What Does a Baby Woodpecker Look Like?

That unusual bird might be a juvenile or baby woodpecker! Learn what baby woodpeckers eat, how long they stay in the nest, and more.

Identifying a Baby Woodpecker

251064417 1 Mikayla Anderson Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Mikayla Anderson
Baby northern flickers 

The appearance of baby woodpeckers varies depending on the species. Upon hatching, the babies are pink and bald; as they grow, they sport feathers resembling those of their parents. Often, these juvenile birds lack a key characteristic of adults or look slightly different.

juvenile woodpeckerCourtesy Beth King
Adult red-headed woodpecker feeding a fledgling

Juvenile red-bellied woodpeckers, for example, lack the red markings on the head. Juvenile downy woodpeckers feature red feathers at the tops of their heads.

278077436 1 Kerry Loving Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Kerry Loving
Baby red-bellied woodpecker pokes its head out of the nest cavity

It can be tricky to determine the differences between juvenile and adult birds, but typically, if a bird looks unfamiliar for its species, it might be a juvenile. In some cases, juvenile plumage can resemble female plumage.

Discover mind-blowing facts about woodpeckers.

How Long Do Baby Woodpeckers Stay in the Nest?

275323730 1 Bob Quarles Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Bob Quarles
Northern flicker nest

Similar to the differences in appearance, the length of time baby woodpeckers spend in the nest varies. A general estimate puts the incubation of eggs at around 2 to 2 1/2 weeks, and the time spent in the nest at about 3 to 4 weeks.

Typical clutch sizes vary. For example, a red-headed woodpecker might lay anywhere from three to 10 eggs, while a pileated woodpecker might lay three to five.

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What Do Baby Woodpeckers Eat?

juvenile red-bellied woodpeckerCourtesy Juanette Birk
Fledgling red bellied woodpecker on a mealworm feeder

Baby woodpeckers’ diets mostly consist of the same or similar foods that their parents consume. Adult woodpeckers will bring the nestlings insects, such as larvae and grubs; seeds, such as black oil sunflower; fruit, such as berries; and other staples typical of a woodpecker.

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What Should I Do If I Find a Baby Woodpecker?

baby downy woodpeckerCourtesy Shirley Saathoff
Baby downy woodpecker on the ground

Many myths exist about what to do if you find a baby bird. Contrary to popular belief, bird parents won’t abandon their young if they “have a human’s scent.” If you find a baby bird that is obviously unable to fly, you can help it by placing it back in its nest.

baby red bellied woodpeckerCourtesy Tanya Brooks
This young red-bellied woodpecker does not need rescuing

However, if the baby woodpecker has obvious plumage and is able to hop, flit, or fly on its own, it’s not a good idea to return it to its nest. This is a juvenile bird, and it’s simply acclimating to the world. There’s a good chance one of its parents is nearby and watching, so there’s no cause for concern.

Next, learn how to identify a hairy woodpecker.

Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate editor for Birds & Blooms Digital. Throughout her years with the publication, she has written multiple articles for print as well as digital, all covering birding and gardening. In her role as associate editor, she is responsible for creating and editing articles on the subject of birding and gardening, as well as putting together Birds & Bloom's daily digital newsletter. After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a master's degree in magazine journalism and undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, she has more than eight years of experience in the magazine, newspaper, and book industries.