11 Woodpeckers of Arizona

11 Woodpeckers of Arizona

Arizona is a state known for its arid climate, rugged landscapes, and diverse wildlife. Among the many different types of birds that call Arizona home, the woodpeckers stand out as some of the most fascinating and charismatic.

These avian creatures are known for their unique ability to excavate holes in trees and other wooden structures using their powerful beaks.

The woodpeckers of Arizona boast a wide range of physical features and behaviours, from the brightly coloured Gila woodpecker to the elusive and rare Arizona woodpecker.

Beyond their striking appearances, woodpeckers also play a vital role in maintaining the health of the ecosystems in which they live, serving as seed dispersers and insect controllers.

In this article, I will explore the various woodpecker species found in Arizona, their breeding behaviours, diets and conservation status.

1. Downy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
  • Life span: 2-5 years
  • Size: 6-7 inches
  • Weight: 1 oz
  • Wingspan: 13 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Downy Woodpecker is a diminutive avian commonly sighted in many regions across North America, including Arizona. This feathered creature boasts a distinctive head pattern composed of black and white stripes, alongside a short, chisel-shaped bill.

During the flight, one can observe the Downy Woodpecker’s black dorsal feathers, white ventral feathers, and a white marking on its wings. Notably, this bird species plays a crucial role in sustaining the forest ecosystem by moderating insect populations and facilitating the dissemination of tree and plant seeds.

Given its animated movements, observing this particular avian is a source of great pleasure for many individuals.

A Downy Woodpecker sitting on a log

The Downy Woodpecker is renowned for its capacity to create nesting cavities. The woodpecker pairs, both male and female, cooperate in the process and employ their sturdy beaks to chisel away at the wood until a suitable site is formed. The nest cavity is typically lined with soft materials such as wood chips for the chicks’ comfort.

The Downy Woodpecker mostly eats insects such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars, which it finds by tapping on tree bark. It also drinks sap by poking holes in trees and shrubs and sometimes eats fruits, nuts, and seeds from plants like palmetto, elderberry, and pine cones.

Although some areas have seen a decline in the Downy Woodpecker population due to the loss and destruction of their habitats, the species is still considered “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

Efforts have been made to protect the bird and its habitats, including preserving and restoring critical areas, managing and removing invasive species, and encouraging sustainable forestry practices.

2. Hairy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides villosus
  • Life span: 5-10 years
  • Size: 7-10 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 16-20 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Hairy Woodpecker is an autochthonous Arizona species that features a distinctively patterned coat of black and white plumage, a lengthy chisel-shaped bill, and a singular personality.

It can be observed in a diverse range of habitats, from the woodlands of Alaska to the residential areas of Mexico, and has a reputation for visiting bird feeders. The species is celebrated for its extraordinary tree-drumming skills and its adeptness at excavating insects from the depths of tree trunks, making it a popular bird among bird enthusiasts and home-based bird observers.

The Hairy Woodpecker sitting in a tree

The Hairy Woodpecker is a bird that excavates a nest inside a cavity, which can be located in either a tree or a wooden structure. Both male and female woodpeckers participate in digging the nest, utilizing their beaks to extract wood until an ideal location is found.

The nest is typically furnished with soft materials, such as wood chips, and occasionally with human-made materials, including cigarette filters, clothing fragments, and foam.

The Hairy Woodpecker’s diet is primarily composed of insects, like beetles, ants, and caterpillars, which it forages by pecking at tree bark and other wooden surfaces. It also ingests sap from trees and shrubs and feeds on various fruits, nuts, and seeds.

While the Hairy Woodpecker is widespread throughout North America, including Arizona, habitat loss and degradation have led to a decline in some populations. Nonetheless, efforts are in place to conserve and safeguard this species and its habitats. As of now, the IUCN has designated the Hairy Woodpecker as “Least Concern.”

3. Northern Flicker

  • Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
  • Life span: 5-8 years
  • Size: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 14-16 inches
  • Status: Least concern

The Northern Flicker, a large woodpecker species, boasts a distinct appearance that sets it apart from other birds. You can spot this type of animal all over North America, from Alaska to Mexico.

