Woodpeckers are interesting birds to watch. Their unique adaptation to be able to drill into trees at high speed without injuring themselves is quite unique! In this article we’ll take a look at the 12 species of woodpeckers in Nevada, and give a little information about where and when you might be able to spot them. At the end of the article we’ll also share a few tips on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard.
12 Species of Woodpeckers in Nevada
Nevada has a high number of woodpecker species, although some of them are only found in very isolated spots. Mountainous areas with pine trees are a great place to look for some, while others have adapted to the hot cactus filled deserts.
The 12 species of woodpeckers in Nevada are the American three-toed woodpecker, downy woodpecker, gila woodpecker, gilded flicker, hairy woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, Lewis’s woodpecker, northern flicker, red-breasted sapsucker, red-naped sapsucker, Williamson’s sapsucker, and the white-headed woodpecker.
1. American Three-toed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.6-2.4 oz
- Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 in
American three-toed woodpeckers are only found in certain pockets of the U.S. In Nevada, they can sometimes be found in Great Basin National Park. 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 rarely seen at backyard feeders.
2. Downy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
- Length: 5.5-6.7 in
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
You can find these tiny woodpeckers everywhere throughout Nevada all year, although they are mostly absent from the southern tip of the state.
They are very common throughout almost all of the U.S. and are the smallest species of woodpeckers in North America. The downy is only about the size of a sparrow, and can be identified by the white spots on their backs, and pure white chest and belly. Males have a red patch at the back of their head.
The downy is the woodpecker species most likely to visit backyard bird feeders. They love suet but also eat a variety of seeds like sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts. You may even see them visiting your hummingbird feeder, where their small beak allows them access to the sugar water.
3. Gila Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes uropygialis
- Length: 8.7-9.4 in
- Weight: 1.8-2.8 oz
- Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 in
The gila woodpecker is found almost exclusively in Arizona and Mexico, however their range does extend to the far southern tip of Nevada. So if you want to spot one, head far south, such as the Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area.
Gila Woodpeckers are famous for their ability to survive in treeless desert habitats. 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, and Cactus Wrens.
In appearance they look very similar to their cousin to the east, the Red-bellied Woodpecker. They have black and white barred wings, a gray head and chest, and males have a red patch on their forehead.
4. Gilded Flicker
- Scientific name: Colaptes chrysoides
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.9 in
In Nevada, the gilded flicker is only found in the deserts at the far southern tip of the state. They are most common in the saguaro cactus forests. Because this species has such a tiny range, not as much is known about it as it’s more common cousin, the Northern flicker.
The gilded flicker has brown wings with black stripes, a black spotted belly, gray head with brown crown, and yellow under their wings. Males have a red “mustache”. They are not listed as endangered as of yet, but their population has been steadily declining over the years.
5. Hairy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates villosus
- 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 often occur in the same areas as downy’s across the U.S. and cause plenty of confusion when you’re trying to identify which is which.
The hairy woodpecker is significantly larger, and has a longer beak relative to its body size than the downy. We have an article here that can help you learn how to tell them apart.
These two woodpeckers are very similar in all ways from habitat to diet. They can be found throughout Nevada all year. The hairy woodpecker tends to be a little more shy of humans, and while they will visit backyard suet feeders, they aren’t as commonly seen as the downy.
6. Ladder Backed-Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates scalaris
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in
- Weight: 0.7-1.7 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0 in
Look for ladder-backed woodpeckers in southern Nevada, south of Las Vegas. They aren’t commonly seen at suet feeders, as they eat mostly insects in the wild. You can try to attract them with mealworms, peanut butter, and black oil sunflower seeds.
The long, horizontal white stripes on their back appear as rungs of a ladder. Their white belly has small black spots. Males have a long red stripe that runs across the top of their head, while females have a black stripe.
The ladder-backed woodpecker commonly nests in dead trees, so if you want to attract a pair leave those dead trees in your yard alone. They were once known as “cactus woodpeckers” because they often prefer living in deserts and thorn forests where cacti are present.
7. Lewis’s Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
- Length: 10.2-11.0 in
- Weight: 3.1-4.9 oz
- Wingspan: 19.3-20.5 in
Lewis’s woodpeckers may be seen throughout Nevada. They spend the breeding season in northern parts of the state, whereas they are seen in the southern tip of the state during the winter months. They tend to stay in pine forests and forests that have been burned, but their populations are often unpredictable.
After breeding season they travel around looking for stores of acorns and nuts, so their fall-winter population often ends up in different locations year-to-year. They take these foods and store them in crevices to last them throughout the winter.
