Species and Plant Community
Accounts for Identified Wildlife

Table of contents

WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER (Picoides albolarvatus)


The white-headed woodpecker is RED-listed due to small population size (estimated <100 pairs) in B.C. It has been designated as THREATENED by COSEWIC.


The white-headed woodpecker occurs in southern interior areas of B.C. Only seven nests in B.C. have been found, all in open-canopied stands (<70% canopy cover) of mature ponderosa pine forest from 450 to 600 m elevation. Nests are located in or on the edge of forest clearings. The white-headed woodpecker is a primary excavator, making its cavities in dead or dying trees, with a preference for large ponderosa pine (usually >60 cm dbh). Leaning or broken-topped snags or stumps are commonly used as nest trees, often with heartrot creating a hard outer shell and a soft interior. Cavities occur from 2.5 to 9 m above ground. The white-headed woodpecker forages in open ponderosa pine and mixed pine - Douglas-fir forests up to 700 m elevation, and in Engelmann spruce - lodgepole pine forests up to 1300 m. In early summer, it forages mainly for insects on the lower portions of large, live ponderosa pine trees in the puzzle bark stage (>60 cm dbh). Insects (ants, wood-boring beetles, spiders, fly larvae) make up a small proportion of the diet relative to other Picoides woodpeckers. For most of the year, white-headed woodpeckers forage primarily for seed in the crowns of ponderosa pine. Nests in B.C. have been found primarily in ponderosa pine, both live and dead (five nests). One nest was found in a Douglas-fir snag, and one in a stump. Roosts were located in cavities and under sloughing bark of large ponderosa pine (mean dbh = 61 cm). However, information on roosting requirements for this species in B.C. is lacking. Although there is no information on home range or territory size in B.C., recent (1993) information from Oregon indicates that home ranges vary from about 100-400 ha with fragmented habitats requiring the larger areas. The scarcity of white-headed woodpeckers in B.C. and their position at the northern edge of their range points to requirements for larger home ranges.


Ecoprovinces: Ecosections

Biogeoclimatic units

Breeding range

White-headed woodpeckers nest locally in the southern Okanagan valley from Osoyoos north to Naramata.

Nonbreeding range

The white-headed woodpecker is a peripheral species, reaching the northern limit of its distribution in the southern interior of B.C. It is found only on the Thompson-Okanagan Plateau and southwest Kootenay regions from Manning Park east to Creston, and north to Falkland. It is an irregular summer visitant to the Similkameen Valley.

Wintering and migration

White-headed woodpeckers winter in their breeding range, but occasionally wander to the north Okanagan valley and east of the Okanagan.

Habitat requirements

Broad ecosystem units

Structural stage

6-7: mature - old forest (age classes 7-9)

Critical habitats and habitat features

Drier, open stands of large diameter (>60 cm dbh) ponderosa pine are preferred. Wildlife tree class 1 and 2 ponderosa pine are used extensively for feeding (cone-producing trees), and will provide future recruitment into the more decayed classes. The more decayed, large diameter snags (wildlife tree class 5-6), often with broken tops, are preferred nest sites. Nest cavities have been found from 2.5-9 m above ground.

Selected references

Blair, G. S. 1993. Species conservation plan for white-headed woodpecker. USDA For.
Ser., Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho Dep. Fish and Game, Lewiston ID. pp. 1-14.

Cannings, R.J. 1995. Status report on the white-headed woodpecker, Picoides
albolarvatus in British Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Victoria, B.C. Wildl. Bull. #B-80.

Keisker, D.G. 1987. Nest tree selection by primary cavity-nesting birds in south-central
British Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Victoria, B.C. Wildl. Rep. No. R-13.

Marshall, D.B. 1992. Sensitive vertebrates of Oregon. Oreg. Dep. Fish and Wildl.,
Portland, OR.

Rodrick, E. and R. Milner. 1991. Management recommendations for Washington's
priority habitats and species. Wash. Dep. Wildl., Olympia, WA.

Wright, V. and B. Wales. 1993. Bibliography of selected literature regarding the
management of cavity excavators in eastside habitats: Oregon and Washington. USDA For. Serv., La Grande, OR.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page