New Mexico Woodpeckers: Pictures and Information

picture of a Gila Woodpecker, one of New Mexico woodpeckers not found in other areas of the United States

New Mexico’s multiple ecosystems make it a great place for woodpecker diversity. In fact, New Mexico woodpeckers consisternly cover thirteen species in four of the five native genera. The New Mexico Ornithological Society documents sixteen different species historically in the state. There’s no doubt about it, New Mexico is quite the woodpecker hot spot.

Visitors to Alburquerque can visit the botanical garden and get a glimpse of different species

  • Northern Flicker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Williamson’s Sapsucker
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
Ladder-backed woodpeckers and the two Sapsucker species are not at all common on the East or West Coasts. Therefore, visitors to the city are in for a treat.

In the south around Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley, the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society lists nine local woodpeckers.

  • Lewis’s Woodpecker
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Williamson’s Sapsucker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker

The video shows the Ladder-backed woodpecker. It lives in a variety of Southwest habitats, from cacti to forest areas, and of course back yards with peanut butter feeders.

A pattern of striped feathers on the back and spots on the breast provide initial identification marks.

Finally, species in the Melanerpes genera provide another great example of diversity in the New Mexico woodpeckers ranks. Six Melanerpes woodpecker species nest among North America’s wooded areas. The New Mexico Ornithological Society documents the presence of all six species in the state. However, the presence of the Golden-fronted Woodpecker is occasional and other species have limited ranges.

The desert regions of the south attracts the uncommon Gila Woodpecker pictured at the top of the page. They make their nests in Saguaro cacti and larger desert trees.

Their adaptability extends to their dietary habits, with a variety of fruits, grains and insects pleasing to their palates. Being relatively social birds, they are happy to visit back yard feeders.

Physically, Gila Woodpeckers head feathers show a brown or light color to match the black and white barred back. Males show red-feathered caps. According to the Avian Conservation Partners, New Mexico,

In New Mexico, this species is found in the lower Gila Valley in Hidalgo and Grant counties, Guadalupe Canyon, San Simon Cienaga, drainages of the Animas and Peloncillo Mountains, and Bitter Creek in western Grant County

picture of a Lewis's Woodpecker
Northern New Mexico also provides suitable habitat for another less than common Melanerpes species, the Lewis’s woodpecker. Mountains and larger tracks of old growth forest, especially Ponderosa Pine suit the Lewis’s Woodpecker needs.

The picture shows another of the woodpecker’s special features. More than any other native species, the purple to red hue on the feathers of the Lewis’s Woodpecker makes it stand out. The greenish head feathers and gray collar and chest compliment the dark wings and tail.

The Avian Conservation Partners, New Mexico reports,

In New Mexico, the species breeds mostly in mountain areas from the Mogollon mountains north, and in riparian areas (particularly along the Rio Grande Valley) from Belen north.

picture of Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed woodpeckers rank as the most wide spread of the Melanerpes species, with a presence in almost every state from the Rocky Mountains and destinations east. It’s physical appearance translates into easy identification. The head, covered in red feathers, along with a white stomach stands out in a crowded woodpecker field. Both males and females share this feature. Juveniles have brown feathers on the head for their first year.

Breeding season in New Mexico runs from April to October.

Woodpecker enthusiasts with backyard feeders can attest to their gregarious nature. They don’t mind flocking in large groups when food is plentiful. In those times, they can be a bit vocal. In the northernmost area of their range they are a summer resident for breeding and then migrate south for the winter.

picture of an Acorn Woodpecker posing on a tree
Acorn woodpeckers, perhaps the best known of the western species, inhabits oak groves around the Los Alamos area, south to the Las Cruces area, where it spends its days gathering acorns. Once gathered, the acorns get stored in tree holes or nearby wooden structure such as fences and telephone poles.

Unlike most woodpecker species, both the male and female have a red crown.


picture of a red-shafted Northern Flicker
Most New Mexico residents recognize the Northern Flicker Red-shafted Northern Flicker and the East Coast variant is named the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The color designation refers to the under the wing color of their tail and wing feathers.

Flickers are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family. They prefer open habitats such as fields and residential areas because they supply them with their primary food sources such as insects, seeds and berries. The male is distinguished from the female by the red patch on the cheek.

Popular birds, they are welcome at many back yard feeders and especially enjoy a snack of suet and water. With a life that often exceeds the five year mark, homeowners might expect a long term relationship with any flickers they might attract to the back yard feeder.

Woodpeckers: Picoides

picture of an Arizona Woodpecker
The Arizona Woodpecker ranks among the least ranging of all North American woodpecker species. It’s primarily a Mexican species and it spills over the border to Southwest New Mexico in the Animas and Peloncillo Mountains.

As the picture shows, the brown and white feathers are unique among the New Mexico woodpeckers.

picture of a Three-toed Woodpecker
Three-toed woodpeckers are uncommon in New Mexico, found at higher elevations in the forested north part of the state.

Physically it resembles the Black-backed Woodpecker, although it’s a bit smaller with a shorter bill. Otherwise, the black and white bars on the back and presence of a yellow crown on the male are similar. Female has solid black crown.

picture of a downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpeckers adapt equally well to most wilderness and residential areas in New Mexico. The presence of trees and a stable water supply are usually sufficient to find them..

Physically, the Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker. In instances where size comparisons might not be available, experts suggest examining the bill size in relation to the head size. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills.

picture of a Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpeckers are less common than Downy woodpeckers with few caveats. The picture highlights the most important caveat, they have a larger bill than the Downy. Otherwise, the black and white striped face, white belly and back feathers look very similar. Males also have a red crown.

They are a very common species across the United States because they are adaptable to forests and residential areas alike. Look for them at the backyard feeder.


picture of a red-naped sapsucker
The Red-naped Sapsucker breeds in the north and migrates to the south during the winter. So, it’s a fairly common species. When they migrate to the valleys they are often seen in residential areas.

picture of a Williamson's Sapsucker
Williamson’s Sapsuckers inhabit the mountain areas of the West. They breed in the northwestern mountains of New Mexico and migrate south through much of the state during the winter.

Of special interest is that males and females diverge in their physical appearance. Males, like the one pictured, have distinct black feathers on the head, complimented by white striped and a red throat. Females have brown feathers on the head and and black and white barred feather pattern on the body. Both sexes have yellow bellies.

picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. It breeds across Canada from Coast to Coast and in the winter returns to most forested areas west of the Rocky Mountains. New Mexico is often west of the bird’s range map, although reports of wintering species make the rare birds alerts around the state.

Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories. There might be some overlap with the Red-naped Sapsucker territory. The presence of red feathers on the back of the neck differentiates the Red-naped Sapsucker from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

They are not known to be common backyard feeder birds, only occasional.

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