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White-headed Woodpecker
Picoides albolarvatus

White-headed Woodpecker
White-headed Woodpecker

    Land Tenure - White-headed Woodpecker
  • Length: 24 cm.
  • Snow-white head and throat contrast sharply with black body.
  • Males have red patch on the back of their head.
  • White wing patches are conspicuous in flight, visible as narrow bars when wings are folded.


British Columbia Red List
Canada: Threatened

Special Significance

The small Canadian population of White-headed Woodpeckers is restricted to mature and old-growth ponderosa pine forests of the south Okanagan Valley. These birds feed on pine seeds through the fall and winter, and the great majority of pine seeds in a forest are produced by large, mature trees. The open, park-like pine woodland habitats favoured by White-headed Woodpeckers has been replaced over the last fifty years with denser stands of small trees, due to early selective logging and subsequent fire suppression. Attempts should be made to protect existing mature and old growth stands and to manage young forests to produce more open habitats with faster growing trees interspersed with a few dead snags for nest sites. The public can help these rare birds by encouraging the implementation of beneficial forest management practices, and by applying them on their own woodlots. Without a well distributed supply of mature ponderosa pine, it will be difficult to maintain a resident population of White-headed Woodpeckers in British Columbia.


  • In Canada, the White-headed Woodpecker is known to breed only in the Southern Okanagan Valley north to Naramata.
  • In recent years, this woodpecker is only sighted once or twice annually.
  • There are records of wandering birds elsewhere in the southern Interior, from Manning Park north to Falkland and east to Golden.
  • Elevational range of breeding habitat from 450 to 600 metres in open ponderosa pine.


  • White-headed Woodpeckers require mature and old growth ponderosa pine forest with large diameter, decaying trees for nesting and roosting, and abundant seed cones for food.
  • Nests have also been found in Douglas-firs and western larches.


  • Primary cavity nesters-excavating a new cavity every year for their nest, sometimes beginning several holes before selecting one.
  • Nest cavities are relatively close to the ground (3 to 9 m).
  • Establish breeding territories in spring.
  • Females lay 3 to 9 eggs (usually 4 or 5) mid-May to mid-June; the eggs are incubated by both the male and female for about 14 days.
  • Both parents feed the young in the nest for about 26 days; nestlings may fledge as early as late June.

Food Habits

  • Relies on ponderosa pine seeds for sustenance especially in late summer through winter.
  • Birds slash cones open to get at seeds.
  • Insects such as ants, wood-boring beetles, spiders and fly larvae, can dominate the woodpecker's diet in spring and early summer.

Interesting Facts

  • Unlike most other Canadian woodpeckers, this species relies less on insects and more on seeds for food.
  • When foraging for insects, these woodpeckers flake and chip bark away with angled strokes rather than peck at the tree directly.
  • Fluctuations in the White-headed Woodpecker's population are believed to occur naturally in response to climate and other factors that affect ponderosa pine seed production.


  • Loss of mature and old growth ponderosa pine forest due to logging in the 1930s and 1940s; residential development, fire suppression, felling deteriorating trees (snags) and cutting for firewood threaten woodpecker habitat.
  • Logging practices which remove all or most of the mature and old growth trees in a stand.
  • Small population size, restricted range and narrow niche combine to make this bird vulnerable.

Management Considerations

  • Encourage selective logging practices rather than clear-cutting; logging can serve to thin dense stands nearing maturity and remove competing trees.
  • Improve and sustain old growth ponderosa pine forest.
  • Allow successional forest stages to mature to old growth.
  • Thin young stands to maximize growth and cone production.
  • Retain dead or dying standing trees, especially soft, large diameter snags.
  • Discourage use of forest insect pesticides in their habitat.


1. Blood, D.A. 1997. BC Wildlife at Risk brochure: White-headed Woodpecker. BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Lands and Parks.
2. Campbell, R.W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser and M.C. McNall. 1990. Birds of British Columbia: Volume 2. Royal British Columbia Museum,Victoria, BC.
3. Bryan, A.D. and M.J. Sarell. 1994. White-headed woodpeckers. South Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Program.


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