Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Dryobates nuttallii
Range Map

Barring a small territory in coastal north Baja, the Nuttall’s Woodpecker is a California oak woods specialist, occurring nowhere else. Some authorities still place this bird in the genus Picoides. 

This bird is closely related to the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker who loves desert haunts in the American Southwest. The Nuttall’s Woodpecker prefers areas with oak woodlands. Southeastern San Diego County near Campo is one of the few places where the ranges of these two birds overlap. A close look at the backs and the faces of these birds can help distinguish these two. The facial stripes and the back barring in the Nuttall’s is black dominated, where the Ladder-Backed facial stripes and back bars are more boldly white. Their voices are also different. The Ladder-Backed will issue a “whinny” similar to a Downy Woodpecker where the Nuttall’s version is more a “rattle”, like an abbreviated call of a Belted Kingfisher.

In 2017, while I camped with the science team from the San Diego Natural History Museum in eastern San Diego County, I met both the Ladder-Backed and Nuttal’s Woodpeckers in one of the few places where their ranges overlap. In my southern California hometown, the Nuttall’s Woodpecker is one of the most common woodpeckers I encounter. Only Acorn Woodpeckers outnumber them, but that’s mostly because the Nuttall’s Woodpecker is a solitary bird, where Acorn Woodpeckers always travel in a mob.

Taxonomists regard the Nuttall’s Woodpecker as monotypic (i.e. there are no subspecies).



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