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White-Headed Woodpecker

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White-Headed Woodpecker - Male

White-Headed Woodpecker - Male

Michael Woodruff

The only North American woodpecker with a white head, the white-headed woodpecker has a bold and distinctive appearance, but can be confused with leucistic individuals of other woodpecker species.

Common Name:

White-Headed Woodpecker

Scientific Name:

Picoides albolarvatus

Appearance:

  • Bill: Straight, black
  • Size: 9 inches long with 17-inch wingspan, large head
  • Colors: Black, white, red
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Males are allover black with a white head and throat. A narrow red patch is visible on the nape, and the hindneck is black. A thin dark eye line extends behind the eye to the hindneck but is not always visible, particularly at a distance. A large white patch is visible on the wings both at rest and in flight. Females have the same colors and markings but lack the red patch on the nape. Both genders have dark eyes.

Foods:

Insects, seeds, berries

Habitat and Migration:

These woodpeckers prefer coniferous forests with strong growths of ponderosa and sugar pines, typically between 4,000 and 9,000 feet elevation. Their year-round range can be found in the northwestern United States, including appropriate habitats in Oregon, Washington, northern and central California and western Idaho. These birds do not migrate, though vagrant sightings are regularly reported outside their range but in the same general area.

Vocalizations:

White-headed woodpeckers have a short, sharp, rattling call with a high pitch. Their drumming is a rapid tempo with short bursts.

Behavior:

These birds are typically solitary but may be found in pairs, particularly during the breeding season. They forage by gleaning insects from the bark of trees and will wedge bark away from the tree's trunk to access insects. They will also forage on cones, and may perch upside down or sideways while feeding.

Reproduction:

These cavity-nesting birds are monogamous and both parents work together to incubate a brood of 2-8 eggs for 13-14 days. After hatching, both parents will continue to care for the altricial young for an additional 24-26 days. Only one brood of hatchlings is raised by a mated pair each year.

Attracting White-Headed Woodpeckers:

These woodpeckers may visit backyards with the appropriate habitat, including dead trees and both sugar and ponderosa pines, particularly if insecticide use is minimized in order to preserve food sources. They will also visit suet feeders where available.

Similar Birds:

  • Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Photo – White-Headed Woodpecker – Male © Michael Woodruff
Photo – White-Headed Woodpecker – Female © Michael Woodruff

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