Arizona is known for its beautiful desert landscape. Luckily for birdwatchers, woodpeckers love the beautiful landscape just as much as we do. There are 14 species that visit the state and about a dozen that make it their home year-round.
You can just sit in your backyard and wait for the birds to come and visit. Many woodpeckers love to feed at suet or seed feeders. But if you want to go exploring, Arizona is full of beautiful wilderness areas to watch woodpeckers. Plus, the warm winter weather in much of the state means you have extra time to see which birds you can spot.
Head to the Grand Canyon National Park, the Petrified Forest National Park, or Saguaro National Park, and you’re sure to see many of the following species:
Here are the species you might see in Arizona:
- Acorn Woodpecker
- Arizona Woodpecker
- American Three-Toed Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Gila Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Ladder-Backed Woodpecker
- Lewis’s Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Red-Breasted Sapsucker
- Red-Naped Sapsucker
- Red-Headed Woodpecker
- Williamson’s Sapsucker
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
14 Types of Woodpeckers in Arizona
1. Acorn Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
Size: 7.5-9 inches
Weight: 2.3-3.2 ounces
Wingspan: 14-17 inches
Acorn woodpeckers are sometimes described as having the face of a clown because they have a black mouth surrounded by a white border and black over their eyes. These clowns of the forest have a red cap, a black body, and a white patch on the rear and on each wing. The chest is light gray or white.
These woodpeckers live in evergreen forests on the west coast and a few parts of the southwest, such as Arizona. They collect acorns and fill holes in trees full of the nuts they’ve collected. Several generations of woodpeckers will then use up these stored nuts, and one tree may contain up to 50,000 holes!
You might think that by the name, they only eat acorns, but they also eat insects, especially ants, seeds, nuts, and sometimes the eggs of other birds.
This is one of the few woodpecker species that prefers to live in small colonies rather than alone, and studies reveal that they do this to help one another raise young, a practice called cooperative breeding.
2. Arizona Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates arizonae
Size: 18.104.22.168 inches
Weight: 1.2-1.8 ounces
Wingspan: 14 inches
If you guessed that this would be one of the common woodpeckers in Arizona, you guessed right. It lives in the southeastern part of the state as well as in the southwestern part of New Mexico. Its range extends south into Mexico.
The Arizona woodpecker stands out from other woodpeckers in Arizona because it is primarily brown rather than black. It has a spotted and barred belly that is brown and cream. The males have a red crown, and the females have a brown cheek patch (but they don’t have any red).
This interesting bird starts at the bottom of a tree and works its way up in a spiral pattern, searching for insects. During the winter, you’ll often see them hanging out with flocks of other species.
One Arizona woodpecker was once spotted hammering on the leg of a horse looking for a tasty treat. It kept pursuing the horse even after it walked off!
3. American Three-Toed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides dorsalis
Size: 8.3-9.1 inches
Weight: 1.6-2.4 ounces
Wingspan: 14.6-15.3 inches
This woodpecker primarily makes Canada its home, but it also lives down in the US in the Rocky Mountains, including Utah, Idaho, Montana, and it is scarce but can be seen in Arizona and New Mexico.
This bird likes to hunt in burned-out areas and forests where beetles have killed lots of trees and left them standing dead. It hunts for insects, pulling and stripping away bark until it finds what it is looking for.
Yes, this bird only has three toes, but you’ll most easily be able to identify it by its coloring since it’s hard to see its toes unless you’re up close. It’s primarily black, but it does have white barring on its sides and back, and the chest is white. The male has a bright yellow crown.
4. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
Size: 7 inches long
Weight: 0.75-0.99 ounces
Wingspan: 10-12 inches
The downy woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in Arizona and is extremely common across the rest of North America. An excellent thing for birdwatchers is that it doesn’t migrate. Instead, it stays in its home year-round, which means you might be able to spot it even during the winter.
You can find this itty-bitty woodpecker pretty much anywhere. It lives in rural areas, cities, suburban yards, and wilderness areas. It doesn’t mind the desert or a nice wooded area.
During the wintertime, they flock with other common birds such as chickadees and nuthatches. They build their nests in the cavity of trees where they live and raise their young. While they may change their habitat range during the seasons, they don’t ever go too far. They’re homebodies like that.
Downy woodpeckers are black and white, with distinctly spotted wings and a white chest. Adult males have a bright red cap on the back of their heads, which makes them easy to identify from females.
