Do you know downy woodpeckers have lots of cousins? You may not know that some of these birds are regular visitors to your backyard. There are many birds out there that look quite similar to woodpeckers, especially downy woodpeckers.
So, what birds look like downy woodpeckers? The most common cousins of downy woodpeckers are northern flickers, red-breasted sapsuckers, red-naped sapsuckers, Williamson’s sapsuckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, hairy woodpeckers, great-spotted woodpeckers, red-headed woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpecker, and more.
Here we’re going to talk about these beautiful birds that sometimes get mistaken for downy woodpeckers. In this article, you’ll also know how to tell the difference between downy woodpeckers and these species. Here is another article for you: birds similar to penguins.
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01. Northern Flicker
Northern flickers are readily available in North America, Central America, the Cayman Islands, and Cuba. These birds are most common in open habitats near trees, yards, parks, edges, bank swallows, and woodlands. Typically, they make their nests in tree holes.
- Northern flickers feature brown plumage overall with black bars and spots.
- These birds have a slim, rounded head.
- The bills are slightly downcurved.
- The long, flared tails taper to a point.
- The tail and wing underside feathers are bright yellow.
Both downy woodpeckers and northern flickers have a large red spot on the back of the head. Like downy woodpeckers, northern flickers have striped spots throughout their bodies. They also feature small, black, rounded eyes as downy woodpeckers have.
Compared to downy woodpeckers, northern flickers have larger and slightly curvier bills. While downy woodpeckers come up with thoroughly white underparts, northern flickers feature greyish below with black bars.
02. Red-Breasted Sapsucker
Red-breasted sapsuckers can be found in southeast Alaska, the Pacific Coast of western Washington, British Columbia to Oregon, and northern California. In winter, they’re available at Baja California in Mexico. Their habitats are usually forest areas.
- Red-breasted sapsuckers come with a large, rounded head and a chisel-like bill.
- As the name suggests, red-breasted sapsuckers have a red breast and head.
- These birds have a dark back and wings with black bars.
- They feature a white spot between the bills and the eyes.
- Underparts are white including black streaks on the side.
Red-breasted sapsuckers have a red throat, just like that of downy woodpeckers. In appearance, both birds look quite similar, especially their upperparts. Besides, the legs of both birds are the same and have white spots on their wings.
Downy woodpeckers have a somewhat red spot on their head, but red-breasted sapsuckers’ heads are entirely red. As the name suggests, red-breasted sapsuckers feature red throughout the breast, while downy woodpeckers are thoroughly white below.
03. Red-Naped Sapsucker
Red-naped sapsuckers are native to Great Basin areas of North America and mixed forests in the Rocky Mountains. These birds build their nests in the cavities of dead trees. During winter, they migrate to mountains and lowlands.
- Red-naped sapsuckers are one of the smallest woodpecker species.
- These birds feature a red crown and a white vertical stripe down the wing.
- They come with stout and sharply pointed bills.
- Males have a red neck and reddish throat.
- Females have a small white patch under the bill.
Like almost all woodpeckers, red-naped sapsuckers drum on trees in a slow and irregular pattern. Both red-naped sapsuckers and downy woodpeckers feature a red spot on their head. These birds have quite similar bills and many small white spots on their wings.
Red-naped sapsuckers are smaller than downy woodpeckers. While the neck of these birds is completely red, downy woodpeckers come up with a white neck. Red-naped sapsuckers feature pale underparts, but the underparts of downy woodpeckers are bright white.
04. Williamson’s Sapsucker
Williamson’s sapsuckers are native to coniferous forests in the mountains of western North America, the southern United States, northern Baja California in Mexico, and southern British Columbia. They are pretty common in open forested areas.
- Williamson’s sapsuckers are almost black with white wing patches.
- These birds feature a small a small red patch under the bills.
- Males have a couple of white stripes on the face.
- Females come with black and white plumage overall.
- Juveniles are duller than adults.
Williamson’s sapsuckers and downy woodpeckers feature the same irises. These birds are white below and black above. On top of that, both woodpecker species feature white spots on their wings.
While Williamson’s sapsuckers feature a small red patch under the bills, downy woodpeckers have a small red patch on their head. Although both species have white patches on the face, the patches are thinner in the face of Williamson’s sapsuckers.
05. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are most common in the eastern United States, Canada, eastern Alaska, the northeastern United States, West Indies, Central America, and Great Britain. These birds usually prefer woodlands, hardwood areas, and conifer forests.
- Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feature a stout, straight bill.
- These birds have a boldly patterned face.
- They come with a pale yellow indication in their bellies.
- They feature red heads and throats.
- White patches are visible on their wings.
In appearance, both yellow-bellied sapsucker and downy woodpeckers look quite similar. Both species have small rounded eyes and white patches on the wings. Their bills also look almost similar.
