12 Species of Woodpeckers in Nevada

There are 12 species of woodpeckers that can be seen regularly in Nevada. They include the downy woodpecker, northern flicker, white-headed woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, red-naped sapsucker, Lewis’s woodpecker, Williamson Sapsucker, red-breasted sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, Gila woodpecker, American three-toed woodpecker, and the gilded flicker.

Rarer or accidental sightings in the state of Nevada are the pileated woodpeckers, the red-headed woodpecker, and the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Woodpeckers can be found in various places, including suburban backyards, woodlands, and forests. This resource is a guide to identifying and learning more about these birds in detail or finding out which kind lives near you in Nevada.

Some people see woodpeckers as a nuisance since they can cause damage to buildings and houses, especially cedar siding. Others see them as good as they eat insects and keep the insect population in check.

No matter which way you see them woodpeckers are interesting creatures and provide a beautiful sound when pecking.

All woodpeckers are protected by the federal migratory bird treaty act which makes it unlawful to kill, harm, hunt, etc. any species of woodpecker.

Where To Find Woodpeckers In Nevada

Nevada is known for its arid landscapes, and while woodpeckers are not as common in this state compared to others here are some places where you can potentially find woodpeckers in Nevada:

  1. Spring Mountains National Recreation Area: Located near Las Vegas, the Spring Mountains offer a diverse range of habitats, including ponderosa pine forests. Look for the Lewis’s Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker in these areas.
  2. Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest: This expansive forest spans across Nevada, as well as parts of California and Utah. Within the Nevada portion, particularly in the northern and eastern regions, you may spot woodpeckers like the Lewis’s Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and Northern Flicker.
  3. Great Basin National Park: Situated in eastern Nevada, this park features a mix of alpine meadows, forests, and rocky terrain. While woodpecker sightings can be less frequent here, you might still encounter species such as the Williamson’s Sapsucker and Northern Flicker.
  4. Ruby Mountains Wilderness: Located in northeastern Nevada near Elko, the Ruby Mountains offer a combination of high-elevation forests and aspen groves. Keep an eye out for woodpeckers like the Williamson’s Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker.
  5. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: Found in southern Nevada near Pahrump, this refuge consists of wetlands, springs, and desert scrub. Although woodpeckers are less common in this habitat, you may occasionally see the Gila Woodpecker and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

For more birdwatching in Nevada see our article on backyard birds.

Woodpeckers In Nevada

1. northern flickers

Northern Flicker

Scientific Name: Colaptes auratus  Size: 11.0-12.2 inches

Description And Field

The Northern Flicker male and female are similar in color. They both have a rounded head, the bill is curved down and the tail tapers to a long point.

With its gray-brown plumage, Northern Flickers stand out from other woodpeckers in their area. They also have plenty of dark markings on their undersides and brightly colored tail feathers.

Although the same bird their colors differ from the eastern United States (bright yellow wing and tail feathers) and the western US (red wing and tail feathers).

The Northern Flicker is “the woodpecker that doesn’t peck wood.” Instead, it cleans insects from the bark of trees.


It nests in holes excavated by other animals, such as squirrels and woodpeckers. It lays 5 to 8 eggs which are all white. They only have one brood per nesting season.

The incubation period is around 2 weeks and the young stay in the nest for about a month.


Northern Flickers mostly will eat insects that they get from the ground. They will “drum” at the ground as other woodpeckers drum in trees and wood. During the winter months, they will also eat fruits and seeds.

The Northern Flicker is a great backyard bird because it is generally easy to attract and stops in at your suet and peanut feeders, but most likely you’ll see them nesting in old trees.


You will see Northern Flickers in city parks and backyards in the suburbs. They will also be in woodlands with open trees, burned forests, swamps, and marshes.

The Northern Flicker is a common woodpecker in Nevada all year-round but their numbers increase in the winter from birds migrating to New Mexico from Canada.

Call And Drumming

The Northern Flicker has a wide range of calls. It has a typical woodpecker-like “drum” and a more musical, gurgling call that is often mistaken for the song of the Red-winged Blackbird.

