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Nuttall's Woodpecker Life History


Open WoodlandsNuttall's Woodpeckers are residents in oak woodlands from around 900–5,500 feet elevation. Though primarily restricted to oak woodlands in California, Nuttall's Woodpeckers also use wooded suburban areas and woodlands near streams, especially farther south in their range where oak trees are scarcer. Back to top


InsectsAlthough Nuttall's Woodpeckers spend most of their time in oak woodlands, they do not eat acorns. They eat insects, such as beetles, beetle larvae, ants, termites, and millipedes found on oaks, cottonwoods, and willows. They probe into tree bark to reach insects or pick them off bark or vegetation. They also occasionally eat fruit including elderberries, poison oak, and blackberries. Back to top


Nest Placement

CavityNuttall's Woodpeckers excavate nest holes in dead trunks or limbs of willows, cottonwoods, sycamores, oaks, or alders.

Nest Description

The male chips away at trunks and limbs with little help from the female to create a hole with an entrance that is about 2 inches wide. The inside of the cavity is about 11 inches deep with a layer of wood chips at the bottom, which provides cushioning for the eggs. They excavate a new cavity each year.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Egg Length:0.8-1.0 in (1.9-2.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.7 in (1.5-1.7 cm)
Egg Description:White and unmarked.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless.
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Bark ForagerNuttall's Woodpeckers behave like other woodpeckers, clinging vertically to trees and hitching up and down trunks and branches in search of food. More often than other woodpeckers, they circle around branches or perch sideways across a branch. They also forage on small twigs where they flutter their wings for balance instead of using their tails. These woodpeckers form monogamous pairs that establish and maintain year-round territories, but they usually only interact with each other during the breeding season. Pairs defend their territory from other Nuttall's Woodpeckers, meeting intruders with crests and bills held high while spreading their tails or flicking their wings. Back to top


Low Concern

Despite their restricted range, Nuttall's Woodpeckers are fairly common. Populations increased nearly 0.8% per year between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 850,000 and rates them 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. However, this species is of moderate conservation importance, primarily because of its limited range and its association with intact oak and forests near streams. Sudden oak death, a fungal disease that kills oak trees could also threaten populations of Nuttall's Woodpeckers and other oak-dependent species in California. As a cavity nester, this species is important because it provides nest sites for many other species in these forests.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Karlson, Kevin and D Rosselet. (2015). Birding by Impression. Living Bird 25:34-42.

Lowther, Peter E., Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. (2017). Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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Monahan, W. B. and W. D. Koenig. (2006). Estimating the potential effects of sudden oak death on oak-dependent birds. Biological Conservation 127 (2):146-157.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

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