As the name suggests, yellow-bellied sapsuckers have thoroughly yellow chests while downy woodpeckers’ chests are overall white. The throat of yellow-bellied sapsuckers is red, but downy woodpeckers come with a completely white throat.
06. Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpeckers can be found in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and most parts of Central America. These birds usually prefer suburban backyards, orchards, swamps, and open woodlands of pine and oak trees.
- Hairy woodpeckers have a chisel-shaped bill, about the length of their head.
- These birds have a contrastingly black and white body.
- They feature a large white patch down the middle of the black back.
- They have a couple of white stripes on the face.
- Their dark wings are checkered with white.
Both hairy and downy woodpeckers feature a completely dark tail. Their bills appear sturdy and can be almost as long as the head. Like downy woodpeckers, males have a red-head while females don’t. Their throats are entirely white like their downy cousins.
The difference between these two species is surprisingly hard to find out. Hairy woodpeckers are larger, only about 9 to 11 inches in length. On the other hand, downy woodpeckers are smaller, usually 6 to 6 inches in length.
07. Great-Spotted Woodpecker
Great-spotted woodpeckers are readily available in Great Britain, Japan, North America, and Northern Africa, especially in Morocco and Tunisia. These woodpecker species prefer parks, gardens, forests and woodlands, broadleaf, and coniferous regions.
- Great-spotted woodpeckers have a thick, black, and straight bill.
- Males have a white throat, a black crown, and a bright red nape.
- Females are similar to males but have a black nape.
- The underparts are white, but the undertail coverts appear rich red.
- The wings are black with white spotty bars.
Like downy woodpeckers, great-spotted woodpeckers have a red spot on the back of their heads. In addition, both birds feature a long tail, small white spots on the wings, and small rounded irises.
Great-spotted woodpeckers are larger than downy woodpeckers. Besides, great-spotted woodpeckers feature a larger bill and white wing patches. While downy woodpeckers have a completely white undertail covert, these birds appear rich red in the undertail covert.
08. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Red-headed woodpeckers are fairly common throughout North America, especially in southern Ontario, southern Manitoba, Florida, and New England. These birds inhabit orchards, shade trees in towns, and large scattered trees.
- Red-headed woodpeckers have a large, scarlet-colored head.
- These birds feature a large, chisel-like bill.
- They have a black back with white wing patches.
- Their white belly is unstreaked.
- Both males and females look quite similar.
Both downy and red-headed woodpeckers have completely white underparts. In addition, both species feature small rounded irises, white wing patches, and red in their heads. These birds come with a thoroughly black tail as well.
Red-headed woodpeckers don’t have a couple of white stripes on the face like downy woodpeckers. While red-headed woodpeckers feature a completely red head, downy woodpeckers have a red mark on the back of the head.
09. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpeckers are typically found in the eastern United States, South Florida, and northern Canada. These medium-sized birds can easily be found in dead trees, such as hardwoods or pines, fence posts, and dead limbs of live trees.
- Red-bellied woodpeckers usually appear pale overall.
- Adult males have a red crown and nape.
- Adult females also have a red nape but lack the red crown.
- They come with a boldly black-and-white stripped back.
- They have a large, chisel-like bill perfect for drumming.
Similar to downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers feature red on the head. Both downy and red-bellied woodpeckers have many white spots on the wings. Besides, both species have a white throat, small rounded irises, and grey feet.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are larger than downy woodpeckers. While downy woodpeckers have a red mark on the back of the head, red-bellied woodpeckers feature red throughout the head and neck. Most importantly, red-bellied woodpeckers appear pale overall.
10. Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpeckers are usually available in the eastern United States, Cuba, Mexico, Canada, and some parts of the Pacific Coast. These birds are most common in heavily wooded parks, mature hardwood trees, and large tracts of forests.
- Pileated woodpeckers feature a long, chisel-like bill, about the length of the head.
- Males come with a bright red crest and a red stripe on the cheek.
- Females have a red crest but don’t have a red cheek stripe.
- They have white stripes on the face.
- The wings appear broad and crowlike while flying.
Pileated woodpeckers have a long, chisel-like bill just like what downy woodpeckers have. Both species feature a thoroughly white throat. In addition, both woodpeckers have a couple of white stripes on their face.
Pileated woodpeckers are one of the largest woodpecker species in the world. Eventually, these birds are larger than downy woodpeckers, being usually 16 to 19 inches in length. While pileated woodpeckers are black overall, downy woodpeckers have white underparts.
Now that you know what birds look like downy woodpeckers, you can easily identify these birds once noticed in your backyard. If you encounter one of them, you should offer them their favorite treats, like suet.
Once these birds get the best hospitality from you, they will surely come back to you again and again. Comment your experiences with any of these birds down below. Follow us on various social media like Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.