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Arizona woodpeckers are a group that tourists ought not miss, especially because the southern part of the state hosts three woodpecker species not seen in other areas of the United States: The Gilded Flicker, the Gila Woodpecker and the Arizona Woodpecker.
Arizona also ranks as one of the most diverse woodpecker states, hosting fourteen difefrent species in four of the five native woodpecker genera. Only the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus) fails to find a home in the state. Of special note, all four of the native sapsucker species have been documented in the state. Here’s the official run down.
Flickers (genus Colaptes) are common back yard birds in Arizona. Throughout the state, the Red-shafted Northern Flicker search the ground for insects in fields and residential areas. The male pictured at the top of the page, is distinguished from the female by the red patch on the cheek.
The Gilded Flicker is Arizona’s second Colaptes species. It’s a regional specialty bird of the Arizona desert. The picture shows the gray face and red mustache of the male and it’s similar to the look of the male Red-shafted Northern Flicker. The yellow wings under the tail resemble the yellow wings of the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker.
They are year round residents of their area and cavity nest in Saguaro cacti or any larger trees in their territory. Like other flickers they are ground foragers. They are also well adapted to residential areas.
Arizona also hosts three of te six native Melanerpes species. The Acorn woodpecker, perhaps the best known Arizona species, inhabits oak groves, where it spends its days gathering acorns. Once gathered, the acorns get stored in tree holes or nearby wooden structures such as fences and telephone poles. Unlike most woodpecker species, both the male and female have a red crown.
Western states provide a very good habitat for a variety of uncommon woodpeckers. Mountains and larger tracks of old growth forest, especially Ponderosa Pine suit the Lewis’s Woodpecker needs.
The picture shows another of the woodpecker’s special features. More than any other native species, the purple to red hue on the feathers of the Lewis’s Woodpecker makes it stand out. The greenish head feathers and gray collar and chest compliment the dark wings and tail.
In the wild, they consume a variety of common insects in their territory, including ants, bees and wasps. The White Mountains and areas around Flagstaff are the best places to look for them.
Southern Arizona and the Saguaro Desert define the Gila Woodpecker territorial boundaries. There is a bit of overflow population in the neighboring states of California and New Mexico.
Saguaro cacti and other large trees in their territory provide ample places for their cavity nests. They tend to eat a variety of insects, fruits and nuts, whatever is in season. Additionally, they are very adaptable birds and readily take to residential areas. That makes it quite easy to entice them to feeders.
Gila Woodpeckers also look different from other Melanerpes species such as the Acorn Woodpecker and Red-headed woodpecker. The picture shows the bird’s rather bland looking tan feathers. The male has a red crown on the top of the head.
The Arizona Woodpecker ranks among the least ranging of all North American woodpecker species. It’s primarily a Mexican species and it spills over the border to Southwest New Mexico and Southeast Arizona.
As the picture shows, it’s also the only native species with brown and white feathers.
When the woodpecker discussion turns to climate, the American Three-toed Woodpecker gets the nod as the most hardy of the native woodpecker species. It breeds farther north than any other American woodpecker.
Physically it resembles the Black-backed Woodpecker, although it’s a bit smaller with a shorter bill. Otherwise, the black and white bars on the back and presence of a yellow crown on the male are similar. Female has solid black crown.
Populations in the far north and high mountains may migrate to the valleys, and on rare occurrences even further south, during the winter. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department,
In Arizona, these woodpeckers occur in higher elevations of the White Mountains, Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, Kaibab Plateau and the Chuska Mountains on the Navaj
North America’s most diverse woodpecker genera, Picoides, records nine separate species. The smallest and most common Picoides, the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) adapts equally well to most wilderness and residential areas with trees.
Physically, the Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker. In instances where size comparisons might not be available, experts suggest examining the bill size in relation to the head size. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills.
Less wide ranging, the Ladder-backed woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) makes its home in a variety of Southwest habitats, from cacti to forest areas. A pattern of striped feathers on the back and spots on the breast provide initial identification marks. Males, like the one in picture two also have a red cap. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers look very similar to Nuttall’s Woodpecker, another Picoides species. However, Nuttall’s are limited to the coastal areas of California.
In that small area where the species overlap, the two species are known to inter-breed.
Everything that is written about the Downy Woodpecker can be written about the Hairy Woodpecker with few caveats. The picture highlights the most important caveat, they have a larger bill than the Downy. Otherwise, the black and white striped face, white belly and back feathers look very similar. Males also have a red crown.
They are a very common species across the United States because they are adaptable to forests and residential areas alike. Look for them at the backyard feeder.
Arizona Woodpeckers: Sapsuckers
While none of the sapsucker species are endemic to Arizona, the presence of all four native sapsucker species says nothing says Arizona woodpeckers like the sapsuckers.
The Red-naped Sapsucker picks up its range where the Red-breasted Sapsucker range ends, the forest areas of the Rocky Mountain region. They are migratory and while some will take to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains during the winter months, many also Sapsuckers winter in Mexico, and central America. When they migrate to the valleys they are often seen in residential areas.
Four sapsucker species (Sphyrapicus) drill their wells in trees from coast to coast. The Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber), pictured above, the West Coast variant, spend their summers in higher elevation forests near rivers and streams. Some populations migrate down to the valleys during winters.
Williamson’s Sapsuckers inhabit the mountain areas of the West, including the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada.
Of special interest is that males and females diverge in their physical appearance. Males, like the one pictured, have distinct black feathers on the head, complimented by white striped and a red throat. Females have brown feathers on the head and and black and white barred feather pattern on the body. Both sexes have yellow bellies.
Like other sapsuckers, they are not typical feeder birds, only occasional.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. It breeds across Canada from Coast to Coast and in the winter returns to most forested areas west of the Rocky Mountains.
Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories. There might be some overlap with the Red-naped Sapsucker territory. The presence of red feathers on the back of the neck differentiates the Red-naped Sapsucker from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
They are not known to be common backyard feeder birds, only occasional.