They make excellent watch birds due to their loud “wicka-wicka-wicka” call that can be heard from quite a distance.

2. red-breasted sapsuckers

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus ruber Size: 8.5-9.5 inches

Description and field marks

The plumage of the Red-breasted Sapsucker is striking and easily recognizable:

  • Head and Neck: The head and neck are predominantly black, contrasting with a bright red forehead and a red throat patch.
  • Breast and Belly: The breast and upper belly of the Red-breasted Sapsucker are pale red, transitioning to a white or pale yellow color on the lower belly.
  • Back and Wings: The back is mostly black with fine white barring or spotting. The wings are black with a broad white stripe along the leading edge.
  • Tail: The tail is black with white outer tail feathers, forming a distinctive white patch when the bird is in flight.
  • Face: Has a white or pale yellowish stripe that extends from the base of the bill, through the eye, and towards the back of the head.


Red-breasted Sapsuckers typically excavate their nests in dead or decaying trees with both the male and female building the nest. The female lays 4 to 7 eggs, which are white and glossy and is responsible for incubating the eggs. The male provides her with food during this period which lasts around 11 to 13 days.

Once the eggs hatch, both parents contribute to the care of the nestlings. They feed the young with regurgitated insects and occasionally with tree sap. The nestlings remain in the nest for about 24 to 30 days before fledging.


The diet of Red-breasted Sapsuckers primarily consists of tree sap, but they also consume insects and supplement their diet with fruits and berries during certain seasons.


Red-breasted Sapsuckers inhabit coniferous and mixed forests, particularly those with mature trees. They can be found in mountainous regions, as well as in coastal areas.

Although not common in Nevada the best time to see them is during migration in spring (April to May) and fall (August to October). Look for them in places such as the Sierra Nevada range, particularly around higher elevations.

call and drumming

The Red-breasted Sapsucker produces various calls, including a distinct “mewing” sound and a rattling or drumming sound that is used for territorial communication.

3. white-headed woodpecker

Scientific Name: Picoides albolarvatus Size: 8-9 inches

Description And Field Marks

The White-headed Woodpecker has striking black and white plumage. Its head, neck, and throat are pure white, contrasting sharply with the rest of its body, which is primarily black. The wings and back are black, with prominent white patches on the wings that are visible in flight. The underparts, including the belly, are also white. The male also has a small red patch on the nape of their necks.


These woodpeckers excavate their own nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees. The nesting cavity is created by both the male and female, who take turns excavating the hole. The entrance hole is usually a circular or slightly oval shape. The only material put in the cavity is wood chips for the nesting floor.

The female lays 3 to 5 glossy white eggs. Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs for about 12 to 14 days. Both parents also participate in feeding the nestlings. The young leave the nest 24 to 27 days after hatching.


The White-headed Woodpecker is often seen foraging on the trunks and branches of trees, where it searches for insects, beetles, and their larvae. It may also feed on seeds and pine nuts.


The White-headed Woodpecker is typically found in coniferous forests, particularly those with mature pine trees.

White-headed Woodpeckers are rare in Nevada but can be seen in Mt. Charleston, by Lake Tahoe, and by the California/Nevada border.

Call And Drumming

Its call is a sharp, metallic “peek” or “tchik” sound.

4. hairy woodpecker

Scientific Name: Leuconotopicus villosus  Size: 7.1-10.2 inches

Description And Field Marks

Very similar to the Downy Woodpecker in color and looks except the Hairy Woodpecker is larger in size and has a longer bill.


Hairy Woodpeckers make their nest in trees, especially diet trees. They lay 3-6 all-white eggs with an incubation period of 10 to 12 days. The young woodpeckers remain in the nest for about a month.


Their main source of food is insects that they find in trees and branches.


Hairy Woodpeckers are year-round residents of Nevada. You can see them all over but especially in the western part of the state. If you don’t see them you will definitely hear them drumming on trees.

Call And Drumming

5. red-naped sapsuckers

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis Size: 7 to 9 inches

Description And Field Marks

The Red-naped Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with black and white plumage with yellow and red accents. Its upper parts are black-barred with white, and it has a bold white stripe across each wing. It has yellowish bellies, black breast bands, and red throats. Its head is bright red with black stripes through and above the eyes.

