Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

Melanerpes uropygialis
Population size
1.5 mln
Life Span
7-10 yrs
51-79 g
20-25 cm
41 cm

The Gila woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker of the desert regions of the United States and Mexico. The back and wings of this bird are spotted and barred with a black and white zebra-like pattern. The neck, throat, belly, and head are greyish-tan in color. The male has a small red cap on the top of the head. Females and juveniles are similar, but both lack the red cap of the adult male. White wing patches are prominent in flight. The dark tail has white bars on the central tail feathers.



Biogeographical realms

Gila woodpeckers are found in the southwestern United States and western Mexico. In the U.S., they range through southeastern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. They are non'migratory and live year-round in dry forests and low desert scrub typical of the Sonoran Desert. These birds may also be found in moist lowland forests and in cottonwood groves near rivers.

Gila Woodpecker habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Gila woodpeckers are solitary diurnal birds; they spend much of the day foraging and at night roost in their cavities. They forage on cacti, trees, shrubs, or on the ground. They are even known to hang on human placed hummingbird feeders and sip up the nectar. Gila woodpeckers are very noisy and their voice is a rolling 'churr' sound. They also make a 'yip yip yip' sound and a 'kee-u, kee-u, kee-u' sound. Their drum is long and steady.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Gila woodpeckers are omnivorous. They feed mainly on insects and do take fruits, nectar, seeds, as well as lizards, eggs, worms, and even young chicks of small birds.

Mating Habits

12-14 days
after 4 week
3-7 eggs

Gila woodpeckers are monogamous and pair for life. They breed from April through August and may produce 2-3 broods per season. During this time males are very territorial and will aggressively defend their territory from intruders. Gila woodpeckers build nests in holes made in saguaro cacti or mesquite trees. There, they typically lay 3-4 white eggs, although as many as 6 or 7 have been noted. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 12 to 14 days. The chicks hatch altricial; they are naked and helpless and are fed by both parents. They fledge at 4 weeks of age but usually remain with the parents for some time more.


Population threats

The main threat to Gila woodpeckers is habitat loss due to the development of the Sonoran Desert; changes in climate also could severely reduce available habitat to these birds.

Population number

According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of the Gila woodpecker is 1.5 million birds. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Gila woodpecker is named after the Gila River in Arizona.
  • The name 'Gila' is pronounced as 'heela'.
  • The cavity excavated by the Gila woodpecker in saguaro cacti is known as a "boot".
  • Nesting cavities of Gila woodpeckers are later used by a variety of other birds, including Elf owls. When chasing away intruders woodpeckers use the various threat displays; these include bill-pointing and jabbing, head shaking, wing flicking, chasing, drumming, and vocalizations. If these actions do not result in contact the birds may "freeze" for a while and then resume their dispute.


1. Gila Woodpecker on Wikipedia -
2. Gila Woodpecker on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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