What is a Gila Woodpecker?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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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.

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 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.


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