Look for the Nuttall’s Woodpecker in California

Head to the Golden State to see these birds. Find out what a Nuttall's woodpecker looks like, what they eat and where they nest.

What Does a Nuttall’s Woodpecker Look Like?

Bnbbyc19 Bob TurnerCourtesy Bob Turner
Male Nuttall’s woodpecker

A Nuttall’s woodpecker measures approximately 7.5 inches long with a 13-inch wingspan. Females lack the red cap, which is positioned on the crown, toward the back of the head. The white belly is speckled with dark spots. Also look for white horizontal stripes across the back.

These birds closely resemble ladder-backed woodpeckers, which have a larger range across the southwestern United States and into Mexico.

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Range and Habitat

309261404 1 Linda Mccann Bnb Pc 2022

These birds are almost exclusively found in oak woodlands throughout California and in the northern part of the Baja peninsula. Rarely a few birds stray into Oregon.

“In late February, I was at Huntington Beach Park enjoying the beauty of the cherry blossoms when I spotted this beautiful male Nuttalll’s woodpecker (above) in the cherry tree. I quickly grabbed my Canon 90D camera with my 18-200 mm lens and took this colorful photo,” says Linda Mccann.

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You might have a tough time attracting these birds to your feeders; you have the best chance if you offer suet. They eat a variety of insects that they pluck from trees, including beetles and ants, as well as berries.

And although they are commonly associated with oak trees, Nuttall’s woodpeckers eat only a small number of acorns. The species is named for British botanist and naturalist Thomas Nuttall, not a nut-eating diet.

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Nesting Habits

nuttall's woodpecker, types of woodpeckersCourtesy Ramouna Minnooeifar
Male Nuttall’s woodpecker

Like their relatives, Nuttall’s woodpeckers are cavity nesters. The male excavates a hole in a live or dead tree, and the female lays three to four white colored eggs that hatch in approximately two weeks. Both parents share the work of feeding and caring for the fledglings, which stay in the nest for about a month.

“My mother has plenty of oak trees in her yard. This male Nuttall’s woodpecker (above) was trying to make a safe nest for himself and his mate. I watched the woodpecker pair for days and took a lot of photos,” says Ramouna Minooeifar of Gold River, California.

What does a baby woodpecker look like?

Call and Sounds

Listen for a sharp pitik sound or a rattling call. You will likely hear the call before you locate the bird.

Next, learn how to identify acorn woodpeckers.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.