13 Types of Woodpeckers in Alberta (with Pictures)

Last Updated on January 5, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

Alberta is home to a diverse array of woodpecker species, each with their own unique characteristics and behaviors.

Alberta Woodpeckers are among the many species of fauna found in this region.

From the striking red head of the Northern Flicker to the distinctive drumming of the Hairy Woodpecker, these fascinating birds are a common sight in the forests and wooded areas of the province.

In this article, I will introduce you to 13 different types of woodpeckers that can be found in Alberta

ImageName
Downy WoodpeckerDowny Woodpecker
Acorn WoodpeckerAcorn Woodpecker
Northern FlickerNorthern Flicker
Williamson’s SapsuckerWilliamson’s Sapsucker
Hairy WoodpeckerHairy Woodpecker
Red-breasted SapsuckerRed-breasted Sapsucker
Pileated WoodpeckerPileated Woodpecker
Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-Bellied WoodpeckerRed-Bellied Woodpecker
American Three-toed WoodpeckerAmerican Three-toed Woodpecker
Lewis’s WoodpeckerLewis’s Woodpecker
Black-backed WoodpeckerBlack-backed Woodpecker

Types of Woodpeckers in Alberta

1. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

All year long, you can spot a Downy Woodpecker in Alberta’s parks and woods. 

During the winter months, they are the most commonly seen woodpecker in Alberta, showing up on 37% of birders’ checklists.

They are included in 11% of summertime checklists.

The Downy Woodpecker’s pattern consists of black and white colors; the bird is primarily black except for a white stripe across its back.

There is a red spot on the back of the males’ heads as well.

It shares a lot of similarities with the Hairy Woodpecker in appearance, but it is a third smaller and has a relatively small beak than other woodpeckers.

When a woodpecker shows up at your feeder, it’s probably going to be a Downy Woodpecker since they are more frequent.

All over Canada and the United States, you’ll find plenty of Downy Woodpeckers.

Neither the southern border with Mexico nor the northern border with Canada contains any of these animals.

Bird feeders often attract Downy Woodpeckers.

They are entertaining to observe because of their high-pitched “pik” sound and their “descending whinny” call.

Downy Woodpeckers build their nests in holes in dead trees, where they lay anywhere from three to eight tiny white eggs (0.8 inches).

The downy woodpecker’s diet consists primarily of insects, particularly nuts, larvae, and a variety of fruits and seeds, including grains, berries, and acorns.

Hummingbirds can sometimes be seen consuming nectar from feeders.

The ubiquitous Downy Woodpecker dominates the tree-dwelling bird world.

They sound very similar to the Hairy Woodpecker, but their drumming is slightly slower, allowing you to make out the individual beats more clearly.

The Downy Woodpecker is frequently spotted with other small birds like chickadees and nuthatches.

They are frequent in backyards, parks, backyard orchards, and open woodlands.

Even in the midst of a thicket, you might spot one.

Smaller woodpeckers, like the Downy Woodpecker, benefit greatly from an upside-down suet feeder because it provides shelter from the rain and discourages aggressive birds.

Buying suet cakes in bulk is more cost-effective than buying them individually.

Black oil sunflower seeds are a great way to entice Downy Woodpeckers to your yard, and a great combination of suet and hopper feeder can serve as a second feeder.

2. Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

In Alberta, you’re not going to see any Acorn Woodpeckers since they’re an invasive species.

The Alberta Bird Records Committee has only approved one record of this species, a picture was taken of one in Sundre in 2006.

The red hat, white face, black spot around the beak, and black across the top of the head and back give Acorn Woodpeckers a characteristic clownish appearance.

Their stomachs are white with black patterns. The female Acorn Woodpecker is distinguished from males by a less prominent red patch on the top of her head.

In contrast to most woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers are social creatures that gather in vast colonies to store their acorn hoards.

You may find them in the oak woods of western Oregon, Texas, California, and the remainder of the Central and South American states.

The Acorn Woodpecker may appear like a clown, but it has a very serious side: it eats its own eggs and keeps dead bugs in a “pantry.”

Masses of holes made in winter in dead trees offer the ideal pantry, known as a granary tree, for acorns and other nuts gathered by the Acorn Woodpecker.

When acorns are kept, they will check on them to ensure they don’t dry out and then transfer them to smaller cavities if necessary.

Insects, too, need a place to put their dead bodies, but this macabre larder is frequently forgotten in crevices.

Eggs, even those of their own species, and fruit are two other food sources.

You may easily locate these friendly birds in oak woodlands by keeping an eye out for their well-concealed food cache and by listening for their parrot-like squawks.

Because they perceive wood siding and utility poles to be deadwood, Acorn Woodpeckers may be an unpleasant guest.

If you are fortunate enough to live near oak trees, you may still have visitors.

3. Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers are year-round Albertans and the state’s most frequently spotted woodpecker, showing up on 21% of birders’ summer checklists.

They are the second most common winter bird, appearing on 21% of annual bird counts.

The Northern Flicker is a large brown woodpecker with colorful black-spotted plumage, a white patch on its rump in flight, and a red nape of the neck in males.

Read:  10 Types of Woodpeckers in California (Northern & Southern)

Depending on their habitat, Northern Flickers may have yellow or red tips to their wings and tail. Birds with red shafts inhabit the west, while those with yellow shafts prefer the east.

They can be seen all over Canada and the United States, but the Canadian populations that breed there spend the winter in the southern states.

The Northern Flicker’s call is a piercing yelp that rings out loud and clears.

They use tree holes as nesting sites, where they produce a clutch of four to eight white eggs.

The curved bill of this bird is used for digging up seeds, insects, and fruits, and it is often seen doing just that.

When compared to smaller woodpeckers, the drumming of a Northern Flicker can be quite deafening because of the bird’s large size.

They also produce a long call that goes something like “flick – flick – flick.”

The Northern Flicker is a common sight in suburban yards, parks, and open areas of woods.

They frequently stoop to the ground in search of food.

Adding a pedestal birdbath or a heated birdbath in the winter is the best bet if you want to see Northern Flickers, which are less likely to visit bird feeders but more likely to visit a birdbath.

Hulled sunflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet can be placed in suet cages, platform feeders, or large hoppers to attract birds.

In addition to planting bayberries, grape vines, elderberries, and hackberries, you can also put up a nest box for flickers to entice a breeding pair.

4. Williamson’s Sapsucker

Williamson’s Sapsucker
Credits – Wikipedia

In Alberta, Williamson’s Sapsuckers have established themselves as a result of chance.

Two of the three records for Alberta came from Waterton Lakes National Park, while the third came from Calgary, as reported by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Male Williamson’s Sapsuckers seem more black than other woodpeckers, with a glossy black back, vertical wing patches, red neck, and yellow stomach.

Females have the standard brown head and black breast band in addition to the more frequent black and white patterning on their backs.

During the summer, Williamson’s Sapsuckers may be found nesting in the western mountains, but they spend the winter in the southern United States and Mexico.

At first, they subsist mostly on the sap of conifer trees in the spring, and later on, they switch to eating more insects, including beetles, ants, and flies.

Fruits and nuts are often eaten throughout the winter.

5. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

During the winter months, Hairy Woodpeckers are also the third most often recorded woodpecker across Alberta, showing up on over 16% of birders’ lists.

A 6% summer occurrence rate indicates that they do not migrate.

The Hairy Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker that has a white and black design and a huge white spot on its back.

One of the males’ distinguishing features is a reddish hue towards the top of their heads.

Although they seem identical to Downy woodpeckers, Hairy woodpeckers are bigger and have longer beaks.

It’s not always easy to tell them apart, especially when they’re located in the same places.

They are widespread in the Americas and may be found from Alaska to Florida and from much of Canada to Mexico.

These little but powerful birds may be heard whinnying or making explosive peak sounds at backyard feeders.

Beetle larvae, bark beetles, and ants make up the bulk of a Hairy Woodpecker’s diet, although they will also consume spiders, millipedes, caterpillars, bees, and moth pupae.

The female Woodpecker lays anywhere from three to six white eggs in a nest she excavates in a dead tree or tree section.

The drumming of the hairy woodpecker is reminiscent of that of the Downy woodpecker, although it is quicker, and the individual drums are less audible.

Hairy Woodpeckers may be seen perched on the trunks or primary branches of trees in forests, and they’re also common in urban parks, suburban backyards, and even graveyards.

Cage-style suet feeders that prevent squirrels and bigger birds from eating all the suet are ideal for Hairy Woodpeckers.

Also, black oil sunflower seeds are a terrific way to bring in more Hairy Woodpeckers to your backyard, and a good combination of suet and hopper feeder is like having two feeders for the price of one.

6. Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker

In Alberta, the sole known sighting of a Red-breasted Sapsucker occurred in 2007 in Jasper National Park, and even it was an accidental introduction.

A medium-sized woodpecker, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is distinguished by its vivid red head and breast.

When their wings are folded, you can see a white line running down each one, and there’s a white patch over one of their eyes. 

Both sexes seem similar in adulthood, whereas youngsters are darker and lack the signature red crown.

Birds in the northern hemisphere, like the Red-breasted Sapsucker, have a more rosy crown than their southern California counterparts.

From their interior breeding grounds across California and British Columbia, red-breasted sapsuckers make the lengthy journey to the coast, where they spend the winter.

They mostly consume tree sap but may sometimes eat insects and fruit.

When exploring coniferous woodlands, keep an eye out for parallel rows of small holes in the tree bark, indicating the presence of Red-breasted Sapsuckers.

