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Fascinating Facts You Need to Know About the Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker,Dryobates arizonaeThe Arizona Woodpecker, Dryobates arizonae, is a small but stunning bird species that can be found in the southwestern regions of the United States and Mexico. Its unique physical characteristics and behavior patterns make it a popular species of interest among bird enthusiasts.

In this article, we will delve into the identification, plumages, and molts of this species, as well as information on similar species, to provide readers with a better understanding of this fascinating bird.


The Arizona Woodpecker is a small bird species that measures around 18-21 cm in length, with a wingspan of 32-36 cm. It has a distinctive black and white striped pattern on its wings and tail, with a bright red cap on its head.

The male of the species has a larger red cap that extends down to its nape, while the female has a smaller red patch on top of its head. Field


In the field, the Arizona Woodpecker can be easily identified by its unique physical features.

Its black and white striped wings and tail are a distinct feature that is easily spotted. Apart from that, its red cap serves as a clear identifier that helps to distinguish it from other woodpeckers in the region.

Similar Species

The Arizona Woodpecker may share some physical characteristics with other woodpecker species that are found in the southwest region of the United States and Mexico. The Gila Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker are some of the species that could be mistaken for the Arizona Woodpecker.

However, all of these species have unique physical features that can help differentiate them from the Arizona Woodpecker. For example, the Gila Woodpecker has an entirely brown back, while the Golden-fronted Woodpecker has a yellow patch on the front of its head.


Arizona Woodpeckers have three distinct plumages that are known as juvenile, basic, and alternate. The juvenile plumage is seen in first-year birds, wherein they have a duller red cap on their head, and the stripes on their wings and tail are less prominent.

The basic plumage of this species is seen in birds during the summer and autumn months. Birds in this plumage have a brighter red cap on their head, and their stripes are more pronounced, with the red patch on the male extending down to its nape.

The alternate plumage can be seen in birds during the spring and early summer months. In this plumage, the birds have a more extensive red patch on their head that extends from the bill to the nape.


The Arizona Woodpecker is known to molt its feathers once a year, typically in late summer. During molt, birds replace their feathers, which can take up to four months.

As a result, birds may spend more time hidden in trees and shrubs during molting season. In conclusion, the Arizona Woodpecker is a fascinating bird with unique physical characteristics and behavior.

Identifying the Arizona Woodpecker and differentiating it from other woodpecker species can be an exciting challenge. Understanding plumages and molts can also provide birdwatchers with insights into the birds’ lifecycle.

This bird is an emblem of the southwest region’s diverse wildlife and is a sight not to be missed by bird enthusiasts. Systematics History:

The Arizona Woodpecker, known scientifically as Dryobates arizonae, belongs to the Picidae family, which includes over 240 species of woodpeckers worldwide.

The taxonomy systematics of the Arizona Woodpecker has undergone multiple changes since its initial description in 1877 by J.A. Allen. The Arizona Woodpecker was initially classified in the Dendrocopos genus, also known as the Old World woodpeckers, but recent genetic and morphological studies have reclassified it to Dryobates, the New World woodpeckers.

Geographic Variation:

The Arizona Woodpecker is a nonmigratory species, known for its restricted range within the southwestern region of the United States and Mexico. This species’ geographic variation is limited, and its range spans from southern Arizona and New Mexico to central and northwestern Mexico.

While limited, the Arizona Woodpecker displays slight variation in size and plumage across its range, and distinct subspecies have been identified. Subspecies:

There are four recognized subspecies of the Arizona Woodpecker based on their geographic distribution:


D. a.

arizonae: Found in the high desert regions of southeastern California, southwestern Utah, western New Mexico, and central and southern Arizona. 2.

D. a.

sororum: Found in north-western Chihuahua, Coahuila and eastern Sonora. 3.

D. a.

homorus: Found in north-western Mexico, in western Sonora and southwestern Chihuahua. 4.

D. a.

devius: Found in coastal north-western Mexico in Baja California. Related Species:

The Arizona Woodpecker’s closest relative is the Strickland’s Woodpecker (Dryobates stricklandi), which was formerly identified as one subspecies of the Arizona Woodpecker before being recognized as a distinct species.

Both species share a similar geographic range and habitat preferences, but Strickland’s Woodpecker is found in more humid and lower-elevation habitats than the Arizona Woodpecker. Historical Changes to Distribution:

The Arizona Woodpecker’s distribution range has remained relatively consistent over the past century and a half, but habitat loss and fragmentation have threatened some populations.

