Woodpeckers are some of the most iconic birds of the avian world, with their striking colors and distinctive drumming. But are differences between male and female woodpeckers?
While there are many similarities between male and female woodpeckers, there are also some distinct disparities.
Below we’ll explore the differences between male and female woodpeckers by species. From their physical traits to behaviors, you’ll discover the unique traits of each species.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
The male great spotted woodpecker is slightly larger than the female and has a red patch on the back of its head, which is absent in females.
Both genders have black-and-white barring on their wings, but males have slightly larger black patches. They also have white patches on their chins, which are absent in females.
The male woodpeckers often establish a territory while nesting and fiercely defend it from other intruding birds.
The females have black backs with red spots on the nape. They have a black head with white cheeks and two white stripes across the crown.
The wings are mostly black, with white patches near the wing tips, while the breast is barred in white and black.
The females stay closer to their nest area while they’re nesting and rarely go far away from it.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker
The Red-Bellied woodpecker males have black-and-white patterned wings with a red color stretching from the head to the base of their necks.
They are usually much larger than females, measuring about 8 to 9 inches long, about 3.2 ounces in weight, and with a wingspan of 16.5 inches.
During courtship season, males use their bright colors to attract a mate. They bob their heads up and down to display their plumage to potential partners.
Females are almost identical to males but don’t have red coloring on their heads.
They’re usually smaller, measuring 6 to 7 inches, about 2-3 ounces, and with a wingspan of 15 inches.
Both sexes have a reddish underside, but females appear duller than males. Females also show off their colors during courtship but are more subdued.
The Downy Woodpecker
The Downy Woodpecker male is easy to identify due to the black and white coloring on its wings, back, head, and throat. Its black bill is also distinctive.
While the Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker species, the male is usually larger than the female. They’re 6.7 inches long, weighing 1 ounce, with 11.8 inches wingspan.
They have a red patch on their head, which appears more clearly during mating season.
Males and females are territorial, but males defend their territory more vigorously than females.
During the breeding season, the males perform courtship displays such as flapping their wings, making high-pitched noises, and chasing other birds away from their territory.
The bill of a female Downy Woodpecker is smaller than the male but still black. You can usually spot it foraging around the backyard woodpecker feeders.
The female also has a red patch on the back of her head, but it’s much less distinct than the male.
The female patrols around her territory while chirping loudly to ward off intruders. These woodpeckers also chase and peck at other birds.
The Hairy Woodpecker
The male Hairy Woodpecker is significantly larger than the female, measuring around eight to ten inches long with a wingspan of 16.1 inches.
It has a black body, a white face, white wing patches, and a black back. The most distinctive feature is its red crown patch on the back of their head, which is absent in females.
Males are highly territorial and aggressively defend their territories against intruders, especially during the breeding season.
They’re also quite vocal, with a loud drumming sound used to mark their territory and attract mates.
The female has no red crown patch and has more black feathers along her neck. She has a yellow wash on her underparts that helps identify her in the field.
They’re less vocal than males but often show interest in potential mates with quiet sounds.
They’re also less aggressive when defending their territories and rely on intimidation tactics instead of attacking.
The Pileated Woodpecker
The male pileated woodpeckers are among the largest woodpeckers in North America, growing up to 19 inches long.
They have a black head, neck, and back, white stripes on their face, a white chest, and a red crest extending to their long bills.
The wings are black and white, while their rump feathers are barred in black.
During the breeding season, they perform elaborate courtship displays consisting of wing flapping and drumming on tree trunks to attract a mate.
Females are slightly smaller than males but can reach 16 inches long. They also have a red crest on their heads, but it’s smaller than the male.
They have similar coloration to the males, with a barred wings pattern, but instead of a white chest, females have an ashy-gray chest.
The female is more solitary and does not participate in territorial battles or courtship rituals.
The male Red-Headed Woodpecker has a bright red cap, nape, forehead, white cheek stripe, and grayish-brown back.
They’re medium-sized woodpeckers, about 8-9 inches long, with a wingspan of 13-16 inches.
The female Red-Headed Woodpeckers look similar to males, but it has black foreheads.
They’re also medium-sized, measuring about 7-8 inches long, with a wingspan of 13-15 inches.
The only real difference between Red-headed males and females is the coloring on their heads.
However, the coloring can often be difficult to discern in juveniles, as both sexes possess an orange head until adulthood.
The Northern Flicker
The male Northern Flicker is medium-sized with averages of about 11 to 14 inches long, 4 to 5.6 ounces, and a wingspan of 20.1 inches.
They have brownish heads, black bibs, white wing patches, a beige-colored chest with a necklace-like black patch, and black-spotted flanks.
They don’t have a crest on their heads like other male woodpeckers but have a red or black moustachial stripe below their long and strong beak.
Females have slightly duller coloring than males, with tan or brown heads, lighter chests, and no black bibs. Their spotted flanks aren’t as vibrant as those of males, either.
While both sexes are similarly sized and proportioned, female northern flickers may appear smaller due to their lower body weight than males.
Females also take part in vocalizations during the breeding season more frequently than males.
The Red-cockaded males generally grow up to 8 to 9.1 inches long with a wingspan of 13 to 14.2 inches. They’re slightly larger than females.
They have spotted black feathers with white markings around their eyes and nape and red spots near their crowns. Their bill is larger and more robust than their female counterparts.
Female Red-Cockaded woodpeckers are smaller, measuring approximately 7.5 inches long with a wingspan of 9.8 to 10.3 inches.
They also have spotted black feathers but don’t have a red marking near the crown or white spotting around the eyes and nape.
Their underparts are usually buffy or light tan. The bill is smaller than the male’s but still has a large, pointed shape.
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
The male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is medium-sized, characterized by a red forehead, black throat, yellow chest, and a white-barred back.
Their wings have white bars, and the tail is black with white spots. They also have a black bill and reddish eyes.
The males are 7.5 to 8.7 inches long, weighing 1.6 to 1.9 ounces, and have a wingspan of 12.5 to 15.8 inches. On average, males are larger than females.
Female plumage resembles males but lacks the red patches seen in yellow-bellied males. They’re also slightly smaller than males, measuring 6 to 7 inches long.
While both sexes possess a yellowish color on their lower bellies, females are dull with their yellow coloring than males.
Additionally, their head crest is less pronounced than males, who boast more vibrant feathers and more prominent head crests.
Females are also less vocal and display less aggressive behaviors towards other birds than their male peers.