Gila woodpecker (male) drinking at a hummingbird feeder

Desert Duets: Gila Woodpecker Info Web Page

Information about Gila Woodpeckers

What's that flash of red? With its bright red crown feathers, the male Gila woodpecker is a standout in the Sonoran Desert. Both male and female Gila woodpeckers have tan feathers over most of their bodies with black and white bars across their backs and wings. In flight, you can see a white patch under their wings, but it is the distinctive red head of the male that makes this bird so noticeable next to the earth tones of land and against the blue Sonoran Desert sky.

Many of the insects Gila woodpeckers eat are pests to people. With their sharp beaks, woodpeckers bore into "wood" to eat ants, grasshoppers, beetles, and termites. (Some people think Gila woodpeckers shouldn't be called "woodpeckers" because in the Sonoran Desert their main target, the flesh of saguaro cacti, is not wood.) They peck at an object, hear an echo, and then create a sound wave that blasts out their prey, which they spear with their long, barbed tongues. They also eat wild berries, saguaro cactus fruits, and some nuts and seeds. They like to drink water from birdbaths and pets' outdoor water bowls.

Woodpeckers are known for their drumming. Instead of singing, they make rhythmic pecking sounds to establish their territories and to attract and communicate with their mates. Gila woodpeckers use cacti, trees, telephone poles, and houses as their drums. They especially like gutters, chimney caps, evaporative coolers, and air conditioners because the sound of their drumming on metal is really loud. In addition to drumming, they make loud trills and squeaks. With shock-absorber heads and bills, woodpeckers do not feel the blows of their own drumming. Although many people find their noise-making irritating, Gila woodpeckers are successful hunters that help keep nature in balance in the Sonoran Desert.

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Launched: February 2008
Updated: 2 July 2011