Crawlies with Cri: Female white-headed woodpecker (Dryobates albolarvatus)

Photo by Christy Solo, Illinois Valley News

This week’s crawly is a bird worth taking a road trip for. Meet the white-headed woodpecker (Dryobates albolarvatus).
You don’t have to go on a road trip; they have been spotted in our area around Table Rock, Lost Creek Lake and over in Grants Pass and Cave Junction. However, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing this amazing bird around Upper Klamath Lake and along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.
The pictured pretty was living the good life at Cabin Lake viewing blind in Fort Rock.
The white-headed woodpecker is just one more amazing critter we are very lucky to have here in our backyard. As you can see by the map, they have a very small range and very good taste in location.
Pictured is a female white-headed. The males sport a racy red crown. White-headed are the only birds in North America who have black bodies and white heads.
White-headed woodpeckers are restricted to mountainous pine forests. Pine seeds are a major part of their diet and are associated with old-growth ponderosa pine and sugar pine forests. Often, they make use of recently burned areas as well – which we unfortunately have a lot of these days. They’ll only visit burn areas close to their home, as they are non-migratory birds.
Unlike many woodpeckers, white-headed flake away bark or search through needle clusters to find arthropods versus drilling holes in trees. When it comes to their favored pine seeds, they like to dig into closed cones, avoiding the sappy bottoms. Once they pull out a seed, they’ll position it in a crack in the pine’s bark and then dig in.
White-headed form magogamous pairs starting around May. Once paired up, they will drill out a nest cavity in a dead tree, a fallen log or even a stump. They’ll dig a new nest each year and share equally in the tasks of drilling and then filling the nest cavity with woodchips.
Once the female has laid between three and six eggs, it’s back to an equal partnership. The females incubate the eggs during the day and the males at night. The 50/50 parenting continues through feeding, nest cleaning and on after the kids have fledged. Young white-headed are dependent on their parents for several weeks after they leave the nest.
Because white-headed are such hard-working, dedicated parents and live at higher altitudes, they usually only have one brood per year.
Now for some fun facts. Even though we know quite a bit about the white-headed, they are still among the most poorly studied woodpecker species in North America. Their limited range and quiet behavior factor into that.
It takes three to four weeks for the white-headed parents to fully excavate their nest cavity and another three to four to incubate their eggs.
The white-headed are usually quiet (unlike our raucous acorn woodpeckers). Their most common call is a squeaky pe-didik, often given in flight. You can listen to their calls here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-headed_Woodpecker/sounds.
You can also download one or more bird apps to your phone. Sibley’s is quite extensive and Merlin’s app now has a feature where you can record birds you hear and (most of the time) the app will give you an accurate identification. A great way to learn who’s living in your backyard.