Backyard BirdsUncategorized

Strickland’s Woodpeckers


Strickland's Woodpecker

Species account by Jeannine Miesle … Additional information added by Avianweb

Member of the Picidae Family: WoodpeckersSapsuckersFlickers

OverviewAlternate (Global) Names

Distribution / HabitatSubspecies, Ranges and ID

Description … Calls / Vocalizations

Breeding / NestingDiet / Feeding

The Strickland’s Woodpeckers (Picoides stricklandi) occur naturally in Mexico.

This bird was given its name in honor of the British scientist, Hugh Edwin Strickland.

Strickland’s Woodpecker (Picoides stricklandi)

In the past, The Strickland’s Woodpecker (Picoides stricklandi) and the Arizona Woodpecker were considered to be the same species. The Arizona Woodpecker (P. Arizona) was formerly considered the northern subspecies of this bird until the 42nd supplement of the American Ornithologists Union checklist, which officially split them into two separate species (42nd Suppl. to AOU Checklist; Auk 117(3): 847–858, 2000). Today, the Arizona Woodpecker is considered a North American species, and the Strickland’s the southern species.

A woodpecker of medium size, Strickland’s is indigenous to Mexico and dwells in the montane forests. It is a reclusive bird, difficult to locate; thus, very little is known about its specific living habits. They can be found more easily during nesting season due to their loud calls and drumming as they excavate the nest cavities and seek to impress the mate. Otherwise, they are quite secretive, especially during egg-laying and incubation.

This species is of moderate conservation importance and classified as Least Concern. Its range is limited and its population is small in the southwestern United States. In 2008, Partners in Flight estimated the population to number fewer than 50,000. Ongoing habitat loss and heavy over-grazing are contributing to the declining numbers.

Distribution / Habitat

The Strickland’s Woodpeckers dwell year-round in its range, which follows a thin, east-west band in central Mexico from Michoacán to Veracruz.

The Strickland’s Woodpeckers has a narrow range, and dwells in the pine forests and mixed pine-oak slopes of Mexico.  

It prefers the montane forests which reach heights of about 4,500 to 7,000 feet. It is limited to the woodland and forest watershed areas and depends on evergreen oaks and pine-oak riparian woodlands. It will drill out its cavity living space anywhere from 7 to 50 feet (2-15 meters) above ground level, although 12-20 feet (3.5-6 meters) is the norm.

Little is known about the precise nature of its habitat and its area requirements.

Strickland’s Woodpecker Range Map Subspecies and Ranges:

  • Strickland’s Woodpeckers (Picoides Strickland Strickland – Malherbe, 1845) – nominate form
    • Range: Eastern Mexico, from eastern Michoacán east to west-central Veracruz and Puebla.
  • Strickland’s Woodpeckers (aztecus) (Picoides stricklandi aztecus – Moore, RT, 1946)
    • Found in central Mexico – from eastern Michoacán to the Distrito Federal)
    • ID: Less heavily marked below than the nominate form and the degree of streaking increasing towards the east.

Formerly included / now separated from:

  • Arizona Woodpecker (Picoides arizonae arizonae – Hargitt, 1886) – Found in the mountains of extreme southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. Its range extends southward into Mexico through the Sierra Madre Occidental of Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Zacatecas, and Michoaca.
  • Picoides arizonae fraterculus (Ridgway, 1887) – Southern Sinaloa and adjacent Durango south to Michoacán.



Strickland’s Woodpeckers grow to be about 7 to 8 inches in length.

Plumage Details / Adults

Their upperparts are brown, and the rump is darker than the back. The underparts are white with brown bars and speckles. Strickland’s Woodpeckers usually have three white bars on their wings and two white stripes across their faces which join with another white bar on their neck.

The adult males display a distinctive red patch on the back of their heads. The forehead and crown are brown, and the face is white with a large, brown cheek patch, creating a white eyebrow. A white superciliary line runs from the bill to the neck, and the bird sports a large, white neck patch.

Gender ID

The female appears similar to the male but does not have a red patch on the back of her neck.

Juvenile Description

The juvenile looks much the same as the adult and often displays a larger red patch on the top of the head.

Diet / Feeding

Foraging takes place both in the trees and on the ground. The Strickland’s will work their way up the tree from the ground level to the top of the tree, flitting from trunk to branches and back. He feeds very quickly, and rarely hammers to find insects; instead, he probes and pries into the bark, flaking it off to expose his prey.

Little is known about his diet, except that it consists of larvae and adult insects, especially beetle larvae, fruits, acorns, and other nuts.

Breeding / Nesting

The Strickland’s will excavate its nest cavity in a dead tree trunk, generally in evergreen oaks, sycamores, maples and cottonwoods, riparian walnuts, and occasionally in agave stalk. They both engage in excavating the cavity to a depth of about 12 inches (30 cm).

As a cavity nester, it builds its nests not only for itself but for other species who will take it over when it abandons that nest.

The male courts the female by flying toward her as she sits in the nest, fluttering and gliding as he displays his plumage. Then he drums on the almost-finished nest cavity. Once they have mated, she will lay three to four white eggs on a bed of wood chips, but other details of nesting periods and duration are mostly unknown. It’s thought they have just one clutch.

They will both defend the nesting area from intruding conspecifics; each member of a mated pair is aggressive toward an intruder of its sex, while the other member of the pair observes but does not become involved in the conflict.

The incubation period lasts about 14 days, and both parents share the responsibility.  The altricial hatchlings are brooded almost continuously by one or the other parent for several days, and feedings are continuous. By day 11, the chicks are alert and can hold their heads up, and by day 18 they are active in the nest.  The nestlings are fully feathered by 24-27 days, and ready to fledge. The parents continue to feed them for several more weeks, teaching them foraging habits. The chicks then leave the nest for good.

Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds

The Strickland’s has several calls:

The “peep” call is the most frequently heard and is employed for a wide variety of situations.  He will use this call when defending the nest and when relieving the mate at the nesting cavity. The long peep is characteristic of other species and all subspecies; it sounds exactly like those of the Arizona Woodpecker and very similar to the call note of the Hairy Woodpecker.

The “rattle” call is loud, long, and harsh. It is generally used when the nest is disturbed. This is a 15-note call, given regularly by each member of the pair, with the mate answering with a kweek or rattle call.

The “kweek” call is similar to the same call made by the Hairy and White-headed Woodpeckers. This is a loud call, mainly in a series, but it can also be given as single notes. It will be used by the female when she is answering a drumming or rattle call.

The “Tuk-Tuk-Tuk” call is given by nestlings as the parents arrive with food.

Alternate (Global) Names

Chinese: ????? … Czech: Strakapoud Strickland? v … Danish: Brunrygget Flagspætte … Dutch: Stricklands Specht … Estonian: Mehhiko kirjurähn … German: Stricklandspecht … Finnish: Mäntytikka, Ruskotikka … French: Pic de Strickland … Italian: Picchio di Strickland … Japanese: chabaneakagera … Norwegian: Mexicospett … Polish: Dzieciol brunatny … Russian: ??????????? ????? … Slovak: Datel horský … Spanish: Carpintero de Strickland, Carpintero volcanero … Swedish: Sonoraspett, Stricklandspett


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Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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