The northern flicker and the hairy and down woodpeckers are the most common woodpeckers that everyone knows, and all three are common feeder birds.
There are sub-specific forms of all three of these birds, which may show up at your feeder just to confuse you, but they have not been separated into named species yet.
Two other family members, the red-naped and the Williamson’s sapsuckers, are not feeder prone but are often seen in yards and parks. Both of these dainty woodpeckers make rows of holes in the bark of trees so that the sap will ooze out and run down the trunk. The sap provides food, which the sapsuckers lap with their tongues. The sweet sap also attracts many insects that get stuck in the sticky sap, providing another much appreciated food for the sapsuckers.
The red-bellied woodpecker and the ladder-backed woodpecker barely come into Colorado but have rarely been found in the southeastern corner of the state. Red-headed woodpeckers are more commonly found in the northeastern part of the state in open riparian woodlands and in the foothills during migration. Lewis’s woodpecker is more common in west central and southern Colorado and wherever they can find big old cottonwood trees.
Another woodpecker can sometimes be seen locally. The three-toed woodpecker is an uncommon breeding bird usually at higher altitudes such as Echo Lake, Evans Ranch and the Elk Management Area. They look a good bit like our hairy woodpecker, so you want to look well at every woodpecker you see, so you don’t pass this one up as “just another hairy.” The main difference is that the three-toed woodpecker has horizontal bars of black across the wide white strip that runs down their backs, and they have a yellow patch on their forehead rather than the red patch that the hairy has on the back of its head.
Three-toed woodpeckers are rather quiet birds. Hairys often announce their presence with a sharp, loud rattling call, while the three-toed is silent and unless you see it fly, it is often difficult to find. The yellow forehead, however, is definitive. According to some of the literature, the three-toed woodpecker was formerly found at lower altitudes in the ponderosa pine forests. Now, they are usually seen between 10,000 and 12,000 feet elevation in the Canadian zone spruce-fir forests.
However, they frequently show up in recent burn areas where there are a good many standing dead trees that they search for insect larva and use for nesting. There was one in a burn area near Corwina Park a few years ago and another one near the dump on Highway 73 during the beetle outbreak in the 70s.
There is a second three-toed woodpecker that has never been recorded in Colorado. It occurs in the boreal forests of Canada and rarely is the same type forest in the northern part of the border states. It has no black-and-white barring across the back, which is all black. It also has the yellow forehead patch. It is highly possible that one of these birds might show up in Colorado one day as it extends its range southward into the Canadian type forests in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. So far, this apparently has not happened. So far, there is no record for a black-backed woodpecker in Colorado. This is a bird that must be seen by at least two competent observers and a written description submitted for the record to be accepted.
Another woodpecker that should be watched for is the pileated woodpecker. It too must be verified and written up to be accepted. This bird is similar to the now extinct or nearly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. It is about the same size and has a red crest, but it lacks the ivory bill and the white pattern on the wings. Over the years, one or two have been reported but they were never verified or accepted, but someday it too will probably be added to the state list.
Summer continues with Gulf Coast moisture bringing us afternoon thunderstorms, but otherwise superb weather. Enjoy what’s left of it for it won’t be long before aspen time.