The beak of Red-Naped Sapsuckers is short and straight. Males and females look much alike, but females usually have less red on their throats and napes.


The Red-naped Sapsucker creates its nest typically in healthy aspen trees or dead conifers. They use their powerful feet and stiff tail feathers to hitch up and down the tree bark and begin to drill circular and rectangular holes. Once they have excavated the nest cavity, they will line it with woodchips.

Once the nest is ready, the female lays 3-7 white eggs which need to be incubated for 12-13 days with a nesting period of about a month. Both the male and female look after the young. The Red-naped Sapsucker may reuse their old nests or build new nests in the same tree.


The Red-naped Sapsucker is an omnivore and primarily feeds on sap from trees such as willow, birch, alder, and chokecherry. They drill rectangular or circular holes into the inner bark of these trees and lap up the sap using their specialized tongue.

They also consume insects such as ants, spiders, beetles, flies, fruits, and seeds. During the nesting season, they eat more insects to feed their young. Red-naped Sapsuckers are also known to visit bird feeders for breadcrumbs.


The Red-naped sapsucker is a short-distance migratory bird and is found in the western parts of the United States, from Washington to Montana, going down to Los Angeles and New Mexico, and moving past the Gulf of California to Mexico.

During the breeding season, it is mainly found in deciduous and evergreen forests, as well as gardens, yards, and forest edges from elevations of 1,000 to 10,000 feet. They also inhabit coastal forests comprised mainly of dead trees or large snags, as well as mixed coniferous forests, open- and closed-canopy forests, burns, and clear-cuts, if there are some remaining standing trees. In addition, they may inhabit orchards and woodlands.

Red-naped Sapsuckers can be found in Nevada during the spring and summer breeding seasons. They are found in the mountainous regions of Nevada, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state. This includes areas such as the Sierra Nevada range, Great Basin National Park, Ruby Mountains, and the Lake Tahoe region.

Call And Drumming

Both males and females use the scream, squeal, and waa call

6. Ladder-backed woodpeckers

Scientific Name: Picoides scalaris  Size: 6.3-7.1 inches

Description And Field Marks

A ladder-backed woodpecker is a small woodpecker the size between a sparrow and a robin. It is primarily colored black and white, with a barred pattern on its back and wings resembling the rungs of a ladder. The male has a red crown patch while the females have a black crown. Juveniles are similar to adult males, though the red is less extensive.


The ladder-backed Woodpecker typically nests in a cavity excavated in a tree, large cactus, utility pole, or fencepost, usually 4-20′ above ground, although sometimes higher. Both sexes may excavate the cavity, but the male may do most of the work.

The pair may remain together for most of the year, performing displays such as raising head feathers, bobbing and turning the head, spreading wings and tail, and taking flight for territorial defense.

The female usually lays 3-4 white eggs, which hatch at about 13 days. Both parents feed the young insects, but the age when the young leave the nest is not well known.


The Ladder-backed Woodpecker has an omnivorous diet, primarily composed of insects such as wood-boring beetles, leafworms, caterpillars, ants, true bugs, and some insect larvae. They will also feed on berries and cactus fruit when necessary.

They may also come for mealworms offered at feeding stations, peanut butter, and black oil sunflower seeds. Additionally, they may be attracted to suet feeders in the northern parts of their range.


The Ladder-backed woodpecker is primarily found in dry brushy areas and thickets deserts, such as the southeastern corner of California into Mexico. They may also inhabit treeless areas such as deserts, desert scrubs, and thorn forests with elevations of up to 7,600 feet.

They are found in the southwestern United States and appear similar to Nuttall’s woodpecker but have less black on their head and upper back.

The Ladder-backed Woodpeckers can be seen year-round in the southern regions of Nevada, closer to the border with Arizona. Look for them in areas such as Clark County, particularly in desert habitats with suitable vegetation.

