the easiest woodpecker to identify. It has a bright red head and bold black-and-white markings on its body. You will also notice its white underside, black back, and large white band on the wings. 

Red-headed woodpeckers are not just the most adorable birds in the forest, they’re also some of the most fierce defenders of territories—no one messes with them. 

It primarily feeds on midges, beetles, honey bees, and grasshoppers. And plant-based foods like seeds, nuts, and berries. Though uncommon, Red-headed Woodpeckers will eat mice and nestlings or eggs of other birds.

Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Length: 7.5-9.1 inches
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces 
  • Wingspan: 16.5 inches

The Red-bellied woodpecker eats various foods. One of its favorite food is insects that the bird snaps in flight or picks from crevices. This bird also enjoys eating fruit, seeds, and nuts from trees.

Red-headed Woodpeckers have a distinct shrill call audible from far. Like other woodpeckers, it nests in trees and may reuse a nest. It lays four to five eggs per brood.

The red-headed woodpecker is rare and has been on the decline for years. According to the IUCN, its population dropped by 70 percent between 1966 and 2014. This decline results from habitat loss from logging, fires, and climate change.

Today, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists endangered species.

Where to Spot Red-headed Woodpeckers

Red-headed woodpeckers thrive in different habitats, including open woodlands, farms, swamps, and pine forests. They also visit backyard bird feeders, though not so often.

How to Entice Red-Headed Woodpeckers to Your Yard Feeder

You can’t go wrong with a suet feeder. Red-headed woodpeckers love it and will flock to your backyard for it. You can also include some of their favorite vegetative foods, like nuts, seeds, and fruit, like berries, grapes, and apples.

Northern Flicker Woodpecker

Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
  • Length: 11.0-12.2 inches
  • Weight: 3.9-5.6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 inches

Do you love taking nature walks out there in the forests? The Northern flicker woodpecker is an all-year-round bird that may catch you off guard. Unlike other woodpeckers, this beautiful brown bird with a gentle expression often walks on the ground digging for ants and beetles using its slightly curved bill. It also eats fruits and seeds on trees and at ground level.

Northern flickers differ slightly from other Michigan woodpeckers. It doesn’t have the classic black-white plumage typical of a woodpecker. Instead, it has beautiful black spots throughout its brown plumage. Their wings and tails are yellow-flashed, with white patches on their lower backs. In addition, males have a red nape.

Northern Flickers breed in the north of Michigan. It lays 5-8 eggs in nests built in tree cavities. They migrate south after breeding once the season ends. The Northern Flicker makes loud, piercing, yelping calls. 

Where to Spot Northern Flickers

The Northern flicker forages for food, mostly in forests. It also searches for food in open woods, suburbs, and parks. 

It’s easy to spot a flicker if you live near woodlands or have a backyard with a mix of trees and open fields.

How to Interest More Northern Flickers in Your Backyard Feeders

Are you itching to attract Northern Flickers to your backyard? The best way is to provide them with suet, platform and hopper feeders, and birdbaths.

You can entice them with a suet feeder filled with cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds, and millet. Peanuts, hulled sunflower, and safflower seeds are also great for the northern flickers. If you have a platform feeder, fill it with cracked corn. 

Another way is to set up birdhouses and bird tabs specific to woodpeckers. 

Flickers will also appreciate it if you plant berry-producing plants. You can plant elderberries, hackberries, bayberries, and grapes. These attract the birds and help them feel at home in your yard.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: what is the most common woodpecker in Michigan?

Answer: The downy woodpecker is the most common in Michigan. Though it is the smallest woodpecker in Michigan, it is common all year round and widely distributed in the state. 
Downy woodpeckers visit backyards. And also the easiest to attract as they can’t resist suets, birdhouses, and bird tabs. They will always hang out in your backyard if you plant and provide decaying trees.

Question: What is the biggest woodpecker in Michigan?

Answer: The pileated woodpecker is the biggest species of all the eight woodpeckers in Michigan. On average, it measures 19 inches long, weighs up to 12 ounces, and has a wingspan of nearly 30 inches. This gigantic bird is almost the size of a crow. Pileated woodpeckers are beneficial to other birds. It creates sizeable holes while searching for food, which swifts, owls, and ducks later use.

Question: What is the rarest woodpecker in Michigan?

Answer: The red-cockaded is the rarest woodpecker ever recorded in Michigan. According to the IUCN, it is highly endangered because of habitat loss. This bird lives in pine forests and with its habitat’s decline, it also continues to disappear.

That’s It for the 8 Species Of Woodpeckers In Michigan

Bird watching in the forest or woodlands is the best way to see woodpeckers in Michigan. But you will only see five species of woodpeckers throughout the year in Michigan.

You will always spot the common woodpeckers any time of the year, and they’re all worth seeing. Downy and hairy are the most widespread woodpeckers in Michigan.

The migratory species, though few, are also fulfilling to watch, especially during the fall migration, as they head south.

If you want to see woodpeckers up close, why not attract them to your backyard? You can provide them with bird feeders, bird tabs, and birdhouses. You only need to make them feel comfortable on your property.

They’ll always visit your yard if you keep providing them with what they need, especially suet feeders. You can also plant trees and provide them with an old rotting tree.

Next time you spot the rare woodpecker in Michigan, why not take a video? Bird conservationists and birders will appreciate such vital information. They would like to know where and when you spotted the bird. You never know; you could record its last sighting before extinction.


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