Nuttall’s Woodpecker

By Lee Franks

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
The Nuttall’s Woodpecker (picoides nuttallii) is generally similar to and only slightly larger than the Downy, but is readily distinguished by the presence of white/black barring on the back (mid-back pure white on the Downy).


Nuttall’s have similar forage preferences as Downies and will defend their territories just as aggressively as the Downies. While they are often seen foraging in the oaks, acorns make up only a small part of their diet. Insects such as beetles, caterpillars, ants and bugs are sought among the oaks with the most abundant foliage. They creep diagonally as they forage in crevices and underneath bark, often hanging upside down as they probe. While probing, an individual often turns its head from side to side and peers into crevices.


Pairs of Nuttall’s Woodpeckers tend to remain together all year. A new nest cavity is excavated each year, and the work is done mostly by the male of the pair. The nest cavity may be in either a live or dead tree–usually a cottonwood, willow, sycamore, or oak. The cavity is usually 3-35 feet above ground, sometimes higher than that.

There are usually 3-6 eggs, with both sexes sharing incubation duties–the male incubating at night and part of the day, the female during the rest of the day. Incubation takes about 14 days and the young leave the nest about 4 weeks after hatching.

In addition to the characteristics used to identify the Nuttall’s Woodpecker, here are some fascinating facts about woodpecker behavior, anatomy, and feeding habits that are shared by all of the woodpecker species found at Edgewood.


The Nuttall’s Woodpecker has a drumming, rattling, and a pitik call. Examples of these calls can be found here.


The Birds of North America; No 194,1995; No 166, 1995; No 555, 2000.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology; various pubs.

Birds of San Francisco & the Bay Area; Chris Fisher, Joseph Morlan.

This article was originally published in the Edgewood Explorer, December 2002, as part of an article about all of the woodpeckers that can be seen at Edgewood.

Learn More…

Nuttall’s Woodpecker at All About Birds. This guide includes a number of Nuttall’s Woodpecker sounds.

Nuttall’s Woodpecker in the Audubon Field Guide