White-headed Woodpecker Dryobates albolarvatus

Jeffrey M. Kozma, Teresa J. Lorenz, Martin G. Raphael, Kimball L. Garrett, and Rita D. Dixon
Version: 2.0 — Published July 9, 2020


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Habitat in Breeding Range

Occurs predominately in montane coniferous forests dominated by pines, with tree species composition varying geographically. In much of range of nominate albolarvatus, ponderosa pine is the dominant pine; however, extensive regions dominated by ponderosa pine (e.g., Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona) lack White-headed Woodpecker. Other important species include sugar pine, white fir (Abies concolor), incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii; 5). Within the Sierra Nevada (42, 50), occupies mixed coniferous forest of ponderosa pine, sugar pine, white fir, red fir (Abies magnifica), Douglas-fir, and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii); occurs more locally on drier east-slope forests dominated by Jeffrey pine and in high-elevation lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and western white pine (Pinus monticola) forests, and is generally absent from forests dominated by digger pine (Pinus sabiniana) at lower elevations on western flank of the Sierra Nevada. In Washington, found in forests containing pure ponderosa pine and ponderosa pine-dominated mixed-conifer forest containing Douglas-fir (sometimes co-dominant), grand fir (Abies grandis), and western larch (Larix occidentalis) depending on elevation (49, 67). Southern gravirostris also occupies montane mixed-conifer forest, with Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, Coulter pine, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and white fir (21, 5, KLG). Deciduous oaks, primarily California black oak, are often common in occupied mixed-forests, but not frequently utilized.

Nests in forests with and without regular timber harvest, as well as in recently burned forests (68, 69, 70, 71). In south-central Oregon, Dixon (72) found White-headed Woodpecker using predominately older ponderosa pine forests, but more recent studies have found the species in cut-over stands (73), as well as recent burns (70). In unburned forest in Oregon, studies modeling breeding habitat found that a moderate-to-high level of heterogeneous forest structure (canopy openings adjacent to closed-canopy forest) is an important habitat component (74, 75). In south-central Washington, this species occurs in ponderosa pine-dominated forests lacking large-diameter trees (only 11% of ponderosa pine > 50.8 cm dbh), where mean live tree density (≥ 10.2 cm dbh) was 182 trees/ha, mean stand basal area was 17.2 m2/ha and mean dbh of ponderosa pine trees was 33.0 cm (range 10.2–125.7) (JMK, 76). In the northern Sierra Nevada, the species was detected more frequently in thinned compared to unthinned mixed-conifer stands (77). In harvested forests in northern California, the probability of this species remaining to nest increased with snag density in the harvest units (78). Although Wisdom et al. (79) stated that White-headed Woodpeckers require large-diameter (> 53 cm) snags or trees with cavities for nesting, foraging, or both as source habitat, this species is adaptable and does occupy forest stands deficient in large mature pines (e.g., see 73, 76, 67). See Breeding: Nest Site for more information on size of trees used for nesting. Understory vegetation is often relatively sparse within preferred habitat. Local populations are abundant in burned or cut forest where residual large and small-diameter live and dead trees are present (80, 81, 82, 49). Lorenz et al. (67) found this species selected areas for breeding that contained small burned areas (median size of 4.8 ha) interspersed within a larger forest of live trees. Similarly, in burned forests of Oregon, habitat was characterized by approximately 37% of landscape as moderate to high burn severity, patches of different burn severities typically were intermixed with each other rather than occupying large areas, and approximately 30% of landscape with ≥ 40% canopy cover prefire (70).

Habitat in Nonbreeding Range

Habitat in Migration

No true migration.

Habitat in Overwintering Range

See Habitat in Breeding Range. No formal studies of habitat have been conducted in winter, though species is considered mainly sedentary. A few noted to move down slope below breeding habitat into chaparral-dominated habitats in Santa Rosa Mountains, southern California, in winter (83). Vagrants or winter wanderers in lowland habitats well away from breeding areas have been found in variety of tree plantings, such as orange (Citrus aurantium; 84) and tamarisk (Tamarix), but prefer conifers, even nonnative species like Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis).

Recommended Citation

Kozma, J. M., T. J. Lorenz, M. G. Raphael, K. L. Garrett, and R. D. Dixon (2020). White-headed Woodpecker (Dryobates albolarvatus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whhwoo.02