Call And Drumming

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker’s vocalizations and calls include a repeated, high-pitched “pik,” a slightly descending “jee jee jee” series, and a slower “kweek kweek kweek.” Its drum is an uncomplicated roll

7. downy woodpecker

Scientific Name: Dryobates pubescens  Size:  5.5-6.7 inches

Description And Field Marks

Downy Woodpeckers are bigger than the House Finch but smaller than Red-winged Blackbirds and are the smallest woodpecker in New Mexico. It has a black-and-white striped head and black wings with white spots and a solid white back and white underparts. The Downy Woodpecker has a black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. The adult males have a small red patch on the back of their heads.


Look for their nest in dead trees or live trees with dead areas. They carve out an area large enough for the eggs and the bird. They line the nest only with wood chips. The nest can take weeks to make and is done by both the male and female.

A Downy woodpecker only has one brood each year with 3 to 8 eggs which are white in color. The incubation period is around 12 days with both the male and female taking turns. The young will stay in the nest for around 30 days.


Downy Woodpeckers eat insects and sap from the pine tree’s sap wells. The male tends to eat from the ground while the female likes to find insects from branches and in trees. They will also eat seeds, weeds, and fruit.

The Downy Woodpecker will visit your backyard suet feeders for suet and nuts.


The Downy woodpecker can be found year-round in the state of Nevada, especially in the western part of the state. You will see them in residential areas, cities, farmland, and wooded areas.

Call And Drumming

8. Gilded Flicker

Scientific Name: Colaptes chrysoides Size: 11 to 12 inches

Description and Field Marks

The male Gilded Flicker has a golden-yellow head, nape, and upper breast. The rest of its body is a pale brownish-tan color. It has a black crescent-shaped patch on its upper breast, and its back is barred with black. The flight feathers are black with white spots, and the tail is black with white edges and a white rump.

The female Gilded Flicker has a grayish-brown head and nape, lacking the golden-yellow coloration of the male. The rest of its plumage is similar to that of the male, with a pale brownish-tan body, black crescent-shaped patch on the upper breast, and black barring on the back.

Both male and female Gilded Flickers have a black mustache mark that extends from the base of the bill to the ear and the bill is long, slightly curved, and grayish in color.


Gilded Flickers typically excavate their nest cavities in dead or decaying trees, with both the male and female building the nest. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 5 white eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, with the male often incubating during the day and the female at night. The incubation period is 11 to 14 days.

Both parents take turns feeding the nestlings until they leave the nest after approximately 25 to 30 days.


The diet of the Gilded Flicker primarily consists of insects and fruits.


Gilded Flickers inhabit desert and semi-desert regions, including open woodlands, saguaro cactus groves, and mesquite bosques. They are often found near water sources.

Gilded Flickers are less common in Nevada compared to other southwestern states, but they can still be found in suitable habitats. Look for them in the southern and western parts of Nevada During the breeding season. Places like the Mojave Desert or areas near the Las Vegas Valley could potentially harbor Gilded Flickers.

Bird Notes:

Gilded Flickers and Northern Flickers are two distinct species of woodpeckers. While they share some similarities, there are several differences between them.

Call and Drumming

The call of the Gilded Flicker is a loud, repeated “wick-a-wick-a-wick,” reminiscent of the Northern Flicker but faster and higher in pitch.

9. gila woodpeckers

Scientific Name: Melanerpes uropygialis Size: 8-10 inches

Description And Field Marks

The head, neck, and upper parts of the Gila Woodpecker are primarily brown or gray-brown in color. They have a crown on the head and the nape are black, forming a distinct black cap. The face features a bold, black eye stripe extending from the bill to the neck, contrasting with a pale yellow or beige color around the eyes and throat. The underparts are a pale yellow or buff color.

Gila Woodpecker is its black cap and face markings, including the black eye stripe and pale yellow or beige areas around the eyes and throat.


Gila Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, and both males and females participate in excavating the nesting cavity. They typically breed from late spring to early summer. The female lays a clutch of 2-5 white eggs, and both parents take turns incubating them for about 14 days. After hatching, both parents contribute to feeding the chicks until they fledge, which occurs around 26-30 days after hatching.


