Nuttall’s Woodpecker Wednesday

This week’s featured Woodpecker is a California specialty: Nuttall’s Woodpecker.

Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)


Nuttall’s Woodpeckers have black-and-white striped backs that the give them a “zebra-backed” look. Their bellies are white with black spotting on the sides and they have a pied facial pattern. Males have black foreheads streaked with white and a red crown on the rear of the head/nape. Females have black foreheads, napes, and crowns, with some white streaking. Juveniles of both sexes have red crowns, but they are not as extensive as an adult male.

Male Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Image via


Mainly endemic (restricted to a certain area) to California. There is a small population in Baja California that hybridizes occasionally with Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Very rarely found in Oregon and Western Nevada


Almost always found in areas with oak trees, especially if the oaks are near a river, such as pine-oak woods. Foothills, wooded canyons, sometimes mesquite or dry woods. Even though they forage on oaks, Nuttall’s excavate for cavities in sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, and maples. Rarely found in coniferous forests.

Female’s Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Image by Vicki D. Miller via


Mostly insects, but also nuts, seeds, and berries. They forage by tapping, gleaning, and probing along the sides of oaks. Males tends to forage on the trunk and major limbs, while females tend to forage on smaller limbs and twigs.


It’s believed that Nuttall’s are monogamous and remain together most of the year. Courtship behaviors included fluttering, vocalization, raising head feathers, and head swinging from side-to -side. The male excavates a new nest cavity each year. Nuttall’s have 3-4 eggs per brood and share incubation duties for about 14 days. Both parents feed the young, who fledge around 4 weeks after hatching. The young may stay with the parents for a little longer after leaving the nest.

Male Nuttall’s Woodpecker and chick (Image by “Mike” Michael L. Baird via wikimedia commons)


A rattling prreep!; a sharp call pit-it!, or whut-whut! used to interact with individuals. Nonvocal sounds include drumming and ruffling wings during aerial displays.

Fun Facts:

  • Although heavily associated with oaks, Nuttall’s rarely eat acorns.
  • Nuttall’s may hybridize with the closely-related Ladder-back Woodpecker, who has similar plumage. They also can hybridize with Downy Woodpeckers, but reports of this are rare.
  • The Nuttall’s tree climbing behavior is unique among other Woodpeckers. They rarely move more than about 1 foot without working or circling on that part of the trunk.
  • The Nuttall’s Woodpecker is named after Thomas Nuttall. Thomas Nuttall was an English botanist and zoologist who has 44 genera and species named after him.

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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