“A narrow canyon whose floor harbors sycamores and alders and bay trees, nourished by a purling stream, and whose sides are lined with live oaks which run up into ceanothus chaparral, is precisely the best place to look for D. nuttallii.” —William L. Dawson, The Birds of California ( Dawson 1923 : 1001).
This small woodpecker named in 1843 by William Gambel for his mentor, the famous British naturalist Thomas Nuttall ( Mearns and Mearns 1992a ), is confined primarily to the oak woodlands of California. Its distribution ranges into northern Baja California to the south and almost into Oregon to the north. A black-and-white woodpecker with a barred back, Nuttall's Woodpecker is quite similar in overall appearance to the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris). For the most part, however, the ranges of the 2 species do not overlap.
The association of Nuttall's Woodpecker with California oak woodlands has been the emphasis of much of the writing about this species. Other aspects of its biology have received only superficial or incidental attention. The major references for the biology of Nuttall's Woodpecker – Miller and Bock 1972 and Short 1971 – provide a general overview of the life history of the species, but sample sizes of reported observations are often small, as is true for many cavity nesters. Clutch-size information comes primarily from egg collections. The recorded incubation period is available for only 1 nest; measures of hatching success and nestling growth are unknown. Many aspects of this species' nesting biology and behavior are undoubtedly similar to other Picoides woodpeckers, especially the Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but study is needed to confirm this.