In the United States, there are roughly 300 different species of woodpeckers, with around 22 of them being native. I discovered at least 15 different types of woodpeckers in California, out of the 22 species I discovered. As a result, California has more woodpecker species than the rest of the nation.
We’re going to discuss all 15 of California’s species of woodpeckers in this article. We’ll have a photograph of each species, as well as information about where and when you may find it in the state of California, to help you identify it and learn some interesting facts.
When we discuss ways to bring woodpeckers to your yard, make sure you read all the way to the end.
WOODPECKERS IN CALIFORNIA
1. DOWNY WOODPECKER
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
The Downy Woodpecker is a North American woodpecker that can be found virtually year-round throughout the state of California, and it is the tiniest of all woodpeckers. They may be found all the way down the coast to San Diego, though they are more common south of the border. Suet, peanuts, mixed seed, or black sunflower seed are all common feeder attractants and they’re easy to attract.
Downys, along with chickadees and titmice, are constantly among the first to check out my new feeder whenever I put one up in my yard. They are not migratory and can be found all year round.
They hammer away at trees looking for insect larvae and feed on berries and acorns, in addition to frequenting bird feeders. A Downy Woodpecker may be seen drinking nectar from a hummingbird feeder on a regular basis. Nests ofdowny woodpeckers prefer to be built on live trees, either dead or alive.
2. HAIRY WOODPECKER
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
The Hairy Woodpecker, which resembles the Downy in appearance, is next. Unless you can see the difference between them, they can be difficult to discern. They’re shown side by side in the photograph below. On the left is the Downy, and on the right is the Hairy. The Hairy Woodpecker is clearly bigger and has a longer beak than the Downy shot, so the difference in size is difficult to perceive.
Although it is a year-round resident of California, the Hairy Woodpecker is most often seen in Northern California. They can be found across most of the country. They eat all of the same foods as their little brother, the Downy, and are frequently seen at bird feeders. You may have seen them both and assumed they were the same species because you’ve seen them both. A bit more information on the distinctions between a Hairy and a Downy Woodpecker can be found in this piece we published.
3. ACORN WOODPECKER
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.3-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.8-16.9 in
Central and Northern California are home to the Acorn Woodpeckers, but they may be found around the state. They’re hard to miss since no other woodpeckers resemble them, and you’ll find them in pine or oak woodlands. Red, black, and white are their heads. Their underbodies are mostly light, although their chests are black and their backs and wings are black. Their outer wings are also covered in white feathers. The color of the fish is broken up.
The acorn woodpeckers’ behavior when it comes to food is what makes them so fascinating to me. The name Acorn Woodpeckers implies that they do consume acorns, but the fascinating thing about them is what they do with them. These little guys will collect acorns all year and jam them in nooks all around the world, making them difficult to extract for robbers.
When food is scarce, this helps them preserve their reserves. They’ll also have a few nut caches that will be guarded obsessively by members of their buddies or families, who will be on the lookout for thieves all the time. Socially, no other woodpeckers are like this.
4. PILEATED WOODPECKER
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in
The year-round home of Pileated Woodpeckers is in specific regions of Northern California. They are more common in the eastern half of the country and don’t go much further south than the middle of the state. In comparison to other species, such as the Downy, Pileated Woodpeckers are less common at suet feeders.
They are both the biggest and the most common woodpecker species in California and North America. When presented with suet feeders, like other woodpeckers, they readily consume, although they can be difficult to find and attract. I’m still hoping to get a couple of these birds to my yard, but I haven’t seen one at my new home.
If you have any on your land, they prefer dead and decaying trees, and if you build a nest box for them, you may even attract a pair. They drill enormous holes in big trees in mature woods for nesting and prefer them to tiny trees. Carpenter ants are their primary source of food, although they also consume beetle larvae, termites, other insects, fruits, and nuts.
5. NORTHERN FLICKER
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
The backyards of Northern Flickers are a hive of activity, with the birds colorful. They primarily eat ants on the ground, pitting through leaves and dirt with their long tongues and visiting feeders on occasion. They’ll devour ants, as well as berries, sunflower seeds, and thistle, among other things.
They do drum on trees frequently as a form of communication, even though they find their food on the ground. Like most other woodpeckers, they prefer nesting in ancient and rotting trees. The yellow on the tail and red on the back of their necks distinguish Northern Flickers, as do their spotted underbellies. They are bigger than a Hairy Woodpecker but smaller than a Pileated Woodpecker in size. They are significantly bigger than a Hairy Woodpecker.
6. RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER
Length: 7.5-8.3 in
Weight: 1.1-2.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.1-16.9 in
During the breeding season, Northern California is home to red-naped Sapsuckers, who spend the winter in Southern California. They prefer to live in pine, aspen, and willow woodlands, although they may also be found in oak woodlands during the breeding season. Red-naped Sapsuckers, like other sapsuckers, rely on tree sap for the majority of their food. They may be around because of their tiny, regimented rows of sap wells. Other notable identifying features to watch for include their uneven and sluggish drumming, as well as their pointed calls.
Little, sharp bills characterize red-naped woodpeckers, which are medium-sized. Adults have white stripes on their faces and bright red patches on their heads, and are mostly black and white. Their bellies are marked with black and white splotches, as well as a light yellow patch. Males have completely red throats, whereas females have a small white patch on their red throats.
7. LEWIS’S WOODPECKER
Length: 10.2-11.0 in
Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz
Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in
While you may see Lewis’s Woodpeckers at various times of year in varied parts of the state, they are not particularly frequent outside of California. Their populations are often unpredictable, but they prefer to stay in pine forests and woods that have been burned. During the acorn and nut collecting season, they travel about, particularly after mating. These foods are stored in nooks throughout the winter, and they take them in.
Lewis’s Woodpeckers, unlike a number of other woodpeckers, mostly eat insects in the air. Their flight has a graceful, crow-like aspect due to their broad, rounded wings. Their belly is pink, their face has a red patch, and their back and wings are dark, iridescent green. They have a unique coloration that distinguishes them from other species.
8. GILA WOODPECKER
Length: 8.7-9.4 in
Weight: 1.8-2.8 oz
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
The Gila Woodpecker is famous for its ability to survive in treeless desert environments in Southeastern states such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is only found in regions of Southern California and Baja. One of the few surviving trees in the arid environments they inhabit, excavating their nests in the saguaro cactus. They obtain everything they need to live in these huge cacti, including food and shelter.
Any number of birds, including American Kestrels, Elf Owls, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Purple Martins, Cactus Wrens, and Lucy’s Warblers take over the holes left by Gila Woodpeckers after they’ve moved on. The source of the information is the people who were there.
They look a lot like their cousin to the east, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, but they are far from being identical in terms of appearance. These may be attracted to feeders with all the typical woodpecker food, such as suet, despite the fact that they are somewhat uncommon and have a small range.
9. WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER
Length: 8.3-9.8 in
Weight: 1.6-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 13-15 in
Williamson’s Sapsuckers are only found in a few areas around Northern, Central, and Southern California, making them less common than other species. They have a preference for pine and aspen woodlands. Williamson’s Sapsuckers, like other sapsuckers, bore sap wells into trees in order to access the sap supply inside. Williamson’s Sapsuckers do the same as other sapsuckers by boring sap wells into trees. Insects, fruits, and plant cambium are also eaten by them. These birds are mostly quiet, with the exception of their drumming and high-pitched, nasal cries, which are more common during the spring.
Males and femen of Williamson’s Sapsuckers have such significant differences in appearance that they were once believed to be different species. Males have a yellow belly, white patches on their wings, and a bright red throat. They are mostly black in color. Females, on the other hand, have a light brown head with black and white stripes down their bodies.
10. RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER
Length: 7.9-8.7 in
Weight: 1.9-2.2 oz
Wingspan: 14.6-16.0 in
Most of California and the western coast of North America are home to red-breasted sapsuckers, which can be found all year. They prefer coniferous forests, but in the winter, they expand their range to include other trees as well. Because little research has been conducted on the distinctions in behavior, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Red-naped Sapsuckers were long considered to be the same species.
Red-breasted Sapsuckers, with their crimson heads and crimson chests, are a kind of medium-sized woodpecker. The plumage of the remainder of their bodies is black and white. Like other sapsuckers, they forage by drilling tiny sap wells into trees and laping up the tree sap as it flows.
11. BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER
Length: 9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
Black-backed Woodpeckers are most prevalent in Northern California, where they may be found among 1 to 8 years old burnt woodlands. In areas where both kinds of woodpeckers live, black-backed woodpeckers will typically drive away American three-toed woodpeckers, who are the dominant species.
