Arizona Woodpecker

Dryobates arizonae

  • Version: 2.1 — Published September 10, 2018
  • R. Roy Johnson, Lois T. Haight, J. David Ligon, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten

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Figure 1. Distribution of Arizona Woodpecker.
Adult male Arizona Woodpecker.

Medium-sized brown-and-white woodpecker. Upperparts are solid brown, and underparts are variably white with brown spots and streaks. Lower flanks and belly often more-heavily barred. Sexes alike, but male has small red patch on occiput.

© Eric Ellingson , Arizona , United States , 16 February 2017
Adult female Arizona Woodpecker.

Adult female plumage similar to male except nape without red patch.

© Chris Rohrer , Arizona , United States , 6 March 2016

"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!"Herbert Brandt (1951), Arizona and its Bird Life (1).

The Arizona Woodpecker is a medium-sized montane woodpecker, and the only North American Dryobates that is brown and white rather than black and white. The Arizona Woodpecker is found in mid-elevation pine–oak (PinusQuercus) 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 bird species that reach their northern breeding limit in the southwestern United States. Found in drier pine–oak and adjacent riparian woodlands, it shares these habitats with the Blue-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae), Rivoli's Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens), Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans), Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris), and many other 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 (2, 1, 3, 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 (Dryobates stricklandi), were examined by John Davis (4). Although the Arizona Woodpecker, especially its northernmost populations, has received more research attention than Strickland's Woodpecker, neither species has been studied as well as most other Dryobates woodpeckers. Data on breeding biology, especially nesting behavior, are largely lacking.

Recommended Citation

Johnson, R. R., L. T. Haight, J. D. Ligon, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2018). Arizona Woodpecker (Dryobates arizonae), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.