Bird GuideWoodpeckersNuttall's Woodpecker

At a Glance

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.
Picidae, Woodpeckers, Tree-clinging Birds
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Northwest
Flap/Glide, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


7-7 1/2" (18-19 cm). Black back with narrow white barring; thin white stripes on black face. Male has red crown patch. Looks much darker than Ladder-backed Woodpecker, with broad black area across upper back.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Red, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A rolling call, prreep; a sharp pit-it.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Rattle, Trill


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.



3-4, up to 6. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), about 14 days.


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

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Populations appear to be stable.

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 Nuttall's Woodpecker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Nuttall's 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.