If you want to watch these birds (and many other woodpeckers) in the wild, place a suet feeder in your yard. They love them and will come to hang out for a bit so that you can observe their antics.
Because of their small size, they can access parts of the tree or land on small stems of plants to hunt for food. They’re also small enough that they often make nests in the wood siding of homes, much to the dismay of homeowners.
5. Gila Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes uropygialis
Size: 8.7-9.4 inches
Weight: 1.8-2.8 ounces
Wingspan: 15.8-16.5 inches
In Southern California, Arizona, and a small section of New Mexico lives the Gila woodpecker. This bird makes its home in the arid deserts of southern North America, where it makes its nest in dead trees or living saguaro cacti. No wonder they love Arizona.
They eat insects and fruit, and they’ll also nibble on nuts and seeds in backyard feeders, so be sure to put some food out to draw them in.
The birds have a tan head and belly and black and white striped wings. Males have a red crown, but females and juveniles do not. They’re territorial and will chase off swallows, wrens, and European starlings. That’s good because European Starlings take over the nests of some woodpecker species.
6. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides villosus
Size: 7.5 inches
Weight: 1.4-3.4 ounces
Wingspan: 13-16 inches
Hairy woodpeckers are sometimes confused with downy woodpeckers, but you can tell them apart because hairy woodpeckers are bigger and have a longer bill. Their bill is almost the same length as their head. They are black and white all over their bodies. You can tell the genders apart because the adult males have a little red spot on the back of their heads.
These pretty woodpeckers aren’t as common in cities as their cousin, the downy woodpecker. However, you can still see them in parks, suburban areas, cemeteries, and other quiet wooded or open areas. They also visit suet feeders in suburban backyards, so you might see them visiting you.
Like their cousin, the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpeckers don’t migrate during the cold weather. They stay put all year. They make their nests in the cavities of dead trees. Research published in The Journal of Wildlife Management found that they prefer forests that have been burned recently.
Populations have been declining in the past few decades because they’re losing their habitat. They also face pressure from invasive birds like European starlings, which steal their nesting spots.
7. Ladder-Backed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates scalaris
Size: 6.3-7.1 inches
Weight: 0.7-1.7 ounces
Wingspan: 13 inches
Across the arid deserts of the southwestern US live the Ladder-backed woodpecker. These tiny foragers flit among the cacti to find food, and they’ll also visit feeders to snack on mealworms or black oil sunflower seeds.
If you live in Arizona, leave mealworms and sunflower seeds out, and you have a good chance of spotting these lovely woodpeckers.
They’re black and white with white bars across the wings and back that look very much like a ladder. The chest is spotted black and white. The males have a red crown.
While other woodpecker species that make their home in the desert need large plants to make a nest in, these petite little birds can live in the scrub and shrubs. They’re a close relative of the Nutall’s woodpecker.
8. Lewis’s Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes lewis
Size: 10.2-11 inches
Weight: 3.1-4.9 ounces
Wingspan: 19-.20.5 inches
This medium-sized woodpecker typically lives across the western half of the US, including Arizona, migrating from the northern part of the country to the southern region during the winter.
When they’re breeding and migrating in the spring, you might spot them in the midwest, but these woodpeckers live year-round in Arizona.
They don’t dig or peck into trees as most other woodpeckers do. Instead, they hunt for insects crawling around on the bark.
These lovely woodpeckers stand out with their green and pink feathers and red face with white necks. They also like to catch insects mid-air while they’re flying, which sets them apart from other species. That’s something most woodpeckers don’t do, usually.
As fall comes around, this industrious bird collects acorns and other nuts and stuffs them into cavities in trees so that they have food for later.
Pairs mate for life and make nests in excavated trees or utility poles.
9. Northern Flicker
Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
Size: 11-12 inches
Weight: 4-6.5 ounces
Wingspan: 16.5-20 inches
The beautiful northern flicker woodpecker lives in open habitats near trees, as well as in parks and cemeteries across Arizona. They are a frequent visitor to suet feeders in suburban and urban yards. Unlike some woodpeckers, they like to hunt around on the ground rather than in the trees.
The males, females, and juveniles vary in appearance. They’re brown in color overall, with black spots. The underside of the wings and tails are yellow in the eastern half of the US and red in the western half of the US.
Some have a red or black stripe on their cheeks, and many of them have large, black crescents on their chest. Others have red marks on the back of the head. Some have a slightly gray head.
In the spring, the calls of Northern flickers can be heard for a long way. It’s a common sound, and once you know how to identify their calls and drumming, it’s easy to tell when they’re around.