The Gila Woodpecker has a diverse diet that primarily consists of insects and other invertebrates. Gila Woodpeckers have a unique adaptation that allows them to extract nectar from flowers. They are known to feed on the nectar of various desert plants,

Gila Woodpeckers also consume seeds. They may feed on the seeds of desert plants like mesquite, acacia, and other trees or shrubs that produce seed pods. In some instances, Gila Woodpeckers feed on tree sap.


The Gila Woodpecker is native to the southwestern United States (mostly in Arizona) and northern Mexico. The preferred habitat of the Gila Woodpecker includes desert and semi-desert regions with scattered trees and saguaro cacti. They are well adapted to arid environments and can be found in various habitats such as desert washes, riparian areas, and open woodlands.

While there have been occasional sightings of Gila Woodpeckers in Nevada, they are considered rare visitors to the state. Their presence in Nevada is likely limited to very specific circumstances or during periods of unusual migration.

Call And Drumming

Gila Woodpeckers have various calls, including a series of loud, rolling “cha-cha-cha” notes or a rapid, chattering “rattle.” They can also produce drumming sounds on wood, which are typically slower and softer than those of larger woodpeckers.

10. lewis’s woodpecker

Scientific Name: Melanerpes lewis  Size: 10.2-11 inches

Description And Field Marks

Lewis’s woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker species native to western North America. They have a red crown and nape, yellowish-orange face and neck, and greyish-brown wings and back.


The nesting behavior of Lewis’s Woodpeckers involves finding a cavity in a tree to excavate for the nest usually lower than 60′ above ground. The male typically chooses the nesting site, and the birds may mate for life and use the same nest site repeatedly.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers lay between 2 and 5 eggs per clutch, which are white with brown and purple spots. They are oval-shaped and measure around 2 inches in length. The eggs typically hatch in 12-14 days. The eggs are incubated mainly by the female, with the male providing short-term relief. Both parents care for the nestlings, bringing back insects in their bills to feed them, and the young birds leave the nest after 4-5 weeks.


The diet of the Lewis’s Woodpeckers consists mostly of insects, but they also consume a wide variety of fruits and berries, as well as acorns and other nuts. They catch insects in the air while in flight, gleans insects from tree surfaces, take small fruits from trees, harvest acorns or other nuts, then breaks them into pieces and store them to feed on during the winter.

Additionally, it may feed at flat, open bird feeders and may act aggressively toward other birds.


Lewis’s Woodpeckers are mainly found in open coniferous and riparian forests, orchards, and parks. Their migration behavior is quite variable from year to year. Some may be permanent residents in a particular area, while others may move south and to lower elevations during the winter.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers occur in the mountainous and forested areas of Nevada during the breeding season. You will see them mostly in the northeastern part of the state.

Call And Drumming

Additionally, its unique call is a good way to identify it.

11. American three-toed woodpecker

Scientific Name: Picoides dorsalis Size: 8.3-9.1 inches

Description And Field Marks

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are larger than a Downy but smaller than a Hairy Woodpecker. Both males and females are black and white with the male having a yellow patch on the forehead.

They are known for their distinctive appearance of having only three toes. They share this with the Eurasian Three-toed woodpecker. It was first thought that they were one species as they look alike but the DNA and voice of both species are different.

With only three toes, these species may be able to lean farther away from the tree and thereby hit the tree harder than other woodpeckers, all of which have four toes.


The male will tap on the bark of trees to attract females and then perform a courtship display to attract her attention. Once she has accepted his advances, he will build the nest together with her.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers typically make their nests in the cavities of trees or under shingles. They create a bowl-shaped structure to lay their eggs and raise their young. The birds will also store food for later use during the winter in these same spots.

The female lays 3 to 7 white almost round eggs. The incubation period is 12 to 14 days. The young stay in the nest until they can survive on their own.


They search for food (mainly beetles) by peeling back the bark of dead trees mostly spruce and pine trees. They also eat the larvae of wood-boring beetles.