They’re found in all sorts of places like forests, parks, and even suburban areas. The bird’s eye-catching features include boldly patterned underparts, a brownish-red back and wings, and a black bib and red nape patch.

The Northern Flicker possesses a long, straight beak and is known for its adaptability, consuming a variety of food sources like insects, seeds, and fruits. Its lively and dynamic behaviour, as well as its drumming, calls, and displays, have earned it a special place among bird enthusiasts.

A Northern Flicker sitting on a moss-covered branch

The Northern Flicker is a bird species renowned for its exceptional nesting behaviour, whereby it creates cavities in trees or other substrates.

This adaptable bird often selects decaying or dead trees for nesting, but will also utilize human-made structures such as fence posts or utility poles. Northern Flickers are also recognized for their drumming, where they rhythmically tap their beaks on hard surfaces for communication and to attract mates.

This bird’s diet is diverse, consisting of both animal and plant material. They search for insects, on the ground and in trees, as well as fruits, berries, and nuts from various trees. In winter, when insects are scarce, they obtain sap from trees using their long tongues.

The Northern Flicker is classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, and its population is estimated to range between 10 and 20 million individuals. Although some subspecies have been impacted by habitat loss resulting from deforestation and urban development, the bird has adapted well to human-modified landscapes, even expanding its range into urban areas.

Efforts to conserve the Northern Flicker concentrate on preserving and restoring natural habitats, as well as providing suitable nesting and foraging locations. This will ensure the survival of this fascinating bird, which has captivated many with its unique behaviours and remarkable appearance.

4. Acorn Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
  • Life span: 9-17 years
  • Size: 7-9 inches (18-23 cm)
  • Weight: 3-5 oz (85-140 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-17 inches (33-43 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

These magnificent birds are a sight to behold, with their striking black and white plumage and bold red crown. Found primarily in western North America, these woodpeckers inhabit a range that extends from Oregon all the way down to Panama.

But what really sets the Acorn Woodpecker apart is their habit of hoarding acorns – these feathered friends will gather thousands of acorns and store them away in communal granaries, where they can be accessed by the whole family throughout the year.

It’s quite the sight to see these busy birds flying back and forth, carrying acorns in their beaks or wedging them into tree bark for safekeeping.

An Acorn Woodpecker sitting on a dead tree trunk

The Acorn Woodpecker is a fascinating species that exhibits some unique nesting behaviours. They are cavity nesters, meaning they will excavate holes in trees to make their homes.

However, they don’t just make one nest – they create communal nesting sites with multiple entrance holes, where several family members will live together. These communal nests can be quite elaborate, with dozens of holes and even separate compartments for storing food. Watching these busy birds flit in and out of their nests is a treat for any birdwatcher.

As for their diet, the Acorn Woodpecker is primarily a granivore, meaning they eat seeds and nuts. As their name suggests, they have a particular fondness for acorns and will go to great lengths to store them for when times are tough.

In addition to nuts, they will also eat insects, fruits, and even the sap of trees. Their varied diet allows them to thrive in a range of habitats, from oak woodlands to deserts.

In Arizona, the Acorn Woodpecker has historically faced some challenges. Habitat loss and fragmentation have threatened their populations, as has the spread of non-native tree species that don’t provide suitable nesting sites or food sources.

However, conservation efforts have been underway to protect these birds. On a global scale, the Acorn Woodpecker is seen as “Least Concern” by IUCN.

5. Red-Naped Sapsucker

  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
  • Life span: 7-8 years
  • Size: 7-8 inches (18-21 cm)
  • Weight: 1-1.6 oz (28-45 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-16 inches (34-41 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

These energetic woodpeckers are found across western North America, from Alaska down to Mexico. With their bold black-and-white striped faces, their red nape (the back of their neck), and their speckled black and white wings, they’re an eye-catching species that never fails to delight.

Interestingly, these sapsuckers are named after their habit of drilling small holes in trees to sap out the sweet, sticky liquid.

