Photo: David Masche/Audubon Photography Awards

Gila Woodpecker

Melanerpes uropygialis

A brash, noisy woodpecker of desert regions. Common and conspicuous in stands of saguaro, or giant cactus, it also lives in the trees along desert rivers, and is quick to move into towns and suburbs. This species and the Gilded Flicker are the two main architects of desert apartment houses: the holes they excavate in giant cactus are later used as nesting sites by many other birds, from flycatchers and martins to owls and kestrels.
Conservation status Declined seriously in California portion of range during 20th century. Still abundant in southern Arizona.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Desert washes, saguaros, river groves, cottonwoods, towns. Generally in dry country, but requires suitable sites for nesting cavities: cottonwood groves along rivers, large mesquites or willows, palms, giant cactus such as saguaro or cardon. Readily adapts to suburbs of southwestern cities. Also dry tropical forest in Mexico.
A brash, noisy woodpecker of desert regions. Common and conspicuous in stands of saguaro, or giant cactus, it also lives in the trees along desert rivers, and is quick to move into towns and suburbs. This species and the Gilded Flicker are the two main architects of desert apartment houses: the holes they excavate in giant cactus are later used as nesting sites by many other birds, from flycatchers and martins to owls and kestrels.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages on tree trunks and cacti, in outer branches of trees or shrubs, or on ground. When seeking insects on tree trunks, generally probes or gleans at surface, rarely excavating for food. Often drinks sugar-water from hummingbird feeders.


Eggs

3-4, up to 6. White. Incubation is by both sexes, about 14 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Age at which young leave nest not well known, probably about 4 weeks; accompany parents for some time thereafter. 2-3 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed young. Age at which young leave nest not well known, probably about 4 weeks; accompany parents for some time thereafter. 2-3 broods per year.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet includes wide variety of insects, also cactus fruit, other wild and cultivated fruit, berries of shrubs and mistletoe, nectar from flowers, seeds, small lizards, earthworms, eggs and sometimes young of smaller birds.


Nesting

Displays, used largely in aggression, include exaggerated bowing and head-swinging, accompanied by loud calls. Nest site is a cavity excavated in giant cactus or in tree (cottonwood, willow, or large mesquite), sometimes in palm trunk. Cavity usually 8-30' above ground. Both sexes take part in excavating. Cavity in giant cactus cannot be used for several months, as inner pulp of cactus must dry to solid casing around cavity; holes may be excavated one year, used the next.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly permanent resident, but some move short distances north or uphill in winter. Also makes local movements, concentrating at sources of food when not nesting.

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Migration

Mostly permanent resident, but some move short distances north or uphill in winter. Also makes local movements, concentrating at sources of food when not nesting.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A rolling churrr.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Picidae, Woodpeckers Tree-clinging Birds

Gila Woodpecker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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