Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A Nuttall's woodpecker photographed at Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose, California
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Nuttall’s Woodpecker

About the Nuttall's Woodpecker

Endemic to oak and missed woodlands in California and northwestern Baja California, the Nuttall’s is closely related to the ladder-backed. Monotypic. Length 7".


“Ladder-back” pattern; spotted sides; barred flanks; auriculars almost wholly black; uppermost back black. Sexes similar but females lack red patch on nape and hindcrown.

Similar Species

Compared with ladder-backed, Nuttall’s shows more black on face; white bars on back are narrower; more extensive black on upper back below nape; white outer tail feathers sparsely spotted rather than barred. Nuttall’s underparts are purer white below, more cleanly spotted and barred with black; ladder-backed’s underparts are washed with buffy, and markings are finer but often extend across the breast as short streaks. Nuttall’s nasal tufts are usually white (buffy to dusky in ladder-backed). Red of male is restricted on Nuttall’s; in ladder-backed red covers most of crown, but is spotted with black and white on forecrown. Calls differ markedly.


Call: a short, rolling prrt or pitit that may be followed by a longer trill, prrt prrt prrrrrrrrrrrrr; also a loud kweek kweek kweek series. Drum: A steady roll of about 20 taps over a second.

Status and Distribution

Common. Year-round: oak woodlands, mixed oak-conifer and oak-riparian woodlands, and tall dense chaparral; sea level to about 6,000 feet. Small populations extend onto deserts along riparian corridors. Vagrant: a few wander to deserts of south-central California, casually to Imperial Valley; southwestern Oregon, western Nevada.


Generally stable.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006