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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Nestlings and recently fledged young give Begging Calls (see below) that change in structure and loudness with age; these calls are not given by older birds, nor are other call notes described below known from nestlings. At hatching and for about 7 d thereafter, nestlings make soft churr sounds that by day 9 begin to sound cricket-like and are audible from outside nest cavity; by day 14 they begin to make peep sounds that are fairly constant; by day 22, about 4 d prior to leaving nest, young make transition from peep notes to adult Double Call, pee-dink or chick-it-up (see below; RDD, from observations in Oregon). After developing Double Call, nestlings perch just inside nest-cavity entrance and alternate between high-intensity peep sounds and Double Calls until fledging (RDD). At fledging, young give Double Calls that are distinguishable from those of adults in being weaker and poorly structured (RDD). No information on vocal learning.

Vocal Array

Vocal repertoire is briefly characterized in review of genus by Winkler and Short (108). Information below based on this work and field recordings by KLG, RDD, M. C. Wimer, and B. Ward.

Call Note. Figure 4A, B . Termed Double Call by Winkler and Short (108), this is the most commonly heard vocalization. It is best represented as pee-dink, but also often written as peek-it or pitit (32, 108); frequently trisyllabic, as pee-de-dink or chick-it-up. Given by both sexes, throughout year. Probably functions as general contact note.

Rattle Call. A rapid peek-peek-peek..., individual notes of which resemble first syllable of common Double Call. Mean pitch 2.9 kHz ± 0.17 SD (range 2.5–3.3); duration of each note 31.0 milliseconds (ms) ± 4.00 SD (range 22.6–37.7); internote interval 68.6 ms ± 3.05 SD (range 64.2–75.5). Given during interspecific interactions, in flight or while perched; very similar to corresponding call of Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus).

Short Rattle. Introduced with pee-dink call note, followed by 4–11 rapidly delivered notes. Given during territorial interactions.

Kweek Call. Figure 4C . A slow series of loud, squeaky notes, kweek kweek... or oin oin...; Winkler and Short (108) described two different kweek notes, one characterized by longer individual notes (mean 129 ms) than the other (mean 86 ms). Often combined with Rattle Call, or given in response to or accompanying Drumming (see Nonvocal Sounds). Used in communication between members of pair; most frequently given prior to and during mating season.

Twitter Call. Soft multinote vocalization described and portrayed by Winkler and Short (108). Given by interacting individuals, often in conjunction with Head-Swinging Display (see Behavior: Agonistic Behavior).

Wad Call. Figure 4D . Soft, low tyet or chuf, given in series, often in combination with kweek call or Tapping, during close encounters between members of pair.

Additional calls, categorized by Winkler and Short (108) as Mutter, Wicka, Chirp, Loud Chirp, and Screech calls, as well as Soft Notes, Distress Trill, Distress Cry, and “Mistle Thrush” calls, round out the vocal repertoire of better-studied Dryobates, and many of these will likely be documented for albolarvatus.

Begging Calls. See above. Given by nestlings. Repetitive, sometimes almost incessant series of hissing or squeaking notes given with increasing intensity as parent approaches nest-cavity entrance with food (Figure 4E ). Older nestlings give fuller, louder Begging Calls than those of younger birds. Begging Calls can be elicited by covering nest-cavity entrance (KLG).

Sexes not distinguishable by vocalizations; males and females appear to possess same general repertoire. No known geographical variation in vocalizations.


Pee-dink or chick-it-up call (Double Call; see above) given year-round, although some authors have commented that this species is generally silent outside of breeding season (97, 109). Rattle Call given during interspecific interactions throughout year, but more commonly during intraspecific interactions in late winter and early spring at onset of breeding, and through breeding season. Most softer notes (Twitter, Wad calls) and kweek call given primarily early spring-summer in association with territorial defense and intrapair interactions.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Vocalizations and Drumming (see Nonvocal Sounds) given throughout day, but peaks coincide with peak activity periods in morning and late afternoon. No vocalizations are unique to particular part of day. Typically calls when in flight to roost site. Nocturnal vocalizations or Drumming unknown. See also Behavior: Self-Maintenance.

Places of Vocalizing

Rattle Call and Double Call often given in flight; other notes given while perched.

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

No information.

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Summarized above. In Washington, paired birds appear to distinguish mate's vocalization from other birds based on response to call-playback (JMK). Kozma used playback of pee-dink call, Drumming, and Rattle Call to survey for color banded birds on breeding territories. Territorial holders, both male and female, respond to playback of calls as they would in response to an intruder (e.g., counter drumming, rattle call). When one member of a pair responds to playback (e.g, flying into area to investigate the intruder), the mate often can be heard calling simultaneously from a distance but out of sight, suggesting that bird is recognized, but the "playback" intruder is not.

Nonvocal Sounds


Tapping (see below) incidental to foraging or “practice” foraging may be heard before young leave nest. Drumming observed in 15-day-old fledglings (15 days post-fledging) (TJL).

Array of Sounds

Described by Winkler and Short (108) and Stark (110).

Tapping. Tapping sounds are incidental to foraging. Tapping is often not as loud as in related Dryobates (e.g., Hairy Woodpecker) because of emphasis on oblique tapping and flaking while foraging, as opposed to hard direct tapping. Tapping sounds during cone-foraging often audibly different from that during trunk or branch-foraging—sound more hollow. Males give methodical Tapping, not related to foraging, during nest-site selection (108). Adults often tap from inside nest cavity while incubating, and at nest-cavity entrance immediately preceding incubation exchange (RDD).

Drumming. Typical Drumming consists of even roll of 15–30 individual beats (but often considerably fewer) and lasts about 0.5–1.5 s. Stark (110) analyzed 377 drums from 32 individuals and found mean Drumming duration of 0.94 s ± 0.24 SD and mean cadence of 19.65 beats/s. Winkler and Short (108) reported mean cadence of about 22 beats/s from a much smaller sample. Example in Figure 4F is 20 beats/s. Drumming birds choose substrates with good resonance, often dead snag or stub; sites for Drumming usually high in trees (111, 108). Although both females and males drum, males drum most frequently, especially following territorial encounters (108). The typical pee-dink call and kweek call are often interspersed with drums. Some Drumming noted year-round, but bouts are concentrated from March to June (may vary geographically) in association with territorial defense and breeding. Drum cadence (beats/s) differs from that of all co-occurring woodpecker species, except Nuttall's Woodpecker (Dryobates nuttallii).

Wing Ruffle. Like Hairy Woodpecker, the White-headed Woodpecker makes an audible brrrr sound with wings in flight during territorial encounters (JMK).

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