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Nuttall's Woodpecker


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.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
6.3–7.1 in
16–18 cm
1.1–1.6 oz
30–45 g
Relative Size
Slightly larger than a Downy Woodpecker, smaller than a Hairy Woodpecker.
Other Names
  • Pic de Nuttall (French)
  • Carpintero de Nuttall, Carpintero californiano (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • In 1843 William Gambel named the small black-and-white woodpecker after Thomas Nuttall, an English botanist and ornithologist. Thomas Nuttall was perhaps better known as a botanist, but he also published a pioneering book on birds, A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada. His book and passion for nature also inspired the formation of the first organization in North America dedicated to birds in 1873, the Nuttall Ornithological Club.
  • Although Nuttall's Woodpeckers are nearly confined to oak woodlands, they do not eat acorns.
  • The oldest recorded Nuttall's Woodpecker was a female and at least 8 years, 9 months old when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2006. She had been banded in the same state in 2000.


Open Woodland

Nuttall'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.



Although 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.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.7–1 in
1.9–2.5 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.5–1.7 cm
Incubation Period
14 days
Nestling Period
15 days
Egg Description
White and unmarked.
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless.
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.

Nest Placement


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


Bark Forager

Nuttall'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.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Despite their restricted range, Nuttall's Woodpeckers are fairly common. Populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 600,000 with 99% spending the entire year in the United States and 1% in Mexico. Nuttall's Woodpecker is U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. 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 primary cavity nester, this species is important because it provides nest sites for many other species in these forests.


Range Map Help

View dynamic map of eBird sightings



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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