Monday, September 12, 2016

A California Endemic - Nuttall's Woodpecker

These little guys are pretty special, rather adorable, and found only in California.  The Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) is a small woodpecker found almost exclusively in California's oak woodlands and riparian habitat.  It is most similar in appearance to the ladder-backed woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) of the southwestern deserts, but their ranges don't overlap.  It can be distinguished from the similarly-sized Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers of California (P. pubescens and P. villosusby the absence of a white patch on its back.
Male Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) in the dead upper branches of an oak.
I've been lucky in finding these little woodpeckers, and I see them often along the Tuolumne River near Waterford.  But, much closer to home, a good-sized population of Nuttall's woodpeckers resides on the campus of CSU Stanislaus.  The day I took these photos, three Nuttall's Woodpeckers were in one tree!
Note the characteristic red crest of the male.
Nuttall's Woodpeckers prefer oak woodlands (apparently CSU Stanislaus has enough oak trees on campus to satisfy them), though they don't eat acorns, like the larger and more showy Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus).  Instead, Nuttall's Woodpeckers feed on insects and small arthropods they glean from trunks and branches of trees.  Like other woodpeckers, they are often seen clinging to the vertical trunk of a tree, with their tails pressed against the trunk to function as a third limb or prop for balance.  Nuttall's Woodpeckers nest in tree cavities.
Also note the solid black and white pattern on the back of the Nuttall's Woodpecker, unbroken by the large white patch
which is indicative of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.
Nuttall's Woodpeckers are a species of moderate concern, as their range is limited to California, they have an overall low population density, and the habitats they depend upon, intact oak woodlands and riparian forests, are becoming increasingly fragmented.

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