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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.


Both sexes commonly give a short and high pitched pit to communicate with each other. This short call forms the foundation of two other calls: a double note and a rattle. They give the metallic-sounding double pitit note year-round, but more frequently in the winter and spring. The rattle is made up of 14–45 pit notes strung together and given in rapid succession. They typically rattle from October–May. Nuttall's Woodpeckers also make a harsh shrieking call during courtship that sounds similar to the call of an American Kestrel.


Both sexes rapidly strike trees with their bills, creating a fast, even-paced drumming sound that lasts for about 1 second.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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