Editor’s Note (August 2016): Maps, rich media, and text have been updated to reflect a taxonomic change/split for this species. This species account is still being edited and may contain content from an earlier version of the account.
Many a mile of mountaineering have I undertaken in seeking the home of this elusive carpenter, and my reward to date has been several nests of crying babies. In fact, somewhere in my fieldbook I queried whether or not this bird be viviparous, a creature producing living young instead of eggs!
Arizona Woodpecker is a medium-sized montane woodpecker, and the only North American Picoides that is brown and white rather than black and white. The Arizona Woodpecker is found in mid-elevation pine-oak woodland from southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico south along Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental to Jalisco and then eastward along the southern rim of the Mexican plateau to the state of Michoacán. It is one of 3 dozen or so species of Mexican birds that reach their northern breeding limits in the extreme southwestern United States. Found in drier pine-oak (Pinus-Quercus) and adjacent riparian woodlands, it shares these habitats with the Blue-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae), Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens), Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans), Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myodynastes luteiventris), and numerous other colorful Madrean woodland species.
Woodpeckers are generally not difficult to study, owing in part to their loud calls, drumming, and excavation of nesting cavities. Arizona Woodpecker is an exception, however, and can be difficult to locate, especially while nesting ( Swarth 1904 , Brandt 1951 , Ligon 1968b , RRJ, LTH). It is particularly secretive during egg-laying and incubation, and early searches by egg collectors such as Herbert Brandt were often unproductive (see quote above). Many accounts of the species are anecdotal, and some earlier information was apparently incorrect and has never been authenticated.
The ecology, morphology, and systematics of both Arizona Woodpecker and the formerly conspecific Strickland's Woodpecker (P. stricklandi), were examined by John Davis ( Davis 1965a ). Although the Arizona Woodpecker, especially its northernmost populations, has been relatively well studied compared to Strickland's Woodpecker, neither species has been studied as well as most other Picoides woodpeckers. Data on breeding biology, especially nesting behavior, are still largely lacking.