The initial description of the Arizona Woodpecker in 1877 included its presence throughout central and southern Arizona, but by the 1990s, its range had shrunk, mostly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. However, conservation efforts, such as increased forest management practices and regulated grazing, have helped stabilize and even increase some populations.

In conclusion, the Arizona Woodpecker is a nonmigratory species with a restricted range within the southwestern region of the United States and Mexico. While limited, there are slight variations in size and plumage across this species’ range, and four distinctive subspecies have been identified.

The Arizona Woodpecker’s closest relative is the Strickland’s Woodpecker, and both species share a similar geographic range and habitat preferences. The Arizona Woodpecker’s range has remained relatively consistent over the past century and a half, but habitat loss and fragmentation have threatened some populations.

However, conservation efforts have helped stabilize and even increase some populations, highlighting the importance of ongoing conservation efforts to protect this unique species. Habitat:

The Arizona Woodpecker is a resident bird species that is found in the arid habitats of the southwestern region of the United States and Mexico.

This species is mainly associated with mesquite, oak, and sycamore woodlands, as well as thorn-scrub, and desert riparian habitats found along river corridors. Arizona Woodpeckers have also been observed in ponderosa pine forests and pinon-juniper woodlands.

Arizona Woodpeckers select habitat based on the availability of large, dead or dying hardwood trees which acts as a critical nesting and foraging area for this species. The Arizona Woodpecker excavates a hole in the tree trunk as its nest, and it has a specific requirement for the size of the tree and the depth of the nest cavity.

In addition, this species requires woodlands that have a mature tree canopy, an open understory, and a presence of water close to the nesting site. Movements and Migration:

The Arizona Woodpecker is a non-migratory species, and its movements are primarily limited to short-distance foraging flights.

Arizona woodpeckers are most active during the morning and early afternoon, and have a relatively small home range, with studies indicating that the average home range is less than four hectares. While Arizona Woodpeckers are considered non-migratory, some movements involving nesting have been observed.

During breeding season, Arizona Woodpeckers are known to relocate to established nesting sites, and some birds have been observed travelling short distances to construct new nests or occupy abandoned cavities. These movements are rarely outside of the birds’ typical home range of a few hundred meters.

Juvenile Arizona Woodpeckers can disperse over long distances after leaving the nest, and some young birds may travel up to several kilometers away from their natal territory. However, many juveniles establish territories in areas close to their natal territory, which decreases their chances of becoming displaced.

Overall, Arizona Woodpeckers are considered resident and sedentary, meaning that they rarely leave their home range, and movements are limited to foraging, nesting, and territorial displays. In conclusion, the Arizona Woodpecker is a non-migratory species that is found in arid habitats in southwestern states of the US and in Mexico.

This species is associated with mature hardwood trees, which it uses for nesting and foraging. The Arizona Woodpecker is non-migratory, movements are primarily limited to short-distance foraging flights, and its home range is relatively small and sedentary.

However, the juveniles can disperse and travel several kilometers after leaving the nest, and movements for nesting can be observed on occasion. Diet and Foraging:


The Arizona Woodpecker is an omnivorous bird that feeds on insects, fruits, and seeds.

These birds use their sharp bills to probe bark and wood for insects, such as caterpillars, beetles, ants, and termites. Arizona Woodpeckers are also known to feed on fruits and berries, and have been observed eating seeds from juniper and other kinds of pine trees.


This species primarily feeds by foraging on the trunks of trees, often focussing on dead or decaying material that is likely to harbour insects. The diet of Arizona Woodpeckers varies by season, as the availability of food changes.

In the winter months, the Arizona Woodpecker is more reliant on feeding on Acorn Woodpecker’s stores of acorns. However, the species feeds most actively during the summer months, when it has been observed to take advantage of the increased availability of insects that are more active at this time of year.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Arizona Woodpeckers have a high metabolic rate and generate a considerable amount of body heat, which is vital for maintaining warm body temperature in cold weather. These birds, like many other woodpecker species, have a unique adaptation termed countercurrent circulation, which helps contribute to their ability to regulate body temperature effectively.

By pumping warm blood from the heart towards extremities such as toes and beak, and then cooling it with cool blood flowing in the opposite direction, the bird regulates its body temperature effectively. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


Arizona Woodpeckers generate a range of sounds and vocalizations which serve many purposes, including communication, territorial displays, and navigation.