You will see this woodpecker in Northern North America and the Western mountains. They make their home mostly in Canada. They are on the endangered list and are rare birds.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are resident birds, meaning they do not migrate long distances. The best time to see them in Nevada is during the breeding season from May to July however, they are present year-round.

The best places to see them are in the mountainous regions, particularly in central and northern Nevada including the Sierra Nevada range, Great Basin National Park, Ruby Mountains, and the Lake Tahoe region.

Call And Drumming

12. Williamson’s Sapsucker 

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus thyroideus  Size: 8-11 inches

Description And Field Marks

They are medium-sized woodpeckers the size of a robin. Males are mostly black with a yellow patch on their belly and white on their wings and behind their eyes. Females are black and white with brown heads.


The nesting pair selects a live tree to make its nest usually in large, older trees. They lay 4 to 6 glossy white eggs and only have one brood per breeding season. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days.


Williamson’s Sapsuckers mainly eat sap from coniferous trees. They also eat ants and beetles by picking them from the live trees and branches.


Williamson’s Sapsuckers can be found in mountainous areas of Nevada, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state during the breeding season. This includes regions such as the Sierra Nevada range, Great Basin National Park, Ruby Mountains, and the Lake Tahoe area.

Call And Drumming

Extremely Rare or Accidental Woodpeckers in Nevada

There are several (6) woodpecker species that are extremely rare in Nevada but if you are lucky enough you may spot one.

  1. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker could be seen in Nevada but a sighting is considered accidental. The last sighting was in the Red Rock Canyon.
  2. Pileated Woodpeckers are considered accidental in Nevada with rare sightings near the California border by Lake Tahoe.
  3. Red-headed Woodpecker–an accidental sighting may occur in Nevada with the last recorded sighting in 2021 by SixMile Canyon.
  4. Acorn woodpeckers are accidental in Nevada but if you are lucky enough you may see them in Red Rock Canyon.
  5. Black-backed Woodpeckers are extremely rare in Nevada and may be found by the California border near Lake Tahoe.


What Time Of Year Are Woodpeckers Most Active?

Woodpeckers are most active during the morning and evening hours.

Do Woodpeckers Only Live In Forests?

Woodpeckers can be found living throughout North America, and they are generally year-round residents. They prefer to live in areas with lots of trees, as they use these trees for food, nesting sites, and roosting sites.

How To Attract Woodpeckers To Your Backyard

The best way to attract woodpeckers to your backyard is to provide them with a natural habitat that includes plenty of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation. You can also provide birdhouses or nesting boxes for them to use.

How Can You Identify Each Type Of Woodpecker?

Step 1: Look At The Overall Size Of The Woodpecker.

The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest and is mostly black with white stripes on its face and neck. To identify this woodpecker, look for a large triangle of the red crest on the top of its head.

Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers can be easily identified by their bill size in relation to their head size. Downy Woodpeckers have a small bill while Hairy Woodpeckers have a bill that is almost the same size as their head.

Step 2: Look At The Coloration Of The Woodpecker.

There are a few ways to identify woodpeckers by their appearance. One way is to look at the coloration of the woodpecker. Male woodpeckers usually have a red patch on the back of their heads, while females do not.

Step 3: Look At The Habitat Of The Woodpecker.

The habitat can help identify the type of woodpecker. Woodpeckers are typically found in forests, so if you see a woodpecker in a forest, it is most likely a Hairy Woodpecker. If you see a woodpecker in an open field, it is most likely a Downy Woodpecker.

What Is The Average Lifespan Of A Woodpecker?

Woodpeckers are small birds with a lifespan of 6 to 10 years.

What Do Woodpeckers Eat?

Woodpeckers are a type of bird that is known for its ability to peck at trees. Woodpeckers mainly feed on wood-boring insects, larvae, grubs, eggs, and pupae. They use their sharp and heavy bill to chisel and dig into trees to reach the food.

Suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts are the best foods for attracting woodpeckers. They also consume a mix of berries, grains, and acorns.


Now that you know more about the different types of woodpeckers in Nevada, keep an eye and especially an ear out to see these birds.

For more information on woodpeckers in Nevada as well as other birds check out the Lahontan Audubon Society.

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