The Red-Naped Sapsuckers have a special adaptation on their tongues that allows them to lap up sap from these tiny wells.

Red-Naped Sapsucker

When it comes to nesting, Red-naped Sapsuckers are rather particular. They prefer to nest in deciduous trees with a clear line of sight to the surrounding area, which allows them to keep a close eye on any potential predators or competitors.

Once they’ve found a suitable tree, the male will drill a series of small holes in the bark, while the female constructs the actual nest within the cavity. These birds are fiercely protective of their young and will go to great lengths to ensure their safety.

As their name suggests, the Red-naped Sapsucker subsists primarily on sap, which they extract from their signature small holes in trees. But that’s not all they eat – they’re also known to consume insects, fruit, and even pollen!

To obtain enough protein to sustain their active lifestyle, these birds supplement their sap diet with insects and other small prey. Interestingly, their sap wells can also attract other animals, such as hummingbirds and other small birds, which will occasionally feed on the sweet liquid.

In Arizona, the Red-naped Sapsucker is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. While their populations in the state are stable, the birds face threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as climate change.

However, conservation efforts have been put in place to protect and preserve their natural habitats, including the use of prescribed fires to mimic natural wildfire patterns and promote healthy forest ecosystems and are thus considered “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

6. Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides scalaris
  • Life span: 7-8 years
  • Size: 6-7.5 inches (15-19 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.6 oz (25-45 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-15 inches (33-38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker is a small but mighty bird found throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico. These handsome birds are named for their distinctive black and white striped backs, which resemble the rungs of a ladder.

With their red caps and bold facial markings, they’re easy to spot in the desert scrub and mesquite woodlands they call home. Did you know that Ladder-backed Woodpeckers have a unique drumming pattern that sets them apart from other woodpeckers?

A Ladder-Backed Woodpecker sitting in a dead tree

When it comes to nesting, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are true do-it-yourselfers. These resourceful birds excavate their own nesting cavities in the trunks of dead or dying trees, using their sharp bills to carve out a cozy home for their young.

They’re also known for their unique drumming patterns, which they use to communicate with each other and mark off their territories.

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are true omnivores, and their diet varies depending on the season and their location. They consume insects, fruits, seeds, and even small reptiles and mammals, making them important players in their ecosystems. Interestingly, these woodpeckers have a special adaptation in their tongue that allows them to reach deep into crevices to extract hidden insects.

In Arizona, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are considered a species of conservation concern due to habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human development. On a global scale, however, the IUCN has placed this bird on their Red List as “Least Concern.”

7. Gila Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes uropygialis
  • Life span: 7-8 years
  • Size: 8-9 inches (20-23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.5-3 oz (70-85 g)
  • Wingspan: 14-17 inches (36-43 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Gila Woodpecker is a bird species commonly found in the arid regions of the southwestern United States, including Arizona. They have a distinctive appearance, featuring black and white striped wings and a striking red cap on their head.

Interestingly, Gila Woodpeckers are known for their unique nesting habits, which involve excavating their own cavities in saguaro cacti or other trees.

A Gila Woodpecker peeing out from a hole in a cactus

When it comes to nesting behaviour, Gila Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, excavating their own nesting cavities in saguaro cacti or other tree species. In fact, their preference for nesting in saguaros has even led to the creation of specialized nesting boxes that mimic the shape and size of a saguaro cavity.

In terms of diet, Gila Woodpeckers are opportunistic feeders, consuming a wide variety of insects, fruits, and seeds. They are also known to create sap wells in trees, similar to the American Three-toed Woodpecker, in order to feed on the sugary sap that attracts insects.

Conservation efforts for the Gila Woodpecker focus on protecting their habitat and promoting the conservation of saguaro cacti, which are crucial nesting sites for this species. Despite their relatively stable populations, Gila Woodpeckers face threats from habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture, as well as competition for nesting sites from invasive bird species.

