Saturday, April 15, 2017

Gila Woodpecker

According to Wikipedia, the Gila woodpecker is found in the deserts of southeastern California, southern Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. However, All About Birds lists them as primarily found in southern Arizona and then deep into Mexico. It is estimated that 28% of these birds live in the U.S. and the remaining 72% live in Mexico.
Gila woodpecker on the arm of a saguaro cactus. 
The spines of the cactus glow in the sunlight as does the breast of the woodpecker. It is amazing that their feet can cling to the cactus despite all of the spines. 
The back of the woodpecker has distinctive zebra-like black and white stripes. and the head, throat, neck and belly are a more subdued grayish/tan. The adult male also has a red cap on its head. In flight, white wing patches are visible. 
Here the male is in front of the hole to the nest, while the female sits on the arm of the cactus.
Here the male leans in to feed the young ones.
Here both parents are near the hole. The males red cap is clearly visible.
Here they both stand side by side.
They build nests in holes in saguaro cacti or in mesquite trees. After excavating a hole in a saguaro, the woodpeckers let it dry out for several months, allowing the cactus pulp to solidify around the cavity. They forage primarily on saguaros, the male on the main trunk and branches and the female on diseased areas. The eat insects, fruit, seeds, bird eggs and lizards. 
Some kind of insect is in the bill.

These two Gila woodpeckers are nesting in a large saguaro cactus at the mouth of Alamo Canyon in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona. I found them as the sun was going down and the glow of the setting sun shone on the cactus. I was surprised how rapidly they left and returned to the nest with food for the young ones that I could not see or hear. 
The red cap is visible on this male.
A white wing patch is visible on this bird just taking flight. 


  1. They seem so soft and delicate, and yet they have no problem with the spines of the cactus. Very cool birds. I love the distinct coloring.

  2. Gorgeous, smart birds. What a great, safe place for a nest.