SPECIES

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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Adult male

Medium-sized woodpecker with a white face and crown. Males have a small red rear crown patch.

Adult female

Appropriately named woodpecker with a white head. Females lack red crown patch. Back is solid black with two white patches in the wings.

Adult male

Black woodpecker with a white head. White patches in the wing are not always visible on perched birds, but they are noticeable in flight.

Adult male

Found in mixed evergreen forests dominated by pines. White head is distinctive.

White-headed Woodpecker showing white patch on wing.

White on outer webs of primaries 1–8 forms a wing-patch visible on folded wing.

White-headed Woodpecker showing white patch on wing.

Wings are black, except for white on outer webs of primaries 1–8 and white on inner webs of remiges (visible in flight.)

Juvenile female White-headed Woodpecker (26 July).

General body plumage lax and dull dusky-black in color, noticeably duller than the jet black of subsequent plumages. Has more limited pale scarlet patch not extending forward of eyes; in many juvenile females, this patch is absent or reduced to a few scattered scarlet feathers in rear crown.

Juvenile male White-headed Woodpecker (24 July).

Has patch of pale scarlet (paler and more orange than nuchal patch of adult males) on crown, varying in extent, and usually extending forward of eyes. Juvenile rectrices narrower and even more pointed than rectrices of subsequent plumages

Possible Formative White-headed Woodpecker.

In Formative Plumage, primary coverts are uniform in wear; back feathers and replaced inner upperwing coverts glossy black, contrasting with flatter brownish-black retained outer coverts; secondaries uniform in wear, with tertials becoming worn by spring.

Second Basic male White-headed Woodpecker (12 September).

Some juvenile primary coverts and secondaries retained, brown, and very abraded compared to replaced feathers. Retained primary coverts include 5–8 consecutive medial or outer feathers (among those corresponding to p3–p10), brown and very abraded, usually contrasting with 1–3 consecutive replaced distal feathers (among those corresponding to p8–p10), forming paler panel or badge on upperwing. Juvenile secondaries occur in block of 1–6 feathers among s2–s8.

Female White-headed Woodpecker.

Lores and nasal tufts white, slightly tinged with buff. Entire upperparts, upperwing coverts, and underparts jet black, slightly glossed with bluish on upperparts and breast. Females lack red nuchal band and is white in this area instead.

Male White-headed Woodpecker.

Forehead, chin, throat, auricular and malar regions, and feathering around eye white. Crown white, but with a “dirtier” look than face and throat because of underlying dark neutral gray feather bases; postocular stripe black. Narrow red nuchal bar at rear of crown.

Portrait of adult White-headed Woodpecker showing red iris.
Portrait of juvenile White-headed Woodpecker showing brownish iris.
Male White-headed Woodpecker (subspecies albolarvatus).
Female White-headed Woodpecker (subspecies albolarvatus).
Male White-headed Woodpecker (subspecies gravirostris).
Female White-headed Woodpecker (subspecies gravirostris).
Example of White-headed Woodpecker nesting habitat: Washington, USA.

Breeding habitat of the White-headed Woodpecker in a recently harvested and burned stand at 1,200 m in the Cascade Range, Yakima County, Washington State. Dominant tree species are Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa).

Example of White-headed Woodpecker post-fire habitat of the White-headed Woodpecker: Washington, USA.

Breeding habitat of the White-headed Woodpecker in a recent wildfire burn at 1,200 m in the Cascade Range, Yakima County, Washington State. Pre-fire dominant tree species were Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa).

Example of White-headed Woodpecker nesting habitat: Washington, USA.

Note, the importance of burned areas next to unburned forest that is selected for by this species.

White-headed Woodpecker foraging for insects on pouch fungus.
White-headed Woodpecker foraging.

Foraging involves much peering into crevices and cracks in bark.

White-headed Woodpecker probing for food.

Probes into crevices in ponderosa pine bark with tongue.

White-headed Woodpecker foraging at pine cone.

Chips cones open to expose seeds, usually with a series of lengthwise furrows.

White-headed Woodpecker foraging at pine cone.

Slides bill between partially open scales of cones to remove seeds.

White-headed woodpecker foraging for wood boring beetle larvae on cut stumps.

Breeding adult male White-headed Woodpecker foraging for wood boring beetle larvae in a cut stump in the Cascade Range, Yakima County, Washington State.

White-headed Woodpecker carrying western spruce bud worm larvae to nestlings in Washington.

Breeding adult female White-headed Woodpecker carrying western spruce bud worm (Choristoneura occidentalis) larvae to her nestlings in the Cascade Range, Yakima County, Washington State.

White-headed Woodpecker foraging.
White-headed Woodpecker foraging on pine cones.
White-headed Woodpecker catching insects.
White-headed Woodpecker with mouthful of food.
White-headed Woodpecker with mouthful of food.
White-headed Woodpecker at water source.

Drinks frequently from pools, puddles, creeks, and melted snow; also drinks water welled up in hollows in trees and at anthropogenic water sources such as cattle troughs and backyard bird baths.

White-headed Woodpecker drinking from puddle.
White-headed Woodpecker drinking from artificial water source.
White-headed Woodpecker in flight.

Typical undulating woodpecker flight, alternating quick flapping bursts with short glides.

White-headed Woodpecker in flight.
White-headed Woodpeckers interacting.
White-headed Woodpeckers interacting.
White-headed Woodpecker nest cavity in a created snag left after a forest thinning.
White-headed Woodpecker nest cavity excavated within 1 m of the ground in a post-fire stump.

Notice the pile of excavated wood chips at the base of the stump.

White-headed Woodpecker nest cavity.

White-headed Woodpecker nest cavity currently being excavated. Cavity is fairly well excavated as evidenced by huge pile of wood chips at base of snag. Male excavating this cavity is color-banded and is 7 years old. This is on private property and there is no admittance without permission.

White-headed Woodpecker at nest cavity.
White-headed Woodpecker nest cavity.
White-headed Woodpecker excavating nest cavity.
White-headed Woodpecker excavating nest cavity.
Adult White-headed Woodpecker feeding young at nest cavity.
Adult White-headed Woodpecker feeding young.
Adult White-headed Woodpecker feeding young.

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