Gila Woodpecker Fact File
Wild 10 years
Captive 10 years
The Gila woodpecker is a bird native to the south-west of North America where they inhabit arid areas, forest and shrubland.
As a woodpecker their hard beak is used to peck through wood. In this species this skill is used to create their nest, most often within the trunk of a saguaro cactus. They will hollow this out and then nest inside the next year once it stops leaking sap.
These birds are omnivores feeding on a wide range of items including eggs, small animals, fruit and berries.
No major threats are recognized to this species and their population is currently considered stable.
Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.
Gila woodpeckers are a sexually dimorphic species with males and females able to be distinguished due to the red cap on the head of males.
Both males and females share a similar appearance across the rest of their body. This includes a brown face, pattern of black and white stripes across the back and white patches under the wings visible when in flight.
Protruding from the face is a black, pointed beak used for their namesake wood-pecking habit. Within the head and neck are strong muscles to help absorb the shock of this behavior.
The gila woodpecker has a body which measures 24cm (9.5in) long with a wingspan of 38-45cm (15-18in) across. They weigh 68g (3.5oz).
Gila woodpeckers are omnivores. Their diet includes cactus fruit, birds eggs, lizards, smaller birds, nectar, berries and insects.
Insects are primarily sought from the surface of a tree trunk. It is rare for them to use their beak to probe inside a tree for them.
They will visit backyards to seek supplemental food from feeders.
North America is the native home of the gila woodpecker. Here they can be found in the south west of the United States and down along the west coast of Mexico.
In the United States their range covers parts of California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
They make their home in forest, desert and shrubland. In parts of Mexico they inhabit dry tropical forest. Some may stray in to urban areas.
Their preference for desert areas differentiates them from most other woodpeckers which tend to call wooded areas home.
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To help attract a mate the Gila woodpecker has been recorded banding against metal chimneys or pipes.
Both members of the pair work together to dig the nest which is a cavity within a tree (see behavior section for a more detailed explanation). This is often dug one year and used the next as the inner pulp must harden.
Between April and late May the female Gila woodpecker lays between 3 and 4 white eggs within her nest. These are incubated by both parents for 14 days. After hatching both members of the pair feed the chicks.
Young leave the nest around 4 weeks old and accompany their parents for some time after.
Two to three clutches of eggs can be produced and raised each year.
Nests of the gila woodpecker are built inside a saguaro cactus between the skin and inner rib. Nests may also be built in riparian trees. The tissue of the plant acts as insulation against the extreme temperatures of their desert habitat and the cavity provides a safe space to hide from predators.
Their nest is excavated without damaging the plant which means it continues to bear fruit on which they can feed.
These excavated cavities within trees are known as a “boot.”
In cities they may develop their nest in a building.
After being built by the woodpecker these nests may abandoned and can then be used by owls, kestrels and other birds.
These birds are active by day. The Gila woodpecker will spend its much of its day foraging. During the morning and late afternoon they call and make short flights to drive other woodpeckers from their territory.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the gila woodpecker include bobcats, coyotes, hawks, cats, snakes and foxes.
Studies have indicated that these birds enjoy a stable population with no substantial declines recorded. No major threats to their survival are recorded.
Humans have assisted these birds as they will take sugar water from bird feeders and dog food.
They will visit backyards to take food from bird feeders left out by humans by hummingbirds.
Melissa McMasters from Memphis, TN, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Ken Bosma, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Jackson, T.,2011. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals, Birds & Fish of North America. 1st ed. Leicestershire: Lorenz Books
BirdLife International. 2016. Melanerpes uropygialis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22680853A92882402. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22680853A92882402.en. Downloaded on 19 June 2021.
Dr. Biology. “Gila Woodpecker”. ASU – Ask A Biologist. 13 July, 2017. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/activities/bird/gila-woodpecker
Saguaro National Park Arizona. 2021. Gila Woodpecker. [online] Available at: <https://www.nps.gov/sagu/learn/nature/gila-woodpecker.htm> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
Desertmuseum.org. 2021. Gila Woodpecker Fact Sheet. [online] Available at: <https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Gila%20Woodpecker.php> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
Allaboutbirds.org. 2021. Gila Woodpecker Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. [online] Available at: <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gila_Woodpecker/id> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
DK Find Out!. 2021. DK Find Out! | Fun Facts for Kids on Animals, Earth, History and more!. [online] Available at: <https://www.dkfindout.com/us/animals-and-nature/birds/gila-woodpecker/> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
Audubon. 2021. Gila Woodpecker. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/gila-woodpecker> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
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