These woodpeckers, which are comparable in size to a Hairy Woodpecker, are mid-sized birds. They have less barring on their back and wings than the Three-toed Woodpecker of North America, although they are similar in color. In woodlands where fires had ravaged the landscape, their solid black plumage aids them blend in with charred trees. These burnt places are home to black-backed woodpeckers, who have been occupying these regions for years and feast on the larvae of wood-boring beetles and other insects.
12. NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER
Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 1.1-1.6 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Northern California, Southern California, and much of central and coastal California are home to Nuttall’s Woodpeckers. These little woodpeckers can only be found in California and the rest of the world, making it the only state. They are, nevertheless, fairly frequent in California and do not pose any danger to humans.
They resemble Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers in terms of appearance. They are only found in California’s Oak woodlands, and you won’t find them anywhere else. If they are nesting nearby, though, you will be able to attract them to your yard by offering suet. Thomas Nuttall, an English naturalist and botanist, is the namesake of these plants.
13. LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER
Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 0.7-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 13.0 in
From late January through early March, when they are pairing up for breeding and are more active, look for Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. They can only be found in Southern California and Baja throughout the year because they do not migrate, thus they are limited to those areas. Although they aren’t often seen at suet feeders, they will eat mealworms, peanut butter, and black oil sunflower seeds readily when offered.
If you want to attract a pair, leave those dead trees alone in your yard. They frequently nest in dead trees. Because they often live in deserts and thorn forests where cacti are abundant, ladder-backed Woodpeckers were once referred to as “Cactus Woodpeckers.”
14. WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.9 in
Throughout the year, White-headed Woodpeckers may be found in a few areas of California, mostly to the north and east, although there are a couple of tiny places in southern California where you may chance upon one. They prefer pine-covered landscapes but are not often found in pine-free woodlands.
Look for woodpeckers in woodlands with a lot of ponderosa, Jeffery, Coulter, and sugar pines since they adore pine seeds and cones. White-headed Woodpeckers, like Black-backed and American three-toed Woodpeckers, prefer to scratch and peel bark from trees rather than drill into them. In order to take advantage of the insects present in burnt woods, they’ll also migrate there.
Except for their bright white heads and white stripes on their wings, White-headed Woodpeckers are about the same size as an American Robin. They have mostly inky black plumage all over. Like other woodpeckers species, mature males have a bright red patch on their heads. They have long wings and tails, as well as a short, pointed beak, when compared to other woodpeckers.
15. GILDED FLICKER
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.9 in
The Gilded Flicker is only found in Southern California and Baja, much like the Gila Woodpecker. They are mostly found near the Nevada-Arizona border in far eastern sections of Southern California. The Sonoran Desert’s saguaro cactus forests are where they are most prevalent. Since this species has a limited distribution, there isn’t as much information about it as there is about the Northern Flicker, which is widely distributed across the United States.
The Northern Flicker and the Gilded Flicker are two species that appear to be identical. The golden yellow tail feathers of the Gilded Flicker, however, may be seen in the above photo for a brief moment. Although they are not yet recognized as endangered, their population has been declining steadily over time.
HOW TO ATTRACT WOODPECKERS
Attracting woodpeckers to our feeders or yards is something we enjoy for many of us. They bring a little excitement to the table and are just as common as chickadees, titmice, or cardinals. They’re also more difficult to see and attract. Some advice on how to entice woodpeckers to your yard is listed below.
- Many kinds of woodpeckers are known for visiting bird feeders, so offer them food they like. Consider stocking black sunflower seed as well as a suet feeder. A suet feeder with a tail prop area that will help attract bigger woodpeckers is a must-have.
- Woodpeckers like dead and dying trees with plenty of insect larvae for them to feed on, so leave dead trees alone.
- Many woodpecker species will utilize nest boxes, which you should install. From May to July, pileated woodpeckers utilize nesting boxes.
- Woodpeckers have been known to like fruits and berries like dogwood, serviceberry, tupelo, mountain ash, strawberry, cherry, grapes, bayberry, holly, blueberries, apples and mulberry.
- Woodpeckers will utilize bird bath like any other birds, so make sure you have a water source accessible, such as one with a water mover or solar fountain to entice them. To avoid the fountain from stopping every time the sun goes behind a cloud, solar fountains with batteries seem to work best.