At AllThingsNature, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Gila Woodpecker?

Steve R.
Steve R.

Native to the American Southwest and Mexico, the gila woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) is a bird known for a black and white pattern on its back that closely resembles the pattern of a zebra, and its distinctive high pitched "churring" call. Males are easily identified by the red feathers on the top of their craniums. Standing 8 to 10 inches (about 20 to 25 centimeters) tall, and weighing 3.5 ounces (about 68 grams), the gila woodpecker boasts a wingspan of 16 inches (about 41 centimeters).

The gila woodpecker, which has a life span of about 10 years, is commonly located in desert habitats, such as southeastern California, southern parts of Arizona, southwestern Nevada, and southwestern New Mexico. In addition, the bird is found in southern and central Mexico. Even though the woodpecker's numbers exceeded more than three million in 2010, human development within the bird’s natural habitats threatens to reduce the gila population. Other threats to the woodpecker include natural predators like bobcats, coyotes, snakes, and coyotes.

Gila woodpeckers are native to the American Southwest and parts of Mexico.
Gila woodpeckers are native to the American Southwest and parts of Mexico.

A medium-sized woodpecker, the bird has a brown face and neck, gray or tan throat and stomach, and white patches that are displayed while the gila is in flight. The woodpecker possesses a muscular neck and head that enables its beak to bore into trees, cacti, and other material. Often times, males will even hammer loudly on metal in order to proclaim their territory or seek a mate.

The coyote is a natural predator of the gila woodpecker.
The coyote is a natural predator of the gila woodpecker.

The woodpecker uses its long beak to make a nest in the saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert or in mesquite trees. The inside of the cactus offers a secure and cool location for the woodpecker and its young. When the nests are abandoned, the homes are often taken over by owls or other birds.

In early spring, the gila woodpeckers mate. The female woodpecker typically lays three to five white eggs inside a nest a tree or cactus. Within two weeks, the eggs hatch. The male and female both feed their young. The males, however, typically spend more time protecting the nest, while females usually gather the food. About a month after their birth, the young will leave the nest.

The diet of the gila woodpecker consists of mostly insects. The bird also consumes fruits, berries and seeds. On occasion, the woodpecker will eat the eggs of lizards and other birds. Some woodpeckers near human populations feed off of birdfeeders or even dog food.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Gila Woodpecker and where can it be found?

The Gila Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird native to the desert regions of the southwestern United States and western Mexico. It's known for its distinctive black and white barred pattern on its back and a brown face and neck. These birds are commonly found in saguaro cactus habitats, where they play a vital role in the ecosystem by creating nesting cavities.

What does the Gila Woodpecker eat?

Gila Woodpeckers have a varied diet that includes insects, fruits, and nectar. They are particularly fond of the fruit and nectar of cacti, such as the saguaro and organ pipe cacti. Their foraging behavior also helps in controlling insect populations and in the pollination of cactus flowers, contributing to the health of their desert habitats.

How does the Gila Woodpecker contribute to its ecosystem?

Gila Woodpeckers are considered keystone species in their desert ecosystems. By excavating nesting cavities in saguaro cacti, they create habitats for various other species, such as owls, snakes, and invertebrates. These cavities are essential for the survival of these species, especially in the harsh desert environment where shelter is scarce.

What are the distinctive features of the Gila Woodpecker?

The Gila Woodpecker is easily recognized by its barred black and white wings and back, with males sporting a small red cap on the top of their heads. They have a stout, chisel-like bill for drilling into wood and cacti, and a long, sticky tongue for extracting insects. Their call is a rolling 'churr' sound, which is often heard in the desert.

Is the Gila Woodpecker an endangered species?

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2023, the Gila Woodpecker is not considered an endangered species. However, it is subject to the same environmental pressures as many wildlife species, including habitat loss and climate change. Conservation efforts are important to ensure the preservation of their habitats and the biodiversity of the desert regions they inhabit.

How do Gila Woodpeckers reproduce and raise their young?

Gila Woodpeckers mate for life and typically lay 3 to 5 eggs in a nesting cavity they've excavated in a saguaro cactus or tree. Both parents share incubation duties for about 14 days, and once hatched, the chicks are fed by both parents. The young woodpeckers fledge in about a month but may stay with the parents for several months thereafter.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Gila woodpeckers are native to the American Southwest and parts of Mexico.
      By: angelo lano
      Gila woodpeckers are native to the American Southwest and parts of Mexico.
    • The coyote is a natural predator of the gila woodpecker.
      By: gabe9000c
      The coyote is a natural predator of the gila woodpecker.