Photo: Robert A. 'Spike' Baker/Vireo

White-headed Woodpecker

Dryobates albolarvatus

Boldly marked but quiet in its behavior, the White-headed Woodpecker is a specialty of mountain pine forests in the far west. At some times of year it feeds heavily on pine seeds, more so than any other North American woodpecker. Perhaps because of the high proportion of dry seeds in its diet, it is often seen coming down to the edge of water to drink.
Conservation status Still seems to be fairly common within its main range, but population trends would be difficult to measure.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Mountain pine forests. Seldom found away from pines, and favors those with large cones or prolific seed production, such as Coulter, ponderosa, Jeffrey, and sugar pines. Also forages in incense-cedars, sequoias, and other conifers, and ranges very uncommonly up to elevations dominated by firs.
Boldly marked but quiet in its behavior, the White-headed Woodpecker is a specialty of mountain pine forests in the far west. At some times of year it feeds heavily on pine seeds, more so than any other North American woodpecker. Perhaps because of the high proportion of dry seeds in its diet, it is often seen coming down to the edge of water to drink.
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Feeding Behavior

Obtains pine seeds by prying open cones in trees. Also forages for insects on trunk and limbs, and among needle clusters in conifers. Typically pries off flakes of bark rather than knocking them off, so foraging tends to be quiet. Sometimes catches insects in flight. Males and females often have different foraging behaviors, but this varies with place and season.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-7. White, often becoming stained by pine pitch on parents' plumage. Incubation is by both sexes, about 14 days. Young: Both parents feed young, and young leave the nest about 26 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed young, and young leave the nest about 26 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly insects and pine seeds. At some seasons, eats mostly pine seeds. Diet also includes wood-boring beetles, ants, and other insects, as well as spiders.


Nesting

Both sexes tap at potential nest site, and other displays around nest are apparently important in pair formation. Nest site is in cavity in heavy dead stub of tree (especially pines, also aspens, oaks, and others), usually 6-15' above ground, sometimes 2-25', rarely up to 50'. New cavity each year, but often in same tree as used in previous years. Nest hole is excavated by both sexes.

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

Migration

Generally permanent resident, although a few may move to lower elevations for winter.

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Migration

Generally permanent resident, although a few may move to lower elevations for winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent. A sharp pee-dink and a more prolonged pee-dee-dee-dink.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the White-headed 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 White-headed 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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