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Living with Woodpeckers

Male Pileated Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker

If you live in or near a wooded area you are probably familiar with the rhythmic drumming of woodpeckers – it signals the onset of the nesting season and is a welcome sign of spring. Woodpeckers are some of our most familiar backyard birds: with their distinctive coloration and the tendency to creep up the trunks of trees they are often easy to observe. Montana is home to 10 species of woodpeckers: Downy, Hairy, Three-toed, Black-backed, Pileated, Lewis’s and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, and the Northern Flicker. All are in the Family Picidae and can be collectively called woodpeckers.

Most woodpecker species can be observed foraging on snags or partially dead trees, searching for wood boring insects. Landowners can be wildlife friendly by leaving dead trees standing to maintain this habitat. Some woodpeckers specialize on other food sources: sapsuckers, as their name implies, eat sap in addition to insects; flickers spend a lot of time on the ground probing the soil for ants; and Lewis’s Woodpeckers behave like flycatchers – sallying out to catch bees and other flying insects.