An active, noisy and conspicuous bird, the golden-fronted woodpecker adds a splash of color to the mesquite brushlands of southern Texas. Fruit, nuts (especially pecans) and seed make up a large portion of its diet, which also comprises insects and larvae, gleaned from the trunks of scrubland vegetation.
Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker feeding on the branch of a tree
Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker perched on a tree trunk looking for insects
Golden-fronted Woodpecker in-flight
22cm to 26cm
42cm to 45cm
65g to 102g
Despite their name, the golden front is not the most prominent feature of a golden-fronted woodpecker, with the largest expanse of golden-yellow feathers seen on the nape of both male and female birds. A small amount of yellow is also visible above the bill, and a less obvious yellowish tinge is present on the belly, but not easy to see in the field.
Males have a small red cap, with an otherwise plain gray-white face. Their back is heavily marked with narrow black and white barring, and the central feathers of the tail are solid black, with barred feathers at the edges. The white rump and white wing patches can be seen in flight. The breast and belly are also a buffy-white color, with some black spotting on the lower flanks.
Female golden-fronted woodpeckers are similar to males, but they lack the red coloring on the crown, and their head is fully gray-white, with the exception of the yellow nape and yellow feathering above the bill, both of which are paler than in males.
Young golden-fronted woodpeckers are duller, with only muted shades of yellow on their nape and above the bill. The breast is finely streaked with darker markings, and they have a dusky brown cap.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Male
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Female
Golden-fronted woodpeckers are relatively large birds although there is a lot of variation in size between the smallest individuals and those at the top end of the size range. Males are marginally longer and heavier than females.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker resting on a wooden post
Golden-fronted woodpeckers are by no means a quiet species and their loud calls are a key factor in drawing attention to their presence. A harsh, raspy ‘kek-kek-kek’ call, used as a warning signal, and a rolling churred contact call, are the most commonly heard vocalizations.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker calling out
The Golden-fronted woodpecker’s diet is not limited to insects and includes a range of fruits, nuts, and seeds. Foraging for invertebrates and their larvae, mainly ants, beetles, moths, grasshoppers, and spiders, takes place by probing and gleaning from tree trunks and branches and also pecking on the ground.
Pecans, acorns, corn, and bananas are eaten in fall and winter, and berries (chiefly hackberry, soapberry, and wolfberry), citrus fruits, persimmon, and prickly pear cactus fruits are popular in spring and summer. Golden-fronted woodpeckers have also been noted to eat eggs stolen from other birds’ nests.
A mixed diet is fed to young golden-fronted woodpeckers, consisting of both invertebrates (cicadas, grasshoppers and ants) and plant matter (lotebush and agarita berries).
Golden-fronted Woodpecker catching flies
Golden-fronted woodpeckers’ preferred environments include dry woodlands, mesquite brushlands, and pecan groves. They are commonly found in woodlands that line streams and rivers, and in wide stretches of scrubland vegetation.
In the US, golden-fronted woodpeckers are found in the extreme south of Oklahoma, through western and southern Texas into eastern Mexico. To the south, their range extends through eastern Central America, with a presence in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and as far as Nicaragua.
According to data from the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey, the highest concentrations of golden-fronted woodpeckers are found in the deep south of Texas, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley region.
In much of southern Texas, golden-fronted woodpeckers are considered a common and widespread woodpecker, and their noisy calls and colorful plumage make them easy to spot and identify. Little data exists on populations in Mexico and further south.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker on the trunk of a tree foraging for food
Texas and Oklahoma are the only two US states with established golden-fronted woodpecker populations, the vast majority of these are in western Texas, and their range expands across the border into a small area of southern Oklahoma.
Within this range, woodland habitats – especially dry brushlands and semiopen landscapes – and suburban parks offer a chance of a sighting, particularly early in the morning when they are at their most active and can be heard calling and drumming.
Rare sightings have been recorded in New Mexico, as well as occasional accidental vagrants as far north as Michigan and as far east as Florida.
Golden-fronted woodpeckers are a southern species and no sightings have ever been reported in Canada, not even as way off-course vagrants.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker near a watering hole
The oldest recorded individual golden-fronted woodpecker was identified to be 5 years and 11 months. Breeding occurs for the first time at the age of one and is thought to be annual.
The most documented predator of golden-fronted woodpeckers is the Aplomado falcon. Hawks also prey on adult birds and rat snakes have been observed to attack nests. Golden-fronted woodpeckers face competition for their nest cavities from European starlings, eastern bluebirds and house sparrows.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects golden-fronted woodpeckers from being knowingly killed, injured, captured, or traded for sale. The law also ensures that their eggs, feathers, nest site, and chicks are safe from harm.
Golden-fronted woodpeckers are not listed as vulnerable or threatened and are rated as a species of least concern globally. They have adapted to survive well in close proximity to humans and there are no major threats to their natural habitats.
