10 Types of Woodpeckers in California (Northern & Southern)

Woodpeckers are among the most intriguing birds you may encounter in your garden, and did you even know California has 15 woodpecker species?

There’s a strong probability that if you do have over than a single woodpecker visiting you, you’re probably hosting many various types!

Although the list below includes all of the common woodpeckers recently discovered in California. It is possible to come across a migrant species of woodpecker that might not be native to the region.

If you happen to witness a stray species, count yourself exceedingly lucky!

The information below may be used for every woodpecker species to identify once you can find any woodpecker in a particular location.

Acorn WoodpeckerAcorn Woodpecker
Black-Backed WoodpeckerBlack-Backed Woodpecker
Downy WoodpeckerDowny Woodpecker
Gila WoodpeckerGila Woodpecker
Gilded FlickerGilded Flicker
Hairy WoodpeckerHairy Woodpecker
Ladder-Backed WoodpeckerLadder-Backed Woodpecker
Lewis’s WoodpeckerLewis’s Woodpecker
Northern FlickerNorthern Flicker
Nuttall’s WoodpeckerNuttall’s Woodpecker

Types of Woodpeckers in California (Northern and Southern California)

1. Acorn Woodpecker

Acorns Woodpecker


The raucous acorn woodpecker is a natural drumming bird, frequently pounding its talons into nearby trees! They got their name from their proclivity to collect and stockpile acorns for their young.

They’ll spend a significant portion of their life seeking and guarding nuts for their offspring to consume.

Acorn woodpeckers enjoy intriguing social lives, frequently selecting to pair with many individuals of the same species over the course of their lifetimes.

The acorn woodpecker is among the few Picidae that does not engage in monogamy. They also seek to protect their nests at any cost.

How to Identify?

Acorn woodpeckers are easily distinguished by their black-and-white color. Males have quite a jumble of red feathers on their own crowns, whereas females have much more black coloration on their foreheads.

Migration Range

Acorn woodpeckers are often found in the southwest, with birds residing in forests as far south as Washington State, California, and even Arizona and Texas.

You might even see a couple out in Colorado, over the Rockies, and then into Nevada unless you’re fortunate.

2. Black-Backed Woodpecker

Black-Backed Woodpecker


The black-backed woodpecker has been a member of the Picidae family, as is the American three-toed woodpecker. But as the names indicate, these birds may be distinguished.

These specific birds have an unusual behavior of attacking dead trees. There is a purpose for all of this: they browse through burned woods in search of unwary invertebrates.

Black-backed woodpeckers usually begin pecking at charred wood for a few weeks once it has been burned. What’s even more amazing is that they can survive on this timber for up to 8 years!

How to Identify?

This Picidae, as the title suggests, has a glossy, black, feathery plumage that might assist it in blending in with darker, burned woodlands.

They’re growing increasingly numerous as they forage for grubs and larvae, and then you’ll probably see them beside their three-toed counterparts.

Migration Range

There are an estimated 1.8 million black-backed Picidae throughout North America today, and you can see these species all the way up into Canada. This bird, such as the three-toed variant, is prevalent in Alaska and the east – where there are burned trees, they’ll be nearby.

3. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker


The adorable downy woodpecker is, therefore a Picidae that’s also found from the north towards the central states. In addition, they are also the country’s tiniest native woodpeckers.

They like warmer climates in general, however, they are believed to wander. They have crisp, single cries and prefer to dine on seeds from feeders.

If you do have some woodpeckers in your garden, it is quite likely that they are Dryobates pubescens. They are only slightly larger than a regular garden sparrow.

How to Identify?

The downy woodpecker species is a little but loud bird that is mostly white and black, having spots, with males having red crowns.

They contain different spots and bands on their feathers and wings, so no two will ever appear the same!

Migration Range

The downy woodpecker may be found almost anywhere in the United Areas, with occurrences in states as different as Alaska and Florida!

If the weather is moderate enough – but not too hot – there’s a decent possibility you’ll see this bird around your backyard. There are approximately 13 million of species spread over the continent.

4. Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker
Credits – Wikipedia


 The warmth-loving Gila woodpecker is one of the common sights throughout Mexico, especially in the deserts. In fact, these Picidae choose cactus over any other tree, wood, or shrub for nesting!

It survives in dry environments better than others. This woodpecker is a medium-sized bird that spends its afternoons perching and calling, seeking to have the majority of its foraging done quickly. This bird also gets along well with similar calling songbirds and woodpeckers. 

How to Identify?

The Gila woodpecker appears to be similar to other eastern Picidae, but you’ll recognize it by its brown or tawny body and head coloration, as well as striped tails and wings.

Migration Range

The Gila woodpecker is uncommon in the United States, although it may move to warmer southwestern areas like California, Arizona, and New Mexico in pursuit of cactus.

This woodpecker is unlikely to be found in the failing trees that so many other species inside its group inhabit.

5. Gilded Flicker

Gilded Flicker


This huge, heat-loving Picidae adores cactus – in addition, it will typically establish nests in them without causing any damage! Unfortunately, these species are very rare, but they are incredibly beautiful to see – any garden that welcomes these birds is extremely blessed.

The Gilded Flicker, which is about the size of a crow, like to eat bugs that dig into the earth, with ants being a favorite. However, you’ll seldom spot these birds in treetops, so search low to the earth.

How to Identify?

