White-Headed Woodpecker

Dryobates albolarvatus
Range Map

Not much of a traveler, the White-Headed Woodpecker lives in mountain areas of western USA in areas dominated by mixed conifers, where they stay year-round. It is a strategy that seems to work for them, as studies show that their population is stable throughout most of their range. They are found from southern British Columbia into Southern California, and in northeastern Oregon and nearby areas of Idaho.

Discovered at the height of the California Gold Rush, John Cassin first gave these birds the genus of Leuconotopicus (white creeper). Later it was revised to Xenopicus (strange woodpecker), but DNA studies in 2015 revised most of the birds of the genus to Dryobates (tree walker).

Unlike many of their woodpecker cousins, these birds don’t drill deep holes in search of food. Rather, they gently lift bark flakes from the trees in their territory to look for insect prey or they peck at cones to feed on seeds.

My best and most reliable meetings with these birds have occurred near the summit of Santa Rosa Mountain in southern Riverside County (California), but I’ve also met them 30 miles east of Yosemite in the Mono Lake basin.

Taxonomists recognise two subspecies of White-Headed Woodpecker:

  • D. a. albolarvatus lives throughout most of the range for the species, especially in the northern sections. Their range extends from Southern British Columbia south, through the mountains, to Washington, Idaho, Oregon, northwestern California, Colusa County, and along Sierra Nevada in eastern California, and western Nevada.
  • D. a. gravirostris lives in the mountains of southern California, in the San Gabriel, San Jacinto, and Santa Rosa Mountains of southwestern California, extending to San Diego County.

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