Gila Woodpecker

You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a detailed view.

With the possible exception of the Cactus Wren, I cannot think of any bird species that is more directly associated with the Sonoran Desert than is the Gila Woodpecker. Take a walk in our desert and I can practically guarantee that within 30 minutes or so you will hear a Gila Woodpecker calling and very likely, see one.

Gila Woodpeckers are easy to identify with their zebra-striped backs and outer wings and their buff-colored heads, necks, and breasts. They are much larger than another common desert-loving woodpecker, the Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Male Gilas, such as the one shown in today’s post, have brilliant red caps atop their heads. Females have identical plumage to the males but lack the red cap.

Gila Woodpeckers are clearly at home in the desert and, in fact, they appear to depend on the giant Saguaro Cacti as nest sites. There seem to be very few mature Saguaros that don’t have at least one neat round hole — the entrance to a Gila’s nest — drilled into their vertical columns.

Gilas aren’t exclusively desert dwellers, however: they will also happily inhabit riparian woodlands and other habitats at relatively low elevations. I photographed the individual depicted in today’s post close to the banks of a creek in Patagonia, about 75 miles southeast of Tucson.

Gila Woodpeckers have a call that is as distinctive as is their appearance — a very loud, rapidly repeated one-note chime. These woodpeckers call constantly as they forage, and I often hear one of them calling before I see it.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO). All images f5.6 @ 1/2000, -1/3 stop exposure compensation. First and third images, ISO 8000, second image, ISO 4000.

2 Replies to “Gila Woodpecker”

  1. picpholio says:

    Totaly different from the woodpeckers we have here in Belgium. Nice to see this species, thanks for sharing.

  2. cintwigg says:

    I am wondering – why do these birds call as they forage? And – I love the stripes and red cap!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at