Nuttall's Woodpecker Life History

Habitat

Habitat 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

Food

Food 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

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest 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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Behavior

Behavior 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

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernDespite 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.Back to top

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.

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Credits

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 no. 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.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Monahan, W. B. and W. D. Koenig. 2006. Estimating the potential effects of sudden oak death on oak-dependent birds. Biological Conservation no. 127 (2):146-157.

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

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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