Skip to content

Woodpeckers Of Illinois

Woodpeckers of Illinois

Woodpeckers are fascinating birds known for their unique behavior of drumming on trees with their beaks. In Illinois, these birds play an essential role in maintaining the ecological balance of the region’s forests. This article will explore the different species of woodpeckers found in Illinois, their habitat preferences, behavior, and conservation efforts to protect these remarkable birds.

1. Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is the largest woodpecker species found in Illinois. With its striking black body, white stripes on the face, and a vibrant red crest, it is a sight to behold. These woodpeckers prefer mature forests with large trees, where they excavate large rectangular holes for nesting and foraging.

One interesting behavior of the Pileated Woodpecker is its drumming, which can be heard from a considerable distance. This drumming serves multiple purposes, including attracting mates, establishing territories, and communicating with other woodpeckers.

2. Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a medium-sized woodpecker species known for its vibrant red head and neck. It has a black body with white patches on the wings and belly. These woodpeckers can be found in open woodlands, orchards, and parks throughout Illinois.

Unlike other woodpecker species, the Red-headed Woodpecker catches insects in mid-air, making it an agile and skilled hunter. It also stores surplus food by wedging it into tree crevices or hiding it under bark for later consumption.

3. Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is the smallest woodpecker species in Illinois. It has a black and white body with a small red patch on the back of its head. These woodpeckers are commonly found in woodlands, parks, and suburban areas.

One interesting fact about the Downy Woodpecker is its ability to hang upside down on tree branches while foraging for insects. This behavior allows them to access hidden food sources that other birds cannot reach.

4. Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) is similar in appearance to the Downy Woodpecker but slightly larger. It has a black and white body with a longer bill. These woodpeckers can be found in various habitats, including forests, woodlots, and urban areas.

One distinguishing feature of the Hairy Woodpecker is its drumming pattern. It produces a slower and more deliberate drumming sound compared to other woodpecker species, which helps differentiate it from its close relative, the Downy Woodpecker.

5. Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a unique woodpecker species with a brown body, black bars on the back, and a prominent white rump patch. These woodpeckers can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, open fields, and suburban areas.

Unlike other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker spends a significant amount of time on the ground, foraging for ants and beetles. They have a specialized tongue that can extend up to two inches beyond their beak, allowing them to extract insects from crevices.

6. Conservation Efforts

Woodpeckers, like many other bird species, face various threats to their survival, including habitat loss, climate change, and competition for nesting sites. To protect woodpeckers in Illinois, several conservation efforts are underway.

  • The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has implemented programs to conserve and restore woodpecker habitats, focusing on maintaining healthy forests and promoting sustainable forestry practices.
  • Landowners are encouraged to create and maintain suitable woodpecker habitats by preserving dead or dying trees, which provide essential nesting sites and food sources.
  • Public awareness campaigns educate communities about the importance of woodpeckers and the need to protect their habitats.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Are woodpeckers harmful to trees?

No, woodpeckers are not harmful to trees. They play a vital role in controlling insect populations by feeding on wood-boring insects that can damage trees. However, excessive woodpecker activity can sometimes cause cosmetic damage to trees.

2. How can I attract woodpeckers to my backyard?

To attract woodpeckers to your backyard, provide suitable food sources such as suet feeders, nuts, and insects. Additionally, create a habitat with mature trees and dead branches, which serve as nesting sites and foraging areas.

3. Do woodpeckers migrate?

While some woodpecker species migrate, many woodpeckers, including those found in Illinois, are year-round residents. They may move to different areas within their range depending on food availability and nesting requirements.

4. Can woodpeckers cause damage to houses?

Woodpeckers may occasionally drum on houses, especially if they perceive the sound as a territorial threat. However, they do not cause structural damage to houses. To deter woodpeckers from drumming on your house, you can install visual deterrents or provide alternative drumming surfaces nearby.

5. How do woodpeckers protect their heads from constant drumming?

Woodpeckers have several adaptations that protect their heads during drumming. They have thick skull bones, specialized neck muscles, and a unique arrangement of hyoid bones that act as shock absorbers, reducing the impact of drumming on their brains.

6. Are woodpeckers endangered in Illinois?

No, woodpeckers are not currently considered endangered in Illinois. However, habitat loss and degradation pose significant threats to their populations. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the long-term survival of woodpeckers and their habitats.


Woodpeckers are an integral part of Illinois’ avian diversity, contributing to the health of forests and ecosystems. Understanding the different woodpecker species found in Illinois, their behaviors, and habitat preferences is essential for their conservation. By implementing conservation efforts and raising public awareness, we can protect these remarkable birds and ensure their presence in Illinois for generations to come.