northern flicker perching on the tree

Woodpeckers In Hawaii: The Few That You May See

Sharing is caring!


Have you ever dreamed of a vacation to Hawaii?

The beloved island that welcomes you with a beautiful Lei flower necklace is an epitome of beauty and a major tourist attraction site.

The Aloha state is a treasure of flora and fauna. It’s also known to be rich with its wildlife. However, due to its isolated location—2,000 mi to the states’ southern border, not all birds and animals have managed to strive there.

While there are various types of woodpeckers all over North America, there’s only one that you can find in Hawaii. We’ll be telling you all about it here.

Northern Flicker – The Only Woodpecker in Hawaii

Northern Flicker

  • Scientific Name: Colaptes Auratus
  • Length: 12 – 14 in
  • Weight: 3.9 – 5.6 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.5 – 20.1 in

Formerly known as the Yellow-Shafted Flicker, the Northern Flicker species now includes two subspecies; yellow and red-shafted Flickers. It’s a medium-sized woodpecker with a slim round head and exceptional appearance.

Northern Flickers live where they find trees; in forests, groves, and even towns. Yet, they won’t favor a tree-dense forest, as they need some open land for their foraging.


As for yellow-shafted flickers, both males and females have black bibs and spotted bellies, in addition to yellow feathers on their tails. Males have black whiskers that distinguish them from females. You can spot a female yellow-shafted flicker sitting idle on a wood branch, which is so unlike woodpeckers’ playful nature.

Red-shafted flickers have the same brownish undertone with white patched bellies that are spotted in black. From some angles, you’ll be able to see their red or black whiskers.


Like most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers use their beaks to drum on trees to attract potential mates and make their nests.

When it comes to feeding habits, they follow a diet that relies heavily on insects and ants. Northern Flickers don’t restrict themselves to insects, though. They might reach out to tree branches and limbs to grab some fruits and berries.

Males of the Northern Flicker are quite expressive. They’re defensive about marking their territories, and they don’t shy away from it. A male Northern Flicker will move its head back and forth, drum, and call to show off its dominance.


The Northern Flicker is abundant. However, since the 1960s, there’s been a gradual decline in its population. The main reason for that is that the starling competes with it for freshly exacerbated nests, driving the Northern Flicker away.

Why There Are No Woodpeckers in Hawaii

As you can spot on the map, Hawaii lies in the middle of nowhere!

The remote, isolated position of the island in the pacific ocean is why various birds and animals couldn’t make it there. Among them are hummingbirds and woodpeckers. Most of Hawaii’s wildlife is endemic, meaning that plants, animals, and birds exist exclusively there.

For example, when it comes to plants, 89% of native plants found in Hawaii are endemic. The deserted nature of the place was a perfect environment for these plants to go wild. Currently, they’re pretty invasive.

Adaptive Radiation

In an attempt to discover the pristine land, finches migrated from the mainland to deserted Hawaii. Finding themselves in the middle of nowhere, these birds had to adapt and evolve. In fact, they evolved into a bunch of separate species. This is a phenomenon that biologists refer to as ‘Adaptive Radiation.’

In fact, most of the birds in Hawaii aren’t native. They were brought to the island in the 19th century. Even Hawaiin people might not be able to distinguish native birds from the others.

One of the few native Hawaiin birds is the Akiapolaau, a bird that evolved to fill in the place of woodpeckers in Hawaii. They even call it ‘The Hawaiin Woodpecker.’

‘Akiapola’au – The Hawaiian Woodpecker


  • Scientific Name: Fringillidae
  • Length: 5 – 5.5 in
  • Weight: 1.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 7 – 8 in

The ‘Akiapola’au (ah-kee-ah-poh-lah-ow), yes, that’s how you say it, is an endangered endemic bird in Hawaii. The ‘Akiapola’au isn’t an actual woodpecker, but rather a honeycreeper.

It’s the only member of the Heterorhynchus subgenus, which resembles the woodpecker in its feeding habitat, as both prey on insects exclusively.

Technically speaking, one of the merits of having birds occupying the ‘woodpecker niche’ is that they’re included in the species that control the population of insects in the place.


‘Akiapola’aus are known for their distinctive beaks that are composed of a long decurved upper mandible that sits on a lower short mandible that resembles that of a woodpecker.

They sport vibrant yellow feathers with olive and grey-ish underparts in females and yellow-green backs with black-ish heads in males.


The ‘Akiapola’au uses its distinct curved bill to peck holes in trees, then probe for insects and larvae with the lower mandible. The way it pecks tree limbs for insects and larvae looks like a variation of a woodpecker’s.

The male is known for its loud, complex singing. Here’s a recorded sound of a male Akiapola’au interacting with another one.


It doesn’t come as a surprise that this bird is endangered, where it possesses one of the lowest breeding rates for birds, producing only one baby per year. For this reason, any disease or predation on the ‘Akiapola’au can have adverse effects on the whole population.

Like most endemic Hawaiin bird species, deforestation and predation by mammals introduced to the island increase the risk factor of extinction of ‘Akiapolaau.

Wrapping It Up

Don’t be fooled by looks!

Although Hawaii looks like the perfect ecosystem for colorful birds, only a few species managed to survive on the isolated island.

If you still insist on capturing a woodpecker in Hawaii on camera, you can try to spot a northern flicker on a tree. Who knows, you might be lucky to capture a native Akiapola’au! Only that you now know it isn’t an actual woodpecker!

If you’ve got your mind fixated on woodpeckers, we’d recommend you consider visiting Wisconsin. Did you know that there are 9 types of woodpeckers you can find there?

Sharing is caring!