Creepers, Nuthatches, & Woodpeckers

You won't find these forest birds hunting for food on the ground or in the air but on trees. They help keep trees healthy by eating parasitic larvae of wood-boring beetles, among a variety of other insects.


Creepers - Order Passeriformes, Family Certhidae

A bird with mottled brown plumage clings to a tree trunk.
Brown Creeper

NPS Photo

Brown Creeper
Certhia americana

Habitat: forest
Seasons: common year-round
Size: lenth 5.25 in (13 cm), wingspan 7.75 in (19.6 cm)
Brown Creeper Calls

Brown creepers have mottled brown plumage with white bellies. They "creep" up tree trunks, using their thin, curved bills to pry into the bark looking for insects. They have long tails and a single pale-colored band stretching across both above and below the wings. The pale wing band and white bellies makes them easier to spot when flying, but their brown feathers act as camouflage when they are creeping up trees.


Nuthatches - Order Passeriformes, Family Sittidae

A small bird with a orange belly perches on a branch.
Red-breasted Nuthatch

© 2012 Marie-Chantal Landry

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Sitta canadensis

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: common year-round
Size: length 4.5 in (11.4 cm), wingspan 8.5 in (21.6 cm)
Red-breasted Nuthatch Calls

These small birds have blue backs and pale orange bellies (brighter in males), with distinctive black and white stripes on the face. Nuthatches use their feet to climb trees, bracing with one foot placed lower than the other. Woodpeckers can only climb up because they need to brace with their tails, but nuthatches can also climb head-down.


Woodpeckers - Order Piciformes, Family Picidae

A black and white woodpecker on a branch.
Hairy Woodpecker (female)

Crow Vecchio photo

Hairy Woodpecker
Picoides villosus

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: common year-round
Size: length 9.25 in (23.5 cm), wingspan 15 in (38 cm)
Hairy Woodpecker Calls

Hairy woodpeckers are white with bold black stripes on the face and neck. They have black rumps and black wings with white speckles. Pacific populations are darker, more tan than white, with more black on the flanks. Males have a red patch on the back of the head. Hairy woodpeckers are larger than the similar-looking downy woodpecker, with longer bills.

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Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap... Sometimes easier to hear than see, hairy woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) live year-round in Mount Rainier's forests. This male hairy woodpecker (note the red patch on the back of the head) was observed hunting for insects on a dead tree in the Carbon River area of the park in September, 2021.

A colorful spotted woodpecker.
Northern Flicker (male)

© 2008 Ron Wolf

Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: common year-round
Size: length 12.5 in (31.7 cm), wingspan 20 in (50.8 cm)
Northern Flicker Calls

Western populations of northern flickers have grey heads, with brown crowns. Females have brown malars, or stripes extending along the bottom of the cheek, while males have red malars. Their bodies are pale brown with black stripes on the back and wings, and black spots on the belly. They have a black half-circle patch covering their breasts, and white rumps visible when flying.

A large black woodpecker at the base of a tree.
Pileated Woodpecker

NPS Photo

Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus

Habitat: forest
Seasons: uncommon year-round
Size: length 16.5 in (42 cm), wingspan 29 in (74 cm)
Pileated Woodpecker Calls

These large woodpeckers are black with white stripes down the sides of their faces and necks. The undersides of their wings are also white, with a white band on the primary wing feathers. Both sexes have a large red crest. On males, the crest stretches down over the forehead, and they have red stripes on their cheeks. Pileated woodpeckers prefer mature forests where they hunt for carpenter ants.

A red-headed woodpecker.
Red-breasted Sapsucker

Crow Vecchio Photo

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus ruber

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: uncommon year-round
Size: length 8.5 in (21.6 cm), wingspan 16 in (40.6 cm)
Red-breasted Sapsucker Calls

Red-breasted sapsuckers have red heads and breasts, with yellow-grey bellies. Wings and tail are black. Wings have white coverts and tails have a white stripe down the center. They have a white patch over the bill. Northern populations are larger with more red than southern populations, and have narrow stripes of gold spots down the back. Red-breasted sapsuckers do not actually drink sap, but drill holes to catch insects in the tree sap.

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Last updated: November 18, 2021

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