Is That a Woodpecker at a Hummingbird Feeder?

Woodpeckers have a a varied diet and their eating habits might surprise you. Find out if it's common to see a woodpecker at a hummingbird feeder.

Downy Woodpecker at a Sugar Water Feeder

14 Bbxsep23 RobinwardCourtesy Robin Ward
Downy woodpecker drinking at a hummingbird feeder

“Last fall, a downy woodpecker (above) kept visiting my hummingbird feeder. Is it good to leave it up in that case?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Robin Ward of Livonia, Michigan.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: There aren’t any solid rules about when to take down hummingbird feeders—the hummingbirds migrate south when they’re ready, whether or not you have a feeder up. As long as you keep cleaning and filling the feeder (and as long as it doesn’t freeze and break), you can leave it out for as long as you like.

For a bird like the juvenile downy woodpecker in your photo, the sugar water is just a tasty treat, not something it relies on for survival. You could keep the hummingbird feeder up to watch the woodpecker’s antics, or substitute it with a suet feeder and see if the woodpecker makes the switch.

Discover more mind-blowing woodpecker facts you should know.

woodpecker on hummingbird feederCourtesy Lisa Bellando

“This woodpecker (above) visits my hummingbird feeder every day. It sure has a sweet tooth! Is this common? I have never seen it before,” asks reader Lisa Bellando of Denville, New Jersey.

Kenn and Kimberly: This is a female downy woodpecker, and she does seem to have a taste for the sweet stuff. We’ve seen this kind of thing in the Southwest, where almost every yard has hummingbird feeders, and Gila woodpeckers often learn to drink from them. Elsewhere the habit seems less common, but downies and other woodpeckers sometimes learn the trick of visiting these sugar-water feeders.

Downy vs hairy woodpecker: here’s how to tell the difference.

Bnbbyc17 Teresa Hunt 1Courtesy Teresa Hunt
Woodpeckers have a varied diet and some will occasionally sip sugar water.

“Two young downy woodpeckers visited my sugar-water feeder several times a day. Small hummingbirds had a tough time chasing them away. Is it common for woodpeckers to sip sugar water?” asks Bernard Dudek of Downers Grove, Illinois.

Kenn and Kimberly: Hummingbirds and orioles aren’t the only birds with a hankering for nectar or sugar water. Some woodpeckers like it, too. This is especially true for red-bellied, golden-fronted and Gila woodpeckers, which have quite varied diets.

Downy woodpeckers also partake of the sweet stuff, so it’s no surprise that they’ll take advantage of an easy source like a hummingbird feeder when they find one. We suggest that you invest in another feeder for the woodpeckers if they’re discouraging your other birds from feeding.

woodpecker at hummingbird feederCourtesy Peggy Booth
This hummingbird seems confused by the unusual visitor.

“I noticed woodpeckers have started to visit my hummingbird feeders. Is this common?” asks Pamela Swords of Brownsville, Kentucky.

They seem to discover this food source by accident, but once they know about it, they keep coming back and other species will copy them. In parts of the Southwest, where many people have hummingbird feeders out all year, this behavior is fairly common. It’s more of a surprise in Kentucky, where you live.

Now that your local woodpeckers have caught on, there’s a good chance they’ll keep visiting. The sugar water doesn’t harm them, so it’s just an interesting behavior to watch.

Meet the large, red crowned pileated woodpecker.

Why Do Woodpeckers Eat Sugar Water?

An acorn woodpecker sitting on a sugar-water feeder for hummingbirds.Courtesy Tony Attanasio
An acorn woodpecker sitting on a sugar-water feeder for hummingbirds.

As omnivores, woodpeckers eat insects, spiders, seeds, nuts and acorns, as well as fruit and sap, and will even sip nectar from a hummingbird feeder on occasion. A taste for sweetness may run in the family. Sapsuckers specialize in drilling little wells in tree bark so they can drink the sweet sap.

Next, find out why woodpeckers peck and how to stop it.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.