Gold-fronted Woodpecker feeding on berries
Nest cavities are chiseled out high in the trunks of mesquite, pecan, or oak, most often between 2 m and 9 m (7 ft and 30 ft) above ground.
Chambers are regularly reused in subsequent seasons and are cleaned out by the pair in between broods. Nest boxes may also occasionally be used.
Pairs can form at any time during the year, although an increase in drumming that is associated with courtship and pair formation/strengthening of pair bonds is heard in February.
It takes on average between 6 and 12 days to drill out a cavity, and eggs follow, usually between March and May, reaching a peak in April. Incubation lasts for between 12 and 14 days and is shared between males and females, with males brooding overnight.
Gold-fronted woodpeckers’ eggs are plain, glossy white, with no exterior patterns. Eggs measure 25 mm by 19 mm (1 in by 0.7 in), and a typical clutch contains 4 or 5 eggs, although sometimes larger broods, with up to 7 chicks, may be raised.
Long-term pairings for golden-fronted woodpeckers are not uncommon; pairs form and are monogamous during the breeding season, with many pairs remaining closely associated even once they have finished raising young.
One to two broods per season are most common in Texas, although further south, in Guatemala three broods may also be successfully raised.
Gold-fronted Woodpecker Male (left) and Female (right)
Gold-fronted Woodpecker drilling out a nest cavity
Rather than being outwardly aggressive, golden-fronted woodpeckers are capable of hostile reactions when their territory is invaded.
When they sense that their nest site is under threat, they will display aggressive posturing and will likely lunge at the approaching bird. Golden-fronted woodpeckers maintain territories all year round, for feeding as well as for breeding.
Solitary roosting spots are found each night in trees, sometimes in cavities, or sometimes against the trunk or in high branches. During incubation and early brooding, males remain in the nest cavity overnight.
Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker in-flight
Golden-fronted woodpeckers are not a migratory species and remain in the same territories all year round.
The west of Texas and a tiny portion of southern Oklahoma are the only two US states that have resident golden-fronted woodpeckers. This range has expanded significantly since the 1950s: the species was recorded in Oklahoma in 1954.
The global population extends southwards into Mexico and further into Central America.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker feeding on a garden feeder
Bathing in small, shallow pools is a frequently observed behavior of golden-fronted woodpeckers, so providing shallow dishes topped up with fresh water will be welcomed. Insect-rich land and a variety of fruit trees and bushes are ideal, as well as dead trees for nesting and branches for perching.
Trees favored as nesting spots for golden-fronted woodpeckers include mesquite, pecan, oak, hackberry, cottonwood, cedar elm, Mexican ash, and anacua.
Golden-fronted woodpeckers do create large holes in tree trunks, utility poles, and fence posts. They excavate cavities in both live and dead trees, but if the tree is healthy, no significant damage will be done, and they are beneficial in local ecosystems, keeping insect populations under control and indirectly providing shelter for other species to nest in.
In urban areas, golden-fronted woodpeckers are keen visitors to backyard feeders, where they are particularly fond of pecans, sunflower seeds, corn, peanuts, bananas, and citrus fruits.
The main difference between red-bellied and golden-fronted woodpeckers is the head coloring: male red-bellied woodpeckers have a solid red forehead that extends to the nape, while in golden-fronted males, the small red cap sits on an otherwise white head, with a clear golden patch above the bill and on the nape.
Females are similar, but in red-bellied woodpeckers the patch on the rear of their head is red, and in golden-fronted woodpeckers it is yellow.
Red-bellied woodpeckers have a far wider range that extends across much of the eastern United States. Golden-fronted woodpeckers are found in a much smaller area and are only present in a very small region of Oklahoma and across larger parts of Texas.
The most notable characteristic of a golden-fronted woodpecker is the vibrant gold-orange nape patch, as well as the yellow feathering around the bill, and, in males, the scarlet cap. Their bodies are heavily barred with black and white, their tail is solid black, and they have a white nape that is visible in flight.
Williamson’s sapsuckers are found in scattered breeding locations between southwestern Canada and parts of the southern and western United States. Winter territories extend into central Mexico. Unusually for a woodpecker, male and female Williamson’s sapsuckers are very different in appearance, with males a striking, bold black, white, yellow and red, and females mainly a cryptic mottled brown, with heavy light and dark barring.
Arizona woodpeckers are small woodpeckers, native to a small area centered on oak, sycamore and pine forests in the southwestern corner of Arizona and across the border in a strip that runs through western Mexico. Due to their remote nesting sites, there is little detailed information available about this species.
Similar in habits and appearance to the more widespread northern flicker, the gilded flicker is a colorful resident of the desert landscapes of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, where it excavates nest cavities high up in giant saguaro cacti.
Formerly known as cactus woodpeckers, ladder-backed woodpeckers are native to the desert landscapes of the southern United States and Mexico. They construct nest cavities in trees or cacti on arid scrublands, where they feed on insects and larvae living on the thorny vegetation.
