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Nuttall's Woodpecker

Picoides nuttallii ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

In California's oak woodlands the small black-and-white striped Nuttall's Woodpecker hitches up branches and twigs of oaks, willows, and cottonwoods. It circles around branches in search of food and sometimes perches crosswise on a twig much like a sparrow might do. This year-round resident gives a metallic rattle and high-pitched pit most of the year. It looks very similar to the Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but there's almost no range overlap. The horizontal stripes across its back set it apart from Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

Keys to identification Help

Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Nuttall's Woodpecker is a small woodpecker with a chisel-shaped bill. It has a small rounded head, a flat back, and an elongated appearance.

  • Color Pattern

    Nuttall's Woodpeckers are black-and-white striped birds. Males have a red patch on the back of their heads and both sexes have 2 narrow white stripes across their cheeks. The back has narrow black-and-white horizontal bars with a solid black patch on the upper back. The underparts are whitish with spotting and barring on the flanks. Juveniles have more grayish or buffy underparts than adults, and juveniles of both sexes have some red on the crown.

  • Behavior

    Nuttall's Woodpeckers probe and pick insects out of crevices in tree trunks, branches, and twigs. They circle branches and twigs while foraging, sometimes perching across the branch, balancing with their wings instead of leaning against their tails.

  • Habitat

    Nuttall's Woodpeckers live in oak woodlands year-round. They also use wooded suburban areas and woodlands near streams with cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores.

Range Map Help

Nuttall
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Ladder-backed Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Wider white stripes on the head
    • Barring rather than spots on the outer tail feathers
    • Upper back is striped all the way up the back
    • Red crown patch extends farther forward
    • © visualharmony, California, January 2012
  • Adult male

    Downy Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Vertical white patch down the middle of their back
    • Unmarked white bellies
    • Black eye and malar stripes do not join
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, January 2012
  • Adult female

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Vertical white patch down the middle of their back
    • Unmarked white bellies
    • Black eye and malar stripes do not join
    • © Rockytopk9, Tennessee, March 2012

Similar Species

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers overlap with Nuttall’s only in southeastern California and Baja California, Mexico. Ladder-backeds are paler, have wider white stripes on the head, barring rather than spots on the outer tail feathers, and the upper back is striped all the way up the back, whereas on Nuttall's Woodpeckers the upper back is solid black. The red crown patch on adult male Ladder-backed Woodpeckers extends farther forward on the head than on Nuttall's Woodpeckers. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers have a vertical white patch down the middle of their backs as opposed to the horizontal barring of Nuttall's Woodpeckers.The black eye and malar stripes do not join in Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, and they have unmarked white bellies, while Nuttall’s is finely spotted and barred on the flanks.

Backyard Tips

If you live in California's oak woodlands, putting up a suet feeder may bring a Nuttall's Woodpecker to your yard. Learn more about suet feeders at Project FeederWatch.

Plant native trees and shrubs to create friendly habitat for Nuttall's Woodpeckers and other species. Learn more at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

California's oak woodlands are the place to look for Nuttall's Woodpeckers. If you find an oak tree in California, even in suburban areas, there's a chance that a Nuttall's Woodpecker will be around. These small woodpeckers don't just forage on trunks and branches, they also forage on tiny stems in willows and alders where they might look more like a sparrow messing around in a shrub than a woodpecker. You'll probably hear the dry rattle before you see a Nuttall's Woodpecker, which will help you pinpoint its location. When they rattle they usually stay put, giving you time to find them.

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