8. Williamson’s Sapsucker

  • Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
  • Life span: 5-6 years
  • Size: 7.5-8.5 inches (19-22 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-2 oz (45-55 g)
  • Wingspan: 13-15 inches (33-38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Williamson’s Woodpecker is a stunning bird species found in the southwestern United States, including Arizona. With their striking black and white plumage, bright red cap and throat, and long chisel-like beak, these woodpeckers are a true sight to behold.

One fun fact about Williamson’s Woodpeckers is that they are known to use natural drumming sites, such as hollow snags or dead branches, to communicate with each other using unique patterns of drumming.

A Williamson’s Sapsucker sitting in a coniferous tree

Williamson’s Woodpeckers are cavity nesters and will excavate their own nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees. The nest is usually a simple chamber with little or no lining, and the entrance hole is just big enough to allow the bird to enter and exit.

The excavation of a nesting cavity can take up to several weeks and is often used for multiple breeding seasons. The birds will typically lay 3 to 4 eggs, and both parents will take turns incubating them.

The Williamson’s Woodpecker has a varied diet that includes insects, fruits, and seeds, as well as occasionally taking small vertebrates such as lizards or tree frogs. They have also been observed using their long tongues to extract nectar from flowers. The birds will use their chisel-like bills to drill holes in tree bark, and then use their long, sticky tongues to extract insects from the holes.

Although the Williamson’s Woodpecker is not currently considered a species of concern, habitat loss due to urbanization and other human activities could potentially impact their populations in the future. In the past, the birds were hunted for their striking black-and-white feathers, which were used in the millinery trade to decorate hats.

Today they are seen as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

9. Gilded Flicker

  • Scientific name: Colaptes chrysoides
  • Life span: 6-7 years
  • Size: 11-12 inches (28-31 cm)
  • Weight: 3.6-5 oz (102-145 g)
  • Wingspan: 20-21 inches (51-53 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Gilded Flicker is a striking woodpecker found in the American Southwest and Mexico. Their bright yellow underwings and spotted chests make them a unique sight in the desert landscape. Interestingly, they are one of the few woodpeckers that prefer to forage on the ground for insects, rather than in trees. In addition, they are known for their loud, fast drumming during mating season.

A Gilded Flicker sitting on top of a large cactus

Gilded Flickers usually nest in cavities, which are often excavated in saguaro cacti, mesquite trees, or other types of trees. They will also use abandoned woodpecker holes or nest boxes. Males will help with nest excavation and incubation of eggs, and both parents share in feeding and caring for the young.

Gilded Flickers are primarily insectivorous and their diet includes ants, beetles, termites, and other insects. They will also eat fruits, berries, and nuts. Unlike other woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers do not commonly feed on tree bark but rather on the ground or the surface of trees.

The Gilded Flicker is generally considered to be a species of least concern, but their populations are declining in some areas due to habitat loss, drought, and competition with other birds for nest sites. They are perceived as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

10. Arizona Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Picoides arizonae
  • Life span: 6-7 years
  • Size: 6-7 inches (15-18 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1-1.6 oz (32-45 g)
  • Wingspan: 12-14 inches (30-36 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

This striking bird is a resident of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its appearance is a feast for the eyes, with a bold black and white barred pattern on its back and wings, contrasted with a bright red crown and nape.

The Arizona Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird with a stocky build and a chisel-like bill that’s perfect for drumming on trees. Unlike some other woodpecker species, which prefer to live in open forests or woodlands, the Arizona Woodpecker thrives in shaded canyons and riparian habitats.

These birds are experts at navigating the complex landscape of desert oases and hidden water sources, making them a true icon of the American Southwest.

An Arizona Woodpecker sitting at a birdfeeder

The Arizona Woodpecker is a fascinating species with unique nesting behaviours. They are cavity nesters, which means they excavate their own nesting holes in dead or decaying trees.

These holes are usually located in the trunks or branches of trees and are lined with wood chips. Once they’ve excavated their nest, they’ll defend it fiercely against predators and other birds.