Only found in mountainous pine forests of the western United States and in a small region of British Columbia, white-headed woodpeckers are one of North America’s least numerous woodpeckers. Habitat loss, due to logging and removal of snags from coniferous woodlands, is a potential threat to the stability of the species’ population.
The only North American woodpecker to excavate cavities in living, green wood, the red-cockaded woodpecker is also the most endangered on the continent, with a population of only around 15,000, a decline of more than 80 percent since the 1970s.
A small woodpecker native to oak woodlands of western California, the Nuttall’s woodpecker takes its name from the British naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Year-round residents of the extreme southwest corner of the United States, Nuttall’s woodpeckers excavate their own cavities, but do not reuse them in subsequent seasons, making them a key contributor to the survival of secondary-cavity nesters, such as wrens and titmice.
Black-backed woodpeckers are found in coniferous forests of southern Canada and parts of the northern United States. Their inky black plumage acts as effective camouflage against the charred trees of burned forests they inhabit after forest fires, where they thrive, feasting on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
One of two North American woodpecker species with three toes, the American three-toed woodpecker is widespread across much of Canada and also resident in the Rocky Mountain states of the US. Three-toed feet are a particularly useful adaptation that allow these woodpeckers to lean back further while clinging to a tree, and therefore deliver stronger, more powerful blows when striking the trunk.
Native to the western coastal regions of North America, red-breasted sapsuckers are unmistakable woodland birds with a crimson head and breast and bold white shoulder stripe. Perhaps what makes them more remarkable still are the neat rows of holes they drill into trunks of trees to access the sweet sap inside.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a controversial bird. Officially listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, they are generally believed to be extinct. Still, some birdwatchers cling to the hope that these majestic birds still haunt the forests of the American Southeast.
The Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive bird by all accounts. As the largest American representative of the Picidae family, they are twice the weight of any other surviving woodpecker in the United States.
Named for its characteristic call, or perhaps the flash of white rump and brightly colored wing feathers, the Northern Flicker is a large, handsome woodpecker that you’re more likely to see foraging on the ground than up in the trees.
The deserts of the Southwest are home to a unique and rowdy woodpecker species. Gila Woodpeckers are adapted to life in the arid zone, where the mighty Saguaro cactus replaces regular trees.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a bold and bright forest bird that occurs almost throughout North America. They are regular and welcome visitors to backyard bird feeders, although less common than the similar Downy Woodpecker.
Despite their name, the most conspicuous feature of red-bellied woodpeckers is the vibrant red coloring on the head, crown and nape of males of the species. The “red belly” is limited to a pinkish patch, barely visible unless at very close range. These highly patterned black-and-white woodpeckers are present across much of the eastern US, where they are both common and widespread.
A colorful member of the woodpecker family, the red-headed Woodpecker is widespread across the east-central United States. It is an occasional visitor to backyard feeders in winter, with its brilliant crimson head in deep contrast to its black and white body making it instantly recognizable.
Often dubbed the “clown-faced woodpecker”, acorn woodpeckers are distinctive red-crowned woodland birds found along the Pacific Coast of the United States. As well as their striking appearance, they are known for their intricate carpentry work to create “granaries” in trees for storing acorns.
Anything but a typical woodpecker, the Lewis’s woodpecker forages for flying insects like a flycatcher, has the shape and stature of a crow or jay, and the coloring of a hummingbird. They are not particularly skilled at excavating nest cavities and their drumming abilities are limited.
Known for their fondness of tree sap and ability to drill neat rows of sap wells into tree trunks, red-naped sapsuckers are the most common species of sapsucker in the western regions of North America, and favor aspen stands and ponderosa pine forests for both nesting and foraging.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does not have the most flattering (or accurate) name. Widespread across the eastern half of North America, these birds are one of just four species in the Sphyrapicus genus.
America’s most common woodpecker is also its smallest. The boldly marked Downy Woodpecker is a familiar little bird of forests, woodlands, and backyards across the United States and Canada.
Once a common breeding bird in the UK, the Wryneck is now only a brief visitor en route between Northern European breeding grounds and African overwintering sites. What they lack in colour and song is made up by wonderfully textured plumage and some truly bizarre behaviours.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is the United Kingdom’s rarest woodpecker species, and its unexplained decline is of great concern. This elusive, sparrow-sized species presents a real birdwatching challenge.
European Green Woodpecker
Woodpeckers belong to the family Picidae. There are over 230 recognised species of woodpecker from 33 genera, to be found across the world, albeit many species are specific to relatively small, isolated areas. As a family they can be found in almost all regions of the globe apart from Antarctica, Greenland, Madagascar and Australasia. This profile is limited to the 3 species of Picus viridis otherwise known as the Eurasian Green Woodpecker and concentrates on the Picus viridis viridis subspecies, common throughout the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia and western Russia.
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