Migratory Woodpeckers

Mention migrant birds and most of us think of waterfowl, shorebirds, seabirds and a wide variety of songbirds; few would think to include woodpeckers in that mix.  Indeed, most woodpeckers are permanent residents of their home territory, perhaps descending from higher elevations or moving among seasonal habitats but not leaving for more southern climes as winter approaches.

The primary exceptions are the sapsuckers, which prefer to feast on insects and sap.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers breed across Canada, the Great Lakes region and New England but winter in the Southeastern States and Mexico.  Red-naped and Williamson's sapsuckers summer in the Rockies and Intermountain West but winter from the southern Colorado Plateau and Desert Southwest into Mexico; some Williamson's sapsuckers are permanent residents of the Sierra Nevada range.  Finally, red-breasted sapsuckers breed in British Columbia, southeastern Alaska, the Pacific Northwest States and the Sierra Nevada; most leave more northern latitudes and higher elevations during the colder months.

Lewis' woodpeckers, often seen in flocks, are summer residents of the Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Great Basin, permanent residents of California, the Colorado Plateau and Southern Rockies foothills and winter residents of the Desert Southwest.  Even some of our more common and widespread woodpeckers demonstrate a limited degree of migration; northern flickers leave their Canadian and Alaskan breeding grounds during winter, red-bellied woodpeckers move south from the Great Lakes and southern New England and red-headed woodpeckers abandon the Great Plains and the northern tier of the U.S.