There are as many as 22 species of woodpeckers in North America and you can find 12 of those woodpeckers in Arizona. In this article we’ll take a look at each species and touch on where and when you might spot one in Arizona. At the end of the article I will also give you a few tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
12 types of woodpeckers in Arizona
The 12 species of woodpeckers in Arizona are the Lewis’s Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and the Gilded Flicker.
In the following list, we’ll learn a little about each one of Arizona’s woodpeckers!
1. Acorn Woodpecker
Length: 7.5-9.1 in
Weight: 2.3-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.8-16.9 in
Acorn Woodpeckers have a very limited range in North America, and can only be found in parts of Central and Eastern Arizona. You can find them in oak or pine-oak forests where they eat acorns and a number of different insects. Like mosts species of woodpecker they will at least occasionally visit suet feeders, but are more rare to than maybe a Downy.
They’re known for drilling holes in trees called granaries and storing nuts in theme, as many as 50,000 nuts in some cases. They jam them into these holes so tightly that other animals are unable to remove them. They are obviously storing this food for a later date when food is more scarce. They’ll also fiercely guard these food caches from anything that tries to steal from them.
2. Red-naped Sapsucker
Length: 7.5-8.3 in
Weight: 1.1-2.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.1-16.9 in
The Red-naped Sapsucker can be found in Southern and Western Arizona in the Winter, and in the rest of the state during the breeding months (Spring and Summer). They are very closely related to Yellow-bellied’s and were even thought to be the same species until 1983 when researchers discovered they were in fact two different species.
Like other sapsuckers, they drink sap from trees like aspen, birch, or pine trees, but also feed on insects. Look for them early in the breeding season (mid-May), and early in the morning when they are most active. Neat rows of holes in a sap-producing tree is a good indicator that a sapsucker is in the area.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
You can find these tiny woodpeckers in Northeast Arizona all year long since they do not migrate. They are very common throughout almost all of the U.S. and are the smallest species of woodpeckers in Arizona as well as North America. Downy Woodpeckers are also very common at bird feeders many times being the first to visit a new feeder. They love suet but also eat a variety of seeds like sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts.
They’re only about the size of a sparrow and can be identified by their white spots on their backs and white underbellies. Males also will have a red patch on top of their heads.
4. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 0.7-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 13.0 in
Look for Ladder-backed Woodpeckers from late January to March when they are pairing up for breeding and more active. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are found mostly in parts of Central and Southern Arizona. They aren’t commonly seen at suet feeders but they will readily eat mealworms, peanut butter, and black oil sunflower seeds when offered.
They commonly nest in dead trees, so if you want to attract a pair leave those dead trees in your yard alone. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers were once known as “Cactus Woodpeckers” because they often prefer living in deserts and thorn forests where cacti are present.
5. Hairy Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
You may be wondering if you’re looking at another Downy Woodpecker in this picture. The answer is no, but they sure do look alike. Hairy Woodpeckers are found throughout most of Arizona, though less common in southwestern parts of the state near the border to California.
These woodpeckers are significantly larger than Downy’s and have a noticeably larger beak. Other than that they are difficult to tell apart and are very similar in all ways. I have found them to be less common at bird feeders overall.
6. Northern Flicker
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Northern Flickers are found in some capacity in most of North America, and all of the United States. In Arizona they have a winter range in the Southwest parts of the state, but year-round in all the rest of the state.
These large woodpeckers are between the size of a Hairy and a Pileated Woodpecker. In my opinion they are among some of the most colorful birds in North America and I love catching a glimpse of one in my yard.
Northern Flickers are different from other woodpeckers in that they usually hunt for their food on the ground and not in trees. they can commonly be seen picking through dirt and leaves looking for insects.
7. American Three-toed Woodpecker
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in
Aside from a few other states in the west northwest, Arizona is actually one of the few states that the American Three-toed Woodpecker can be found. They are pretty rare in the state, and only found in the Winter in a thin strip in Central Arizona. They prefer damaged, old growth forests with lots of dead or even burned trees where they can extract insect larvae and mine for bugs easily.
The majority of woodpeckers have 4 toes, or Zygodactyl toes. However as the name suggests, these woodpeckers have just 3 toes. It is believed that the Three-toed Woodpecker is able to lean back further and strike a more powerful blow to its target because of the leverage having just 3 toes affords it.
Overall these woodpeckers are not common in the U.S. and are not often seen at feeders, if at all.
8. Gila Woodpecker
Length: 8.7-9.4 in
Weight: 1.8-2.8 oz
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
This next species is actually quite common in Southern Arizona, but found in almost no other states in the country. The Gila Woodpecker is famous for its ability to survive in treeless desert habitats in Southeastern states such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico. They excavate their nests in the saguaro cactus, one of the only living trees in the arid regions they live in. In these large cacti they get just about everything they need to survive including food and shelter.