Cut fruit may attract sapsuckers to your yard, but only if you have a lot of conifer trees.

7. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Although Pileated Woodpeckers only show up on 4% of summer checklists and 6% of winter checklists in Alberta, they are still classified as an accidental species there.

Read:  7 Different Species of Woodpeckers in Illinois

The Pileated Woodpecker stands out from the crowd thanks to its massive size and bright red triangular crest, making it the most recognizable of all North American woodpeckers.

Being almost the size of a crow, this woodpecker is among the largest species.

The undersides of its wings are white, and its body is mostly black with a white stripe.

An extra red stripe appears on the male cheek.

They spend all of the year throughout states of the Northeastern United States, in Canada, and the far Western United States.

Pileated Woodpeckers primarily subsist on carpenter ants found in dead wood and logs, but they will also eat termites, beetle larvae, and other insects, as well as a variety of fruit and nut species.

They have a high-pitched, whining call and a pounding, resounding drumbeat.

While Pileated Woodpeckers use dead trees for nesting, they typically build a new one every year, leaving the old one open for use by other birds.

There are typically three to five white eggs laid per clutch.

Because of their massive size, the drumming of the pileated woodpecker is extremely loud and resounding.

They also create a ‘wuuk-wuuk-wuuk’ call and one that makes it sound like laughing.

They are typically found in forested areas or drowned woodlands with numerous dead trees, however, they also attend backyard feeders, particularly for suet.

Keep an eye out for the distinctive square or rectangular holes they leave in trees.

A suet-based bird food attracts Pileated Woodpeckers to backyard bird feeders.

Hulled sunflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, mealworms, and suet are also popular foods.

If you want to encourage nesting, you can also try erecting a nest box.

8. Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-Headed Woodpecker

However, a few Red-headed Woodpeckers have been sighted in and around Calgary in the last decade, despite being an incidental species in Alberta.

These woodpeckers are among the simplest to recognize due to their distinctive reddish-orange heads and contrasting black and white bodies.

The red-headed woodpecker is a muscular bird with a sharp beak. Aside from their black backs, white bellies, and massive white bands on their wings, these birds also have short tails.

The range of the red-headed woodpecker extends from the southern Canadian provinces into the central and eastern United States.

Depending on the success of the acorn harvest, those living in the northern and eastern parts of the range may move farther south and east.

They are so protective of their nesting areas that they may actively remove or destroy the eggs of competing species of ducks or birds.

Like other woodpeckers, the Red-headed Woodpecker can catch insects in flight or by probing cracks and crevices.

Only approximately a third of their food consists of insects like midges, beetles, grasshoppers, and honeybees.

The remaining two-thirds are comprised of various plant parts.

The red-headed woodpecker is a notorious egg and nestling predator.

The Red-headed Woodpecker, known for its loud, piercing cry, builds its nest in tree holes, sometimes returning to the same one year after year, and lays it’s four to five white eggs there.

Unfortunately, between 1966 and 2014, 63.3% of Red-headed Woodpeckers’ habitat was destroyed, leading to a dramatic drop in the population.

Pine savannas, pine barrens, open woods, and farmlands are all possible habitats for them.

Birds do sometimes come to backyard bird feeders.

9. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a kind of woodpecker, are not often seen in Alberta, although they may be seen throughout the summer when they return for nesting before migrating south for the winter.

Six percent of summer bucket lists have them included.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is approximately the size of a robin, making it a tiny bird.

The male has a red neck, while the female has red on her forehead.

After reproducing in the summer, they go south to spend the winter.

Their summer range includes the northeastern United States and Canada.

To extract sap from trees, yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill into them with their brush-tipped tongues.

Look out for them on young paper birch, red or sugar maple, yellow birch, and hickory trees; they drill holes in perfect horizontal rows.

The holes must be kept in good repair to keep the sap flowing.

They lay between 5 and 6 white eggs in tree hollows and produce a loud mewing sound during incubation.

Sapwells, typically on birch or maple trees, are arranged in orderly rows in young deciduous forests so that the animals may feed.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are seldom seen at bird feeders, although they have been known to drop by for suet on occasion.

10. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

In Alberta, red-bellied woodpeckers are an uncommon or incidental species, and 2019 was the last recorded sighting in Magrath.

Given their similar red crowns, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are sometimes misidentified as Red-headed Woodpeckers, despite being much smaller.

The red crown is only seen on males; female Red-bellied Woodpeckers possess red napes.

They have the traditional black and white patterns on their backs, but their bellies are a very faint red that might be difficult to notice.

These non-migratory Red-bellied Woodpeckers may be found across the Eastern United States.

Those who live in or near forested areas may often encounter red-bellied woodpeckers at their bird feeders.

If you listen closely, you may be able to hear their booming, rolling call before you ever see one.

