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Arizona Woodpecker Life History


Open Woodlands

In its very small United States range, the Arizona Woodpecker is a classic species of the oak, pine-oak, and sycamore-walnut woodlands of the mountainous “Madrean” habitat type (named for Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental). In southern New Mexico and Arizona, isolated mountain ranges support cool, dry woodland environments where Arizona Woodpeckers forage largely in oaks and pines between 5,000 and 5,600 feet elevation (occasionally as low as 4,000 or as high as 8,000). This is generally lower than where Hairy Woodpecker occurs and higher than Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Arizona Woodpeckers also forage in pines, cypress, junipers, walnuts, sycamores, and willows, and occasionally in agave. In the lower part of its elevational range, Arizona Woodpeckers sometimes visit oak-juniper groves, mesquite thickets (bosques), and riparian areas. Important tree species in this region include Apache pine, Chihuahua pine, ponderosa pine, Arizona white oak, netleaf oak, Emory oak, silverleaf oak, Arizona sycamore, alligator juniper, Fremont cottonwood, and Arizona walnut. Wintering birds sometimes move downslope in response to cold weather, but the species does not migrate. In Mexico, it nests much lower and much higher than in the United States, from 3,000 to 8,200 feet.

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Arizona Woodpeckers eat mostly beetle larvae, berries, and acorns, along with various insects. They forage by flaking, prying off, or probing into bark, and also by excavating and hammering, as larger woodpeckers often do. Longer-billed males tend to excavate more than females, which more often flake off bark when foraging. Arizona Woodpeckers forage in a pattern recalling that of the Brown Creeper, starting at the base of a pine, then hitching rapidly upward in a spiral to the top, then flying to the base of the next tree. Their diet includes weevils, long-horned beetles, and round-headed wood-borer beetles (jewel beetles). They sometimes tap on infested trees to arouse movement in beetle larvae, which the woodpeckers can then locate and extract more effectively.

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Nest Placement


Nest cavities are usually excavated in dead wood. They average about 16 feet above the ground but may be as low as 2 feet and as high as 49 feet.

Nest Description

The nest is an unlined cavity measuring about 2 inches wide by 12 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Egg Description:


Condition at Hatching:

Naked and helpless.

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Bark Forager

In spring, males advertise to potential mates, and warn rivals, by calling and drumming. At this time of year, pairs can be quite vocal and often respond to calls of other Arizona Woodpeckers, calling and driving them away from the nest area. Threat displays involve perching, then swaying rapidly while raising and bobbing the head, waving the wings, and fanning the tail. However, during most of the year, and particularly after the female has laid eggs, this species is quiet. Although both members of a pair defend the area around the nest cavity, it is not clear that they defend a larger territory, as some woodpeckers do. Males excavate the nest cavity, often tapping on the nest tree and showing the unfinished work to the female via a gliding flight display. Both male and female incubate the eggs, and both feed and tend the young. Family groups often remain together for several weeks after the young fledge. Family members tend to go their separate ways during the nonbreeding season, but they regularly join mixed-species flocks of woodland birds.

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Restricted Range

Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population of Arizona Woodpecker at 200,000, ranks the species a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and includes it on the Yellow Watch List for birds with restricted ranges. A 2016 Partners in Flight publication estimates the U.S. breeding population at fewer than 5,000. Habitat loss and fragmentation, especially in Mexico, where this species’ forest habitats have been severely overharvested, are likely the chief conservation concerns for Arizona Woodpecker. Groundwater removal and grazing could also reduce acreage of Arizona sycamore, an important tree for this woodpecker.

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Johnson, R. Roy, Lois T. Haight, J. David Ligon, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. (2017). Arizona Woodpecker (Picoides arizonae), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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