Bird GuideWoodpeckersGila Woodpecker

At a Glance

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.
Picidae, Woodpeckers, Tree-clinging Birds
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Rocky Mountains, Southwest
Flap/Glide, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


8-10" (20-25 cm). Black and white bars on back, wings, tail; head and underparts all buffy brown. Male has small red spot on crown. White patch in outer part of wing is conspicuous in flight.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Red, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded, Short
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A rolling churrr.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Drum, Scream, Trill


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.



3-4, up to 6. White. Incubation is by both sexes, about 14 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Declined seriously in California portion of range during 20th century. Still abundant in southern Arizona.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Gila Woodpecker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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.