Insects, grass seeds, spiders, nuts, and berries are some of the foods preferred by red-bellied woodpeckers. Additionally, they have been known to consume nestlings.

Read:  10 Species of Woodpeckers in North Carolina (NC)

They often reuse the same nest from year to year, which they build in decaying trees.

Four or five eggs, all white, are laid on a bed of wood chips by the female.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a tongue that is two inches longer than its beak and is covered with barbs and sticky saliva.

This facilitates the retrieval of prey from recesses.

The eastern United States is home to many red-bellied woodpeckers, which may often be seen at bird feeders.

Backyards will attract red-bellied woodpeckers if suet and black oil sunflower seeds are available.

They’ll eat fruit and frequent hummingbird, feeders. Plant natural berries trees like hawthorn and mountain ash.

11. American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker
Credits – Wikipedia

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are resident all year and may be found in every region of Alberta.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker is easily identifiable by its distinctive yellow forehead patch, black and white banding on the back, and white markings on the wings.

They’re white on the bottom and black bars on the sides.

Black-backed woodpeckers are a close visual match; however, these birds are much smaller.

Females possess black foreheads instead of yellow patches.

With just three toes rather than the usual four, these little creatures pack a strong punch when they lean back.

Though they are most common in Canada and Alaska, American Three-toed Woodpeckers may be seen in the western highlands as far south as Nevada, Oregon, and New Mexico in the southern United States.

Minnesota and Michigan are farther east and are home to these animals.

In the winter, they may migrate southward from higher latitudes and the far north.

They are like insect-rich woods that have been destroyed by natural disasters such as floods, fires, or storms. During the months of May and June, they hatch up to four eggs in a nest they built themselves.

12. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker
Credits – Wikipedia

Though they aren’t native to Alberta, Lewis’s Woodpeckers have been sighted in both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers, in contrast to their more well-known relatives, are flycatchers rather than hammerers.

Its vivid red face, gray collar, and black back distinguish it different from its relatives.

The range of the Lewis Woodpecker extends from British Columbia to the southern United States, including Texas and California.

Typically, they breed in northern British Columbia, then move east to Wyoming and south to Nevada before migrating to the southern United States.

The population along the Pacific Coast and in the southeastern part of their range stays there for the whole of the year.

The Acorn Woodpecker’s diet consists mostly of nuts and fruit; however, it also includes insects.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers lay anywhere from five to nine eggs and are known to use other woodpeckers’ nests rather than build their own.

13. Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-Backed Woodpecker

Although sightings of Black-backed Woodpeckers in the vicinity of Edmonton and Calgary in the winter are extremely unusual, they do occur.

Due to their modest size (they’re about the size of a robin) and camouflaging black back, black-backed woodpeckers, may be difficult to see.

Their sides are striped with white and black, while their bellies are mostly white. Observe the male’s bright crown.

These non-migratory birds are found mostly in Alaska and Canada, with a smaller population in the southern sections of the Western United States (including California).

They go south sometimes in search of food, usually after fires have killed a lot of trees that provide an ideal food source.

Its diet consists almost entirely of larvae of wood-boring beetles, and it is particularly common in areas of recently burnt woods.

The Black-backed Woodpecker achieves this by peeling the bark off of dead trees; therefore, your best option for seeing one is in areas of woodland that have been burned.

All they do is make one short, sharp pik call.

Unlike other woodpeckers, which have four toes, these unusual birds only have three.

They resemble the American Three-toed Woodpecker but lack that species’ distinctive white bib.

Each time they try to nest, black-backed woodpeckers dig a fresh hole, which is fantastic for other birds who need pre-dug nesting cavities.

They then deposit three to four white eggs.

The Black-backed Woodpecker prefers forest habitats that have been burned within the last eight years.

Since their diet consists mostly of beetle larvae in charred woods, black-backed woodpeckers are seldom seen at household bird feeders.

Conclusion

Numerous species of woodpeckers can be found in Alberta. Each species of woodpecker may be quite unique, despite the fact that they all share some common characteristics.

They range in size and hue from tiny to humongous.

After reading this, you’ll be able to identify and locate any woodpeckers that may be visiting your neighborhood.

FAQ

To what extent do woodpeckers hibernate in Alberta during the colder months?

Pileated Woodpeckers can be seen in the forests of most of Alberta. They prefer dense, old-growth forests but will also inhabit younger forests so long as there is an abundance of large dead trees to eat. These woodpeckers are common in the river valley of Edmonton. The pileated woodpecker is a year-round resident.

What brings a woodpecker to your house?

Woodpeckers are drawn to trees with numerous holes because these trees are likely to house a variety of insects. Take them away from the house’s immediate surroundings. The woodpeckers will appreciate a “den tree” left further away from the house, where they will have a better chance of finding food and shelter.

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.