The Gilded Flicker has a golden coloration in flight, which is often speckled on the crest and wings. Its top and the rear of its skull are brown-orange in hue. It might even have a black crown on occasion.

Migration Range

As a cacti-loving nest-builder, the Gilded Flicker prefers deserts and dry areas near Mexico, as well as Nevada, California, and Arizona.

Even yet, its habits are badly endangered, which means that unless you reside in the lowlands and dry regions, seeing this Picidae is rather unusual.

6. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker


If you see a woodpecker in your garden somewhere within the United States, it will almost certainly be a hairy variety! The Dryobates villosus is rather abundant, yet it is also somewhat timid and reclusive.

They have fairly basic cries but will hammer and bang on almost anything. They are also excellent opportunists, stealing sap from cavities bored by other birds!

The hairy woodpecker is often recognized for its powerful peck – it may appear little, but still, it drills powerfully!

How to Identify?

The hairy woodpecker does have a hairy look by nature, but it’s also distinctive for its comparatively large, pointy beak and striking black and white coloration. However, certain species might have a brownish color. They are mostly white on the breast and mottled on the wings.

Migration Range

Where do I begin? This Picidae is not particularly finicky regarding temperature, however it is most commonly found near conifers.

There are about eight million of these species on the continent, and overall numbers are growing; there have been no states where they’re more abundant.

7. Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker


Small yet determined, this monochrome bird may be found fluttering and hammering across the southern states. This bird prefers the dryer, warmer environment and prefers to nest deeper into the less damp forests of these regions. Fortunately, they also have a constant population!

These woodpeckers feed on branches, attentively pecking about for insects. They usually hide themselves when hunting, thus, they are often not easy to identify. However, they do not even spend so much time in the sky either.

How to Identify?

These woodpeckers are mostly white and black on the backs and wings, with red crowns arching backward and black marks across their beaks and cheeks. They frequently feature brown tinges on their frontiers as well.

Migration Range

The ladder-backed woodpecker is a familiar occurrence in the southern and southwestern regions, and it may also be found in Central America. This is a non-migratory woodpecker that chooses to remain close to home.

8. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker
Credits – Wikipedia


Lewis’s Woodpeckers are uncommon, however when they do appear, they are difficult to miss! This is an unusual woodpecker since it does not drill into the wood for insects; rather, it prefers to eat the occasional flying creature.

Unfortunately, this is yet another woodpecker whose population is declining due to habitat loss. The Lewis’s Woodpecker is somewhat of a wanderer except that it will happily look for food in different locations throughout the year. However, it is most commonly seen in burnt woods and pineland.

How to Identify?

Lewis’s woodpecker has beautiful red and black characteristics and is pink from around the beak and cheeks, as well as the crown and front feathers. It has gorgeous, sweeping black feathers on its wings and tail. It’s unlikely that you’ll notice it pecking or drilling.

Migration Range

Lewis’s woodpecker, albeit rare, may be found in the southwest and as far eastern Oklahoma and prefers to live in woodlands. However, you may locate it in other parts of California – an uncommon and gratifying find.

9. Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker


This Picidae has several various names, and you may have heard it described to it as the Yellow or Red-shafted Flicker. It’s a pretty common bird and is one of the biggest woodpeckers found in the United States.

Unlike other peckers, though, they prefer to eat ground invertebrates, particularly ants! This Flicker will jump around enough to eat but may also opt to perch on a limb for a fruit treat or two.

How to Identify?

The Northern Flicker’s feather colors vary (thus its various names), but these birds are easily identified by their flecked tails and wings.

They frequently possess black patterns around their cheeks and crests, and their vast size distinguishes them from those other Picidae.

Migration Range

Northern Flickers are mostly located in the east, although they may also be located in the northwest portions of Alaska and even down it toward the west coast – at least the yellow-shafted kind!

This genus’ flickers are quite abundant in the United States, with around ten million individuals believed to exist in North America at the moment.

10. Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Nuttall’s Woodpecker


The Nuttall’s woodpecker is therefore an uncommon California species that is considered to be related to Ladder-backed woodpeckers. It’s also, unfortunately, even less frequent! They eat mostly small animals, especially ants, which is similar to the diet of the Northern Flicker.

Having said that, they do seem to inhabit trees more frequently. The Nuttall’s woodpecker has a peculiar cry that sounds somewhat like a rattle! In quest of food, it frequently travels in circular patterns and prefers to pitch around trees.

How to Identify?

These woodpeckers are tiny and stubby, with brown, black, and white patterns and red crowns flowing down the back sides of their heads. You could encounter a Nuttall’s bird or two if you dwell amid oak trees on the west side.

Migration Range

This Picidae is well-known for residing nearly entirely in California’s forests. It’s really unusual to see them anyplace else! They do, however, go to adjacent states such as Oregon and western Nevada on occasion. Again, despite their inclination to reside in densely forested places, they visit these places for the insects, not the acorns!


All woodpeckers play important roles in our ecosystem, lowering bug loads and providing nesting migratory birds who can’t dig it on their own.

California is lucky to still have ten separate species of this bird, so if you’re a native or just traveling by, keep a watchful eye out for one of the above-mentioned woodpeckers.


Is it possible to find woodpeckers around Southern California?

Nuttall’s Woodpecker would be a California specialty that only travels a small distance towards Baja and seldom ventures into Oregon. It is prevalent anywhere oak trees exist within their confined area.

Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

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