Woodpeckers in California

Out of the 22 species of woodpeckers in the US, as many as 19 are found in California, making it the state with the most woodpeckers. Another unique feature is that it is the only state where you can find the Nutall’s woodpecker, a small bird measuring 13-16 inches.

Northern and Central California have the downy woodpecker, the smallest in the state, measuring 6.1 inches. It closely resembles the hairy woodpecker, which is larger and most common in the northern part of the state. The hairy woodpecker shares its range with the acorn and pileated woodpeckers – the largest in the state (17.5 inches). On the other hand, the red-naped sapsucker breeds in the same range but winters in Southern California, where it lives alongside the gilded flicker, Gila, and ladder-backed woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers in California (CA)

Different Types of Woodpeckers Found in California

NameIdentifying FeaturesWhere They Are Found in California
Northern FlickerBrown with black spots, red patch on napeCommon in open areas, parks, and woodlands statewide
Acorn WoodpeckerBlack, white, and red head with distinctive facial patternFound in oak woodlands, foothills, and parks
Downy WoodpeckerWhite belly, small size, and white spotsCommon in wooded habitats throughout the state
Gila WoodpeckerBrownish-gray with black-and-white barring on the wingsFound in desert areas and saguaro cactus habitats
Red-breasted SapsuckerRed throat and crown, white belly, and barred backFound in mountainous areas and coniferous forests
Nuttall’s WoodpeckerBlack crown and nape, barred wings with a solid black patch on the upper backCommon in oak woodlands and chaparral habitats
Ladder-backed WoodpeckerLadder-like pattern on back, black crown, and white faceFound in desert and arid regions of the state
Hairy WoodpeckerSimilar to Downy but larger with a longer billCommon in wooded areas and forests across California
White-headed WoodpeckerWhite head and body with black wings and backFound in coniferous forests, especially in mountains
Gilded FlickerYellow underparts, red mustache markOccurs in deserts, scrublands, and open areas
Yellow-bellied SapsuckerBlack and white striped head, yellow bellyOccasional migrant, found in wooded areas
Red-naped SapsuckerSimilar to Yellow-bellied but with red on napeOccasional in mountainous and forested regions
Pileated WoodpeckerLarge size, black with white stripes on faceRarely seen, typically in mature forests
Lewis’s WoodpeckerPinkish-red belly, gray collar, dark faceSporadic, found in open woodlands and mountainous regions
Williamson’s SapsuckerYellow belly and white wing patchOccurs in high mountain forests and coniferous habitats
Black-backed WoodpeckerBlack with white barring on backRarely seen in mountainous regions with dead trees
Eurasian WryneckDistinctive brown and gray mottled patternVery rare, occasional sightings in wooded areas
Red-headed WoodpeckerDistinctive red head and white bellyRarely found in certain wooded areas of California
American Three-toed WoodpeckerBlack and white with three toesOccasional sightings in coniferous forests

Lewis’s woodpecker, Black-backed woodpecker, and Williamson’s sapsucker are some of the rare species inhabiting California. The state has also reported sightings of some accidental species of woodpeckers, such as the Eurasian wryneck, Red-headed, and American three-toed woodpecker.


Q. Are woodpeckers protected in California?

Ans. Yes, woodpeckers enjoy federal protection in California. However, they can become a nuisance in your home. In that case, you can avoid damage to your property by adopting preventive measures when you hear their drumming at close quarters.

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