Arizona Woodpecker’s calls, for example, are thin, short, and high-pitched, with “pit” or “pik” and “peet” being the most commonly observed vocalizations. The call is usually delivered singly or in a series of two or three notes and is often used during mating displays, or to call out to others within their group.

Apart from regular calls, the drumming sound made by a woodpecker tapping its bill against a tree is an essential part of communication and territory defense of the Arizona Woodpecker. Male Arizona Woodpecker’s drumming sequences are especially complex and extend across multiple tree trunks, designed to communicate dominance and territoriality.

The drumming sound serves to announce the presence of the bird, identify territory boundaries for competing birds and provide acoustic cues for locating conspecifics. In conclusion, Arizona Woodpeckers are an omnivorous bird species that feeds mostly on insects, fruits, and seeds.

The species forages on the trunks of trees and feeds most actively during the summer months. To regulate body temperature effectively, Arizona Woodpeckers employ a unique countercurrent circulation when pumping blood to their extremities.

Arizona Woodpeckers generate a range of sounds and vocalizations during communication, territorial displays, and navigation, including high-pitched calls and complex drumming sequences. The vocalizations and drumming sounds serve as essential features of communication for this remarkable and engaging bird.



The Arizona Woodpecker primarily moves around by hopping up and down tree trunks. However, they can fly for long distances if necessary.

Their sharp claws allow them to cling to the rough bark of trees and to move around quickly and efficiently. Self Maintenance:

Arizona Woodpeckers spend a significant amount of time grooming their feathers, preening themselves to maintain their plumage and keep their feathers in good condition.

When preening, woodpeckers use their bills to remove dirt, lice, and other debris that might interfere with their ability to fly. They also bathe and shake off excess water by flapping their wings vigorously.

Agonistic Behavior:

Like many woodpeckers, the Arizona Woodpecker displays agonistic behavior when competing for a breeding territory. Males will engage in loud vocalizations, drumming, and displays of dominance, including puffing up their feathers to appear larger.

This behavior is essential for establishing dominance and prioritizing mating access to prominent breeding locations. Sexual Behavior:

During the mating season, male Arizona Woodpeckers establish breeding territories, which they defend fiercely.

Once a female has selected a mate, the two will establish a pair bond. Males then display their dominance through drumming sequences and vocalizations, including high-pitched calls and complex drumming sequences.

Breeding pairs of Arizona Woodpeckers will remain monogamous during the breeding season, and both parents share responsibility for incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks. Breeding:

Arizona Woodpeckers breed between March and July.

Nest-building starts in February, which involves forming a cavity in a tree trunk with the bill. The female lays 2-5 eggs, which both the male and female incubate for 12-14 days.

The chicks are then born, and both parents feed them. Demography and Populations:

Arizona Woodpecker populations are considered stable, with estimates suggesting a stable population of around 300,000 individuals.

The species is considered relatively rare, with a restricted range in southwestern states, and dedicated conservation efforts are in place to help protect this species and its preferred habitat. Over the past few decades, habitat destruction, fragmentation and other human activities have led to declines in Arizona woodpecker numbers.

However, effective land management practices, including controlled grazing, proper forest management, protection of breeding territories, and education efforts, have boosted this species’ numbers and helped stabilize populations. In conclusion, the Arizona Woodpecker displays unique behavior specific to the species, including their hopping locomotion, ability to self-maintain to support their feathers and complex agonistic behavior when competing for breeding territories.

Mating behavior is also critical, with males establishing dominant breeding territories. Both parents share duties related to nest building, incubation, and feeding the offspring.

Despite habitat depletion, conservation efforts have been implemented successfully to prevent the decline of this species, and current estimates indicate stable populations. The Arizona Woodpecker is a unique bird species with a range of fascinating characteristics and adaptations.

The species is found in arid habitats in southwestern states of the US and in Mexico, and is primarily associated with mature hardwood trees. Arizona Woodpeckers are non-migratory and movements are primarily limited to foraging and nesting.

These birds display unique vocals, drumming, and agonistic behaviors during communication and territorial displays. Breeding pairs share duties related to incubation, feeding, and nesting.

Although the Arizona Woodpecker’s population has faced habitats loss, fragmentation and other human activities that have led to declines, conservation efforts have helped to stabilize their population and protect their habitats making it essential to continue efforts to maintain the species and its notable adaptations.

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