When it comes to diet, the Arizona Woodpecker is omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Their diet consists of insects, seeds, fruits, and sometimes even small reptiles or mammals.

They are known for their remarkable ability to extract insects from under tree bark, a skill that requires a sharp eye and a steady beak.

Despite their adaptability, the Arizona Woodpecker is facing some threats. Habitat loss and fragmentation caused by urbanization and development, as well as climate change, are affecting their populations. However, conservation efforts have been put in place to protect these iconic birds.

These include measures such as habitat restoration, predator control, and public awareness campaigns, and they are seen as “Least Concern” by the IUCN today.

11. Lewi’s Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
  • Life span: 9-10 years
  • Size: 10-11.5 inches (25-29 cm)
  • Weight: 3.9-5 oz (110-140 g)
  • Wingspan: 26-30 inches (66-76 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Lewi’s Woodpecker is found exclusively in the western United States, from California to Colorado, this woodpecker boasts an unmistakable appearance.

Its striking black and rosy-pink plumage, highlighted by a bright green iridescence on its back, is sure to catch the eye of any nature lover. But here’s the kicker – the Lewi’s Woodpecker is known for its aerial acrobatics, catching flying insects mid-air like a skilled trapeze artist!

A Lewi’s Woodpecker sitting on a branch

The Lewi’s Woodpecker is a cavity nester, typically excavating its nesting holes in dead or decaying trees, but they also use abandoned woodpecker cavities or natural tree cavities. They are also known to be social nesters, with multiple pairs sometimes nesting in the same area.

When it comes to diet, the Lewi’s Woodpecker is an opportunistic feeder, consuming a variety of insects, nuts, berries, and even carrion. They are also skilled at catching flying insects mid-flight, a unique hunting technique that sets them apart from other woodpecker species

Like many bird species, the Lewi’s Woodpecker faces threats to its populations due to habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as climate change. However, conservation efforts are underway to protect these birds. The Nature Conservancy has established habitat protection and restoration projects in areas where the Lewi’s Woodpecker is found. Additionally, public awareness campaigns have been implemented to promote responsible land management practices and to educate the public about the importance of protecting these iconic birds.

Where to look for Woodpeckers in Arizona

If you’re interested in spotting woodpeckers in Arizona, there are many great places to explore. To find these birds, look for habitats that provide a suitable environment for their nesting and feeding needs. Forested areas with mature trees, especially those that are dead or decaying, are ideal locations for spotting woodpeckers since they often use them for their nests and places to find food.

Coconino National Forest is one of the best areas in Arizona to look for woodpeckers. This vast forest covers over 1.8 million acres and is home to a variety of woodpecker species, including the Northern Flicker and Lewis’s Woodpecker.

The Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona are another great location for spotting woodpeckers. This mountain range is home to a variety of woodpecker species, including the Arizona Woodpecker and the Gila Woodpecker.

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is also an excellent place to find woodpeckers in Arizona. Covering over 2 million acres, this forest is home to many woodpecker species, including the Hairy Woodpecker and Acorn Woodpecker.

Last, but certainly not least are the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona. This mountain range is home to many woodpecker species, including the Northern Flicker and Red-Naped Sapsucker.

To increase your chances of spotting woodpeckers, visit these areas during the early morning or late afternoon when woodpecker activity is highest.

Listen for their distinct drumming sounds and watch for movement in the trees. With some patience and a bit of luck, you can observe these fascinating birds in their natural habitats.


In Arizona, a diverse array of woodpecker species can be found, each with its own distinct preferences for habitat and behaviour.

Despite climate-related disruptions having relatively little impact on woodpeckers compared to other bird groups, the population of some species has suffered due to deforestation and human activities like urbanization and agriculture.

Fortunately, there has been an increasing awareness of this issue, and conservation efforts are underway to safeguard woodpecker habitats. With concerted action, it is hoped that woodpecker populations in Arizona can recover and thrive once again.

Woodpeckers are a true joy to encounter while walking in the woods, whether sight or sound. They add to the experience of being in nature, and I personally find their presence to be a delightful aspect of these birds.

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