Photo: Paul Bannick/Vireo

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Picoides nuttallii

A California specialty, Nuttall's Woodpecker extends only a short distance into Baja and rarely strays to Oregon. Within its limited range, it is often common wherever oak trees grow. It may go unseen at times because of its habit of foraging among densely foliaged oaks, but it frequently announces itself with sharp calls. Despite its close association with oaks, it tends to dig its nesting holes in other kinds of trees, and it eats only small numbers of acorns.
Conservation status Populations appear to be stable.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Wooded canyons and foothills, river woods. In much of range almost always around oaks, especially where oaks meet other trees along rivers, also in pine-oak woods in foothills. In southern California also in riverside cottonwoods, sycamores, willows, even if no oaks present. At eastern edge of range may venture out into mesquite or other dry woods.
A California specialty, Nuttall's Woodpecker extends only a short distance into Baja and rarely strays to Oregon. Within its limited range, it is often common wherever oak trees grow. It may go unseen at times because of its habit of foraging among densely foliaged oaks, but it frequently announces itself with sharp calls. Despite its close association with oaks, it tends to dig its nesting holes in other kinds of trees, and it eats only small numbers of acorns.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult female at nest with chick
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly in dense trees such as oaks and ceanothus, also in cottonwood, willow, sycamore, and others; sometimes in yuccas, mesquites (at eastern margin of range). The sexes sometimes forage differently in trees, with males focussing on trunk and major limbs, females working on minor branches and twigs. Occasionally catches insects in flight.


Eggs

3-4, up to 6. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), about 14 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, may remain with parents for several weeks thereafter.


Young

Both parents feed young. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, may remain with parents for several weeks thereafter.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, especially beetles, also caterpillars, ants, true bugs. Also eats some nuts, seeds, fruits, berries. Despite close association with oaks, eats only small numbers of acorns.


Nesting

Members of pair may remain more or less together all year. Displays include raising head feathers, swinging head from side to side, and a fluttering display flight. Nest site is cavity in live or dead tree, usually cottonwood, willow, or sycamore near oak woods, sometimes in utility pole, fence post, or oak or other tree. Cavity usually 3-35' above ground, sometimes up to 60' or higher. Male does most of excavating; new nest cavity every year.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range, rarely wandering any distance from nesting areas.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range, rarely wandering any distance from nesting areas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A rolling call, prreep; a sharp pit-it.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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