After Gila Woodpeckers have moved on, their holes are taken over by any number of birds including American Kestrels, Elf Owls, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Purple Martins, Cactus Wrens, and Lucy’s Warblers. source
In appearance they look very similar to their cousin to the east, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, but they are quite different in many ways. though they are somewhat rare and have a limited range, they can be attracted to feeders with all the usual woodpecker food, like suet.
9. Williamson’s Sapsucker
Length: 8.3-9.8 in
Weight: 1.6-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 17 inches
Williamson’s Sapsuckers are only found in a handful of midwestern states, Arizona being one of them. They have a breeding-only range to the northeast, so look for them in the warmer months there when they are pairing up to mate. In Central and Southeastern, Arizona they have a Winter range. William’s Sapsuckers winter southward from Colorado and Utah into Arizona and then Mexico.
They feed primarily on the sap of coniferous trees, extracting it by drilling sapwells. Sapsuckers also feed on a variety of insects.
Uncommon in backyards, Williamson’s Sapsuckers are primarily found in the forests of the Rocky Mountains and westward from there. They roost in natural or excavated cavities and prefer nesting in a larger, older trees.
10. Gilded Flicker
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.9 in
Like the Gila Woodpecker, one of the few states that the Gilded Flicker lives in is Arizona. However they are common in most of the state, aside from Northeastern Arizona where they are not really found. They are most common in the saguaro cactus forests of the Sonoran Desert. Because this species has such a tiny range, not as much is known about the bird as is there is with the Northern Flicker who is very common throughout much of the United States.
The two species, The Northern Flicker and the Gilded Flicker, look very similar in appearance. However the Gilded Flicker has the golden yellow tail feathers that you can see a glimpse of in the above picture. They are not listed as endangered as of yet, but their population has been steadily declining over the years.
11. Lewis’s Woodpecker
Length: 10.2-11.0 in
Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz
Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in
Lewis’s Woodpeckers aren’t extremely common in Arizona, but you can find them at different times of year throughout most of the state. They tend to stay in pine forests and forests that have been burned, but their populations are often unpredictable. Especially after breeding season when they travel around looking for stores of acorns and nuts. They take these foods and store them in crevices to last them throughout the winter.
Unlike a lot of other woodpeckers, Lewis’s Woodpeckers mostly feed by catching insects in midair. They have broad, rounded wings that gives their flight a graceful, crow-like quality. Their coloration is also unique and features a pink belly, red patch on the face, and a dark, iridescent green on their back and wings.
12. Arizona Woodpecker
Length: 7.1-7.9 in
Weight: 1.2-1.8 oz
Wingspan: 14.2 in
The Arizona Woodpecker is only found in 2 states in the U.S., Arizona and New Mexico. In both states these woodpeckers only have the tiniest range in the Southern corners of the states. There is a long population strip going through Central Mexico where these woodpeckers live year round, the northernmost tip of it just barely enters the U.S. in Arizona and New Mexico.
You’ll have the best chance of spotting one of these guys between March and May, this is when both sexes are most vocal during the breeding season. Arizona Woodpeckers feed on various insects, larvae, nuts, berries, and other typical woodpecker food. They live in mature pine-oak forests and nest in excavated cavities in dead wood.
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How to attract woodpeckers
For many of us, attracting woodpeckers to our feeders or yards is something we love. They are quite as commonly seen as chickadees, titmice, or cardinals and add a bit of excitement. However they are harder to spot and also harder to attract. Here are some tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
- Offer food they like – Many types of woodpeckers are known for visiting bird feeders. Consider putting up a suet feeder as well as offering black sunflower seed. Be sure to get a suet feeder with a tail prop area that will help attract larger woodpeckers.
- Leave dead trees alone – Woodpeckers love dead and dying trees that are easy to bore holes in and have plenty of insect larvae for them to eat.
- Put up nest boxes – Many species of woodpeckers will use nest boxes. Pileated woodpeckers have a history of using nesting boxes from May to July.
- Plant native fruit bearing plants and trees – Woodpeckers may sometimes relish fruits and berries such as dogwood, serviceberry, tupelo, mountain ash, strawberry, cherry, grapes, bayberry, holly, blueberries, apples, mulberry, brambles, and elderberries.
- Don’t forget the water – Woodpeckers will use bird baths like any other birds so have a water source available, preferably with a water mover or solar fountain to help attract them. Solar fountains with batteries tend to work the best so that the fountain doesn’t stop every time the sun goes behind a cloud.