Unlike a lot of other woodpeckers, Lewis’s woodpeckers catch insects in midair. They have broad, rounded wings that gives their flight a graceful, crow-like quality.
Their coloration is also unique considering most woodpeckers have black and white bodies. Lewis’s are quite colorful, with a pink belly, red patch on the face, and a dark, iridescent green on their back and wings.
8. Northern Flicker
- Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
- Length: 11.0-12.2 in
- Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
- Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
These medium to large sized woodpeckers are quite common in backyards throughout the United States. In my opinion they are also among some of the most colorful birds in North America.
Flickers feed mainly on insects and unlike other woodpeckers, often like to find them on the ground rather than trees. Identify them by the black spots on their bellies, solid black bib, barred black and gray wings, and gray head with a brown crown.
Males have a red “mustache” that females do not. In Nevada you get the “red-shafted” variety, and they have bright red feathers on the underside of their wings and tail.
Northern Flickers can be found throughout Nebraska all year, and will sometimes visit backyard suet feeders. If you have some leaf piles in the yard, you may see them digging around for bugs.
9. Red-breasted Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber
- Length: 7.9-8.7 in
- Weight: 1.9-2.2 oz
- Wingspan: 14.6-16.0 in
Red-breasted sapsuckers are found mainly during the non-breeding season in western Nevada, such as around Lake Tahoe. They mostly reside in pine forests that also contain aspen and alder.
Red-breasted sapsuckers are medium sized woodpeckers with solid red heads and red chests. The rest of their bodies are covered in black and white plumage. This all-red head makes them easy to tell apart from other sapsuckers.
They forage the same way other sapsuckers do, by drilling small sap wells into trees in order to lap up the tree sap as it flows.
10. Red-naped Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
- Length: 7.5-8.3 in
- Weight: 1.1-2.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.1-16.9 in
Red-naped sapsuckers are very closely related to yellow-bellied sapsuckers and were even thought to be the same species until 1983. Both males and females have a red forehead, while males have a fully red throat and females have a white throat with red “necklace”.
Like other sapsuckers, they drink sap from trees like aspen, birch, or pine, but also feed on insects. Neat rows of holes in a sap-producing tree is a good indicator that a sapsucker is in the area.
Look for them in northern Nevada only during the breeding season, but in middle and southern Nevada year-round.
11. White-headed Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Dryobates albolarvatus
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.9-2.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.9 in
White-headed woodpeckers are only found in isolated patches in the United States. They favor mountainous pine forests and aren’t typically found in woodlands without pines. In Nevada, they are typically only see in the western corner around Carson City and Lake Tahoe.
These woodpeckers love pine seeds and cones, so look for them in forests with lots of ponderosa, Jeffery, Coulter, and sugar pines. Rather than drill into trees, they prefer to pull and peel the bark. They’ll also flock to burned forests to take advantage of the insects there.
White-headed woodpeckers are about the same size of an American Robin, with mostly inky black plumage all over, except for their bright white heads and white stripes on their wings. Adult Males also have a vibrant red patch on their heads similar to other species of woodpeckers.
12. Williamson’s Sapsucker
- Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
- Length: 8.3-9.8 in
- Weight: 1.6-1.9 oz
- Wingspan: 17 inches
Williamson’s sapsuckers are only found in a few small pockets of Nevada. Sightings have been logged in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Great Basin National Park, Spring Mountain National Rec Area, and Lake Tahoe.
They feed primarily on the sap of coniferous trees, extracting it by drilling sap-wells. Males and females look very different. Males have black backs with bright yellow bellies and a touch of red on the chin. Females have brown heads with black and white striped bodies.
Uncommon in backyards, Williamson’s sapsuckers are primarily found in mountainous forests. They roost in natural or excavated cavities and prefer nesting in a larger, older trees.
Check out these great articles
- Best suet feeders to attract woodpeckers
- How to make your own suet
- Why do woodpeckers peck wood?
- Backyard birds in Nevada
How to Attract Woodpeckers
Those of us who love to watch backyard birds want to attract as many types as possible. While many songbirds are fairly easy to attract with birdseed, woodpeckers can be a little more difficult and enjoy more specific foods. Here are a few tips for what you can do to make your yard a more attractive place for woodpeckers to visit.
- Offer food they like – Many types of woodpeckers are brave enough to visit feeders. While some species will eat seeds and nuts, suet tends to be the best food for attracting woodpeckers. Be sure to get a suet feeder with a tail prop area that will help attract larger woodpecker species.
- 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 – Species such as the northern flicker and pileated woodpecker have been known to use nest boxes.
- 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.
For even more great tips, check this article on how to attract woodpeckers to your yard