By Ali Holton

Knock, Knock. Who’s there?

Florida is home to eight resident year-round species of woodpeckers, which include the red-headed, red-bellied, downy, hairy, red-cockaded, yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern flicker and pileated woodpeckers. The largest and most recognizable of those would have to be the pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers have the classic look that is most often associated with these fascinating birds. They average sizes of about 15-20 inches long, similar to a crow, which also makes them the largest woodpecker in all of North America. Unmistakable by their red mohawk, black bodies, white-striped sides and long necks, pileated woodpeckers are very striking and an exciting sight to see.

Pileated woodpeckers are year-round residents in the state. They mostly inhabit tree-dense areas with downed and dead trees that they have drilled out with their beaks; however, they are also observed in backyards in the suburbs. Pileated woodpeckers are insectivores and feed primarily on ants, termites and beetle larvae.

The most common woodpecker that is widespread throughout the state would be the red-bellied woodpeckers. These birds are a bit smaller, averaging around 8-9 inches in length. In contrast to the pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpeckers lack the bright red mohawk atop their head, instead showcasing their lighter, rusty, slim-lined head. Their belly actually is not even red, it is white with a faint tint of color, and their wings have a beautiful black-and-white striped pattern.

Red-bellied woodpeckers are also more common to observe grazing from your traditional bird and hummingbird feeders in your yard. Red-bellied woodpeckers are similarly found in wooded areas with dead trees, but their diet varies, as they mostly consume acorns, fruits, nectar, nuts and sometimes small frogs. Interestingly, these birds can return to nest in the same nest every year, though each year they will excavate a new cavity to use.

Woodpeckers play a crucial role in our ecosystem and act as natural pest control. In addition to this, the nest holes that they create also serve as habitat for several other species or birds and other animals.

It should be noted that all woodpeckers are protected in the state under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be harmed or killed. Enjoy their beautiful and unique presence and keep an ear open, you never know when you may hear a busy woodpecker at work.

Ali Holton is currently director of FishHawk TNR Inc. She has a master’s in biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystems and 20 years of experience specializing in animal behavior and conservation. To reach her, email

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