Nuttall's Woodpecker

Dryobates nuttallii

  • Version: 2.1 — Published September 10, 2018
  • Peter E. Lowther, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten

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Figure 1. Distribution of Nuttall's Woodpecker.
Male Nuttall's Woodpecker.

Small black-and-white woodpecker found primarily in the oak woodlands of California and Baja California. Sexes alike, except male has forehead black becoming streaked with white on center of crown and entirely red on rear crown and upper nape, while female has these areas entirely black with some white streaking.

© Stephen Fettig , California , United States , 26 December 2016

“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 (1: 1001)

This woodpecker named in 1843 by William Gambel for his mentor, the famous British naturalist Thomas Nuttall (2), is closely associated with the oak woodlands of California. Its distribution extends from the northernmost reaches of California south to northern Baja California. A small black-and-white woodpecker with a barred back, the Nuttall's Woodpecker is quite similar in overall appearance to the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris). For the most part, however, the ranges of the two 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 (3, 4) provided a general overview of the life history of the species, but sample sizes of reported observations were often small. Remarkably little has been published on nesting biology; e.g., clutch-size information comes primarily from egg collections; data on incubation period is available for only one nest; and measures of hatching success and nestling growth are unknown. Many aspects of this species' nesting biology and behavior are undoubtedly similar to other Dryobates woodpeckers, especially the Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but study is needed to confirm this.

Recommended Citation

Lowther, P. E., P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2018). Nuttall's Woodpecker (Dryobates nuttallii), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.