Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

16 Species of Woodpeckers in California (With Pictures)

Last Updated on

Northern Flicker bird perching on a branch

If you are a bird lover, you know that California is one of the best places to go birdwatching, especially for woodpeckers. Several species of woodpeckers call California home, so if you are looking to find one, keep reading as we provide you with a list of what can be found in the Golden State.

hummingbird divider

The 16 Species of Woodpeckers in California

1. Northern Flicker

northern flicker perching on wooden fence

Image Credit: Naturelady, Pixabay

Distinguishing Characteristics: Spotted belly
Body Size: 11–14 inches

The Northern Flicker is a common woodpecker that you can find all across America, including California. It has a spotted belly that is easy to distinguish from other birds, so it’s a great choice for beginners. This bird has more than 100 different names, including Gawker Bird, Harry Wicket, Heigh Ho, and Wake-Up, so it can sometimes be confusing to ask people about them.


2. Nuttall’s Woodpecker

NuttallsWoodpecker

Image Credit: NuttallsWoodpecker, (ADJ82, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International)

Distinguishing Characteristics: Black forehead, red crown
Body Size: 6.3–7.1 inches

The Nuttall’s Woodpecker is a relatively small bird that we are still learning about. You can only find it in California, so it’s a must-see when you are in the area. It prefers woodland areas with plenty of oak trees, and it likes to stay below 4,000 feet but above sea level.


3. Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker birds perching on a tree

Image Credit: marvinbla, Pixabay

Distinguishing Characteristics: Clown face, red cap
Body Size: 6.3–7.1 inches

The Acorn Woodpecker is a variety of woodpecker that is hard to find outside of California, so it’s worth taking the time to get a view. It has a recognizable face that many people describe as clownish due to the yellow rings around the eyes on a black mask. It also has a red cap and a black back. These birds like to gather in large groups and collect acorns to stuff into the holes that they create.


4. Downy Woodpecker

downy woodpecker bird perching on a tree

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Distinguishing Characteristics: White belly, white patch on back
Body Size: 9.8–12.2 inches

The Downy Woodpecker is a bird that you can find all across the United States but is common along California’s coast and northern areas. It likes to visit bird feeders, so it usually isn’t too hard to find.


5. White-Headed Woodpecker

Distinguishing Characteristics: White head, black body
Body Size: 7–8.5 inches

The White-Headed Woodpecker is an easy-to-identify bird once you see it, but it can be challenging to spot because you can only find it in small areas of California. Look for them among pine trees, particularly old-growth ponderosa pine and sugar pine. These birds also like to frequent recently burned areas.


6. Hairy Woodpecker

hairy woodpecker bird perching on a tree branch

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Distinguishing Characteristics: Spotted back
Body Size: 7–10.2 inches

You can find the Hairy Woodpecker across much of the United States, including much of California. It looks similar to the Downy Woodpecker, but it has a much longer bill. Look for Hairy Woodpeckers on the trunks of large trees.


7. Red-Breasted Sap Sucker

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Image Credit: Red-Breasted Sapsucker, Linda Tanner, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic

Distinguishing Characteristics: Red breast and head
Body Size: 8–9 inches

The red Breasted Sap Sucker is a variety of woodpecker that you can only find in the extreme western part of the United States, including California. Its red head and breast make it easy to identify. Look for them in pine forests where there are also plenty of aspen and alder trees.


8. Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker bird perching on a tree trunk

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Distinguishing Characteristics: Large size, red crest, black-and-white striped face
Body Size: 16–19 inches

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the larger varieties of woodpecker that you can find in the United States. These large birds are about the size of a crow, and they have a distinctive striped face with a red crown. It’s easy to find on the east coast, but in California, your best bet is to look in the northern part of the state. Seek these birds in mature forests working on downed trees and logs.


9. Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Image Credit: Ladder-backed Woodpecker, (Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)

Distinguishing Characteristics: Striped back, red crown
Body Size: 6–7.25 inches

The Ladder-Backed Woodpecker is relatively small compared to several others on this list, and it has a striped back that makes it easy to identify. Unfortunately, these birds are hard to find because they prefer to stay hidden in thick vegetation, but you can find them if you listen carefully for their tapping.


10. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Distinguishing Characteristics: Red belly, red face, black head
Body Size: 10–11 inches

Lewis’s woodpecker is easy to find throughout the western United States, including California, and its distinctive color pattern makes it a favorite among bird watchers. It has a pinkish-red belly with a grey collar and a red-and-black face. These birds prefer to catch insects in mid-air rather than drill into trees like other woodpeckers.


11. Williamson Sap Sucker

Williamson's Sapsucker (male)

Image Credit: Williamson’s Sapsucker (male), (Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)

Distinguishing Characteristics: Mostly black body, white stripes on the face, yellow belly
Body Size: 8–10 inches

The Williamson Sap Sucker is a bird with a limited range inside California, but they remain in the same place all year long. They are easy to identify by their yellow belly and cherry-red throat. These birds are easiest to find in forests that contain large coniferous trees.


12. Red-Naped Sap Sucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Image Credit: Red-naped Sapsucker, (Dominic Sherony, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 2.0 Generic)

Distinguishing Characteristics: Red throat, red crown, white-and-black striped face
Body Size: 7.5–8.3 inches

The Red-Naped Sap Sucker is a medium-sized bird that you can find in the southern part of California at certain times of the year. These birds like to frequent yards with aspen, birch, or pine trees, which is often the easiest way to spot them.


13. Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker

Distinguishing Characteristics: Vertical white wing patches, red crown and throat
Body Size: 8–9 inches

Despite their name, Yellow-Bellied Woodpeckers are mostly black and white, with a red throat and crown. Some birds can have yellowish underparts, but this area is just as likely to be white. Look for these birds on upright trees where they can create neat shallow holes to collect the tree sap that they are after.


14. Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

Image Credit: Gila Woodpecker, (Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)

Distinguishing Characteristics: Brown head and body, black-and-white striped wings
Body Size: 8.5–9.5 inches

The Gila Woodpecker is easily recognizable by its brown body and black-and-white striped wings. It enjoys spending the day foraging on desert vegetation, especially the saguaro cactus, where they like to make their home.


15. Black-Backed Woodpecker

Distinguishing Characteristics: Yellow crown, black back
Body Size: 7–9 inches

The Black-Backed Woodpecker lives year-round in the eastern and northern parts of California. These birds prefer to feed on the charred remains of trees, where their black back will help them blend in better. Another thing that differentiates these woodpeckers is that they only have three toes, while most others have four.

Related Read: Which Birds Eat Thistle? What You Need To Know!


16. Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Image Credit: Red-headed Woodpecker, The Lilac Breasted Roller, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic

Distinguishing Characteristics: Red head, large bill, white wing patches
Body Size: 7–9 inches

The Red-Headed Woodpecker is a medium-sized attractive bird that many people seek out when bird watching in California. Its red head is easy to see, and it likes to walk around on the ground looking for insects. 

•You might also like:18 Interesting and Fun Turkey Vulture Facts You Never Knew

hummingbird divider

Conclusion

There are several different kinds of woodpecker that call California home, and you can find most of them without much effort if you know where to look. The Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker are likely the easiest to find because they each have a large range. They are perfect for beginners. More experienced watchers might try to catch a glimpse of the Gila Woodpecker or the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker.


Featured Image Credit: Veronika_Andrews, Pixabay

About the Author Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.

Ed Malaker Profile Picture