West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris

Robert A. Askins, Michael E. Akresh, and William K. Hayes
Version: 2.0 — Published October 29, 2020


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February–August; sometimes two broods. Nest excavated by both sexes, at 5–30 m above ground, usually in a dead tree (in most cases a palm) or utility pole; cavity depth 35–38 cm, mean size of entrance hole 6-7 cm high, 4.5-5.5 cm wide; territorial. Clutch 5–6 eggs; incubation period 12 days; fledging period not documented; both parents feed chicks.


In Cuba, the breeding season extends from February to August, with a peak from April to June (40). On Grand Cayman, the breeding season runs from March through May, before the rainy season starts in June (35). Nesting reported from mid-May to early August on San Salvador, which overlaps with the first part of the rainy season as well as the main fruiting period (late June to early July) (41), and it may begin as early as late March, when a pair was observed excavating a nest cavity (MEA, personal observation). Willimont et al. (49) studied nesting activity on Abaco between early May and early August, but their study finished before the breeding season ended. A detailed phenology of breeding activities was documented for 16 nests on San Salvador (41).

Second/Later Broods

Woodpeckers in The Bahamas sometimes produce two broods during a single breeding season. Two pairs of woodpeckers on San Salvador re-nested in the same nest cavities, and one of these pairs produced a second brood while one or more young from the first brood were fledging (41). Five of 28 pairs of West Indian Woodpeckers on Abaco produced a second brood, but not all nests were monitored for the entire breeding season (49).

Nest Site

Site Characteristics

On San Salvador all active nests and most excavated nests were in dead sabal (cabbage) palms (Sabal palmetto) (41, MEA, personal observation). West Indian Woodpecker on Abaco uses a wider range of nest sites than on San Salvador, including dead coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) and utility poles (49, 50), with one report of a pair nesting under the eaves of a house (43). Also, some West Indian Woodpeckers on Abaco have used nest boxes (M. Wilson, personal communication, https://rollingharbour.com). Although 53% of 43 nests on Abaco were in dead coconut palms, 30% were in dead Caribbean pines (Pinus caribaea) and the remainder were in wooden telephone poles, a live avocado (Persea americana), live coconut palms, and a dead casuarina (Casuarina sp.) (L. W. Duncan unpublished data). West Indian Woodpecker also nests in wooden utility poles on Cuba and Grand Cayman (WKH, personal observation).

On the Zapata Peninsula in Cuba, West Indian Woodpeckers depend on the snags of another species of sabal palm, Sabal maritima, for nest sites. Numerous other species (including the endangered Fernandina’s Flicker Colaptes fernandinae) nest in cavities in these dead palms, and many of these species use abandoned woodpecker cavities (52). At other sites in Cuba, West Indian Woodpecker nests in royal palms (Roystonea regia). It usually nests in dead royal palms, often excavating cavities in spots on the trunk were lichens have softened the bark (40). The entrance holes in patches of lichen often have an irregular shape. On Isla de la Juventud, it frequently nests in barrigona palms (Acrocomia = Colpothrinax wrightii), where all 14 excavations at one location were in the expanded "belly" of the palm (WKH, personal observation)

In Cuba, nests were up to 30 m, but rarely less than 5 m, above the ground (40). On Abaco the average nest height was 6.2 m (1.2 – 15 m, n = 43) (L. W. Duncan, unpublished data).


Construction Process

In addition to the construction of roost cavities, West Indian Woodpecker excavates a new nest each year (40). The male and female alternate during nest excavation. Food is sometimes taken to a cavity below the nest cavity, which may distract predators.

Structure and Composition

The depth of nests in Cuba range from 35 to 38 cm, and the entrance holes are 4.5-5.5 cm wide and usually 6-7 cm high (but some in lichen-softened substrate ranged up to 12 cm high) (40). A relatively high percentage of nests (32.2%) are oriented toward the northeast (n = 59). On Abaco, nest openings did not show a strong bias in compass direction (n = 35, L. W. Duncan, unpublished data).

Maintenance or Reuse of Nests

Nest cavities may be re-used for a second brood during the same breeding season (41), but a new nest cavity is excavated each year (40). Although an adult was observed carrying droppings, West Indian Woodpeckers do not generally remove droppings from the nest (40).

Nonbreeding Nests

In addition to nest cavities, West Indian Woodpeckers also excavate roost cavities (40).



Average 2.6 cm long and 2.0 cm wide (n = 7 for eggs from Abaco, L. W. Duncan unpublished data).

Color and Surface Texture

Eggs are white, unmarked.

Clutch Size

The clutch size is 5-6 eggs (40).


Incubation Period

The average incubation period is 12 days (40).

Parental Behavior

Both the male and female participate in incubation (40). The mean time spent incubating by each individual was 18.2 minutes (n = 26), which is similar to the average duration in Red-bellied Woodpecker (M. carolinus; 18.9 minutes) (53). A variety of signals are used to induce a mate to exchange positions in the nest, particularly Flutter-aerial displays, Knocking and Head-swinging displays. See Behavior: Sexual Behavior.

Parental Care


Both parents feed the young. At four nests, both sexes delivered fruit (49% of items for the male and 60% for the female) and animal food (51% for male and 40% for the female) to the nestlings (40). The fruit mostly consisted of palm fruit and ranged from 5 to 10 mm in diameter. The average number of visits to a nest to feed the young by the two parents was 13.5/h (6.8/h for males and 6.4/h for females).

Recommended Citation

Askins, R. A., M. E. Akresh, and W. K. Hayes (2020). West Indian Woodpecker (Melanerpes superciliaris), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.weiwoo1.02