Adult female and adult male. 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.
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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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Gila Woodpecker

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Gila Woodpecker

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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