Nuttall’s Woodpecker

This Nuttall's Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii, is a species of woodpecker named after naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Seen on the path to the beach just outside the The Monarch Grove at Pismo State Beach in the CA State Park Pismo Butterfly Preserve, Pismo, CA, 13 Feb. 2011's_Woodpecker says Nuttall's Woodpecker is common in groves of live oak and chaparral west of the Sierra mountains in the state of California and extends south into the top of the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico. Nuttall's Woodpecker is a small woodpecker about 6 to 7 inches in length. It is primarily colored black and white, with a barred pattern across its back and wings, and a plain black tail. Its white breast is also speckled with black on the flanks and rump. The male Nuttall's also has a red patch on the back of its head. Nuttall's Woodpecker is very similar in appearance to the Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but Nuttall's Woodpecker has more black on the head, face, and upper back, and males have less red on the head. The range of the two species only intersects a minimal amount in southern California and northern Baja California, so misidentification should not be a concern over the majority of their range. This species has hybridized with the Ladder-backed Woodpecker and with the Downy Woodpecker as well. I note that an earlier photo of mine has been posted by someone on the above Wikipedia page to from my from this set
Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii

Thomas Nuttall was an English naturalist who spent many years in the U.S. collecting specimens; this woodpecker was named after him by William Gambel (after which a quail is named.)

The Nuttall’s Woodpecker is small , a little more than seven inches long. Like most woodpeckers, it is mostly black and white; it has a series of bars across its back and wings, and a black tail. The male has a red patch on his head. The nine inch Acorn Woodpecker is larger with a black back, the six and a half inch Downy Woodpecker has a white stripe on its back and the eight and a half inch Red-breasted Sapsucker has a white stripe on the wing.

The Nuttall’s Woodpecker is restricted to California and northern Mexico west of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges. They can be found wherever oak trees are found, but they do not eat acorns, preferring fruits, berries, and insects, especially adult and larval beetles. They work their way carefully across trunks and branches searching crevices and under the bark, often hanging upside down as they forage, flaking and probing the bark rather than drilling.

All woodpeckers “drill” or peck at the bark of trees for three reasons: to make noise, called “drumming”, in order to declare their territory; to drill a hole for a nest; or to look for insects or sap to eat. They are able to hold onto the tree firmly while pecking because they have two toes forward and two toes back (most birds have three forward and one back), and their tail feathers are stiffened with a heavy quill. Woodpeckers also have bristle-like feathers covering their nostrils so that they do not breathe in wood chips while pecking. With a very flexible neck

Woodpeckers hammer their beaks into trees 18 to 22 times per second, at speeds of 13 to 15 miles per hour (21 to 25 kilometers per hour) about 12,000 times per day subjecting their brains to deceleration forces of 1200 g with each strike. How do they do that without beating their brains to a pulp? Woodpeckers have three mechanisms in their head to prevent jarring and injury. First, their skull consists of bones and spaces arranged in a spongelike pattern to absorb shocks. Second, their lower bill is elastic and bends slightly downward to deflect some of the energy. And third, the hyoid bone, actually several bones, wraps around the skull from the nostrils over the head and into the tongue. Not only does this give the bird the ability to stick their tongue out amazingly far, but the muscle-covered hyoid bone serves as sort of a seatbelt for the head, absorbing even more stress.

These adaptations are being studied for application to better human head protection, like better bike, motorcycle, football, and tank-driver helmets. Already a prototype bike helmet with a spongelike cardboard interior has been produced.

We learned how to fly from watching birds but there is so much else to learn.


5 thoughts on “Nuttall’s Woodpecker

  1. There is a male Nutalls woodpecker at the South Portal Road Tunnel Trailhead, zip code 93105, in our oak woodland. I see it every year around this time. I believe it must be half of a pair nesting somewhere nearby. We also have a great number of acorn woodpeckers here year-round, but I only see a solitary Nuttall ‘s once in a while. A welcome visitor! Tuesday, October 10, 2017

  2. I’m so glad I found this site. There has been what I now discover is a Nettall’s woodpecker. drinking out of our humming bird feeder most of the morning. We live in the Los Angeles area and have never seen this bird before. Is this a usual thing for this bird to do?

  3. How do baby Nuttall Woodpecker’s learn to fly? There is no limb or branch outside the nest hole in the tree for it to climb out on – just a straight drop. I’m guessing they come out and hang on to the side of the tree with their special toes and then maybe work their way to a branch.

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