They primarily eat ants, but they’ll also dine on insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and termites. There are also reports that they’re capable of catching young bats as they leave the nest.
You can entice them to visit your home by offering a suet feeder in the yard.
Flickers who live in Alaska and Canada will migrate to areas that have higher temperatures, like Arizona during the winter.
Studies show that Northern Flickers can lose their nests to invaders like European starlings.
10. Red-Breasted Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber
Size: 7.9-8.7 inches
Weight: 1.9-2.2 ounces
Wingspan: 14.5-16 inches
These woodpeckers live on the west coast of the US, migrating from Canada to Southern California throughout the year. They don’t live in Arizona, but you will occasionally see these woodpeckers pop over to visit the state.
They have brush-like tongues that they use to lap up sap that they access by pecking little holes in the wood of trees. They’ll also eat the soft green layer of wood underneath the bark. They also eat berries and fruit and will visit suet feeders.
The adults have a red head and chest, with a black back and mottled grey and black chest. Juveniles lack the red head and chest and have an overall brown hue.
They’re related to Red-naped sapsuckers, and for a while, scientists thought they were the same species. Scientists have determined that these birds prefer old-growth forests and that populations might be reduced as old-growth forests are cut down.
11. Red-naped Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Weight: 1.1-2.3 ounces
Wingspan: 16-16.9 inches
As the name suggests, this bird has a thing for the sap in trees. It will tap little holes into the bark so that sugary sap runs out and it can eat it.
They particularly love aspen, pine, and birch trees. They’ll even nest in backyards that have those trees, and they will stop and visit if you provide them with a suet feeder.
These sapsuckers have vertical white patches that you can only see when the wing is folded. They have black and white striped bodies and heads and a bright red cap and throat, though some females have a white throat.
This is a close relative of the red-bellied sapsucker and the yellow-bellied sapsucker. They all look fairly similar.
These woodpeckers live in northern Arizona during the breeding season, southern Arizona during the non-breeding season, and in the central part of the state year-round.
12. Red-headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Size: 7.5-9.1 inches
Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
Wingspan: 16.5 inches
Red-headed woodpeckers are very striking. They have solid black wings with a big white patch and white bodies. To top it off, a deep, dark red head and neck that is so vibrant it looks like velvet.
The juveniles are brownish-black with white spots on the wings and dull red cheeks.
They don’t cross the Rocky Mountains, but they can be found in all parts east, from Canada to Florida.
They winter in Texas and northern Mexico, and breed in the northern end of the US and southern Canada. Rarely, these woodpeckers will pop over to parts of Arizona.
It’s one of the few woodpeckers out there who like to store food for the winter. They stuff seeds and nuts in bark or holes in trees. They have even been known to stuff food under shingles.
They also hunt their prey, snatching insects out of the air, which is another rare behavior for woodpeckers.
13. Williamson’s Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus
Size: 8.3-9.8 inches
Weight: 1.6-1.9 ounces
Wingspan: 17 inches
Like other sapsuckers, this one drills small holes into trees. Then they wait for the sap to start leaking out and they drink it. They also eat ants and other small insects.
These woodpeckers prefer coniferous forests, and they live in the mountains of western North America including Arizona year-round. They spend their time in the higher elevation forests and drop down to lower elevations during the winter.
However, in the 1990s, scientists found that this sapsucker had extended its range as far south as Baja California.
Large for a sapsucker, the males are mostly black with white patches on the wings and a red throat.
The females have horizontal barring on their backs. They also have brown heads. The sexes appear so different from one another that scientists originally thought that they were different species.
The males carve out holes in trees to create a nest for the female to lay her eggs in.
14. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Size: 7.1-8.7 inches
Weight: 1.5-1.9 ounces
Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 inches
The beautiful yellow-bellied sapsucker lives in the eastern half of the US but it will rarely head over to warmer parts of the western US during the winter.
These birds are mostly black and white, with white bellies, and black and white barred wings and back. You can tell the difference between males and females because the throat of the male is bright red. Females, on the other hand, have a white throat. Both the females and males have red foreheads.
The females have a faint yellow coloring to their bellies, but it can be so indistinct that you might not be able to identify it.
The birds drill little holes with their beaks and then they wait for the sweet sap to emerge from the tree. They lick this up, as well as any insects that crawl along and get themselves stuck in the sap.
You might see them hanging out at your backyard suet feeder, but they mostly stick to forested areas.
Also Read: Owls in Arizona