Spotlight on the White-headed Woodpecker

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance  whiteheaded_woodpecker
Latin Name: Picoides Albolarvatus
Federal Status: Endangered
Provincial Status: Red Listed


White-headed Woodpeckers are one of the most distinctive and yet elusive local woodpeckers. Their white head and throat, and white wing patches sharply contrast with their black bodies. Black bodied woodpecker with white wing patches and a distinctive white head (the only local woodpecker with a white head). Males have a flash of red on the back of the head. Their body length is 24 cm. Their call sounds like “chik-a-chik, chik-a-chik”. The White-headed Woodpecker’s diet consists predominately of pine seeds. Insects are consumed only during nesting. Insect food includes ants, wood-boring beetles, spiders and fly larvae.

Habitat and Distribution

In Canada, this woodpecker is known to breed only in the southern Okanagan Valley as far north as Naramata. White-headed Woodpeckers prefer open park-like mature old Ponderosa Pine forests with large-diameter decaying trees for both nesting and roosting, and abundant seed cones for food.


White-headed Woodpeckers are considered Federally Endangered due to small population size, restricted range, a dependency on Ponderosa Pine seeds, and loss and degradation of habitat. More than fifty years of selective logging of large Ponderosa Pine trees and fire suppression have resulted in dramatic habitat changes. Logging has removed the large pines and fire suppression has allowed the establishment of dense stands of immature pine as well as the more shade tolerant Douglas-fir. The result is increased fuel loads that increase the potential for more severe fires, destroying any remaining mature trees and the large wildlife trees. With the increase in density of immature trees comes increased competition for nutrients, fewer pine seeds, few or no dead standing trees, and a gradual change from a climax forest dominated by Ponderosa Pine to one dominated by Douglas-fir. Mature and old growth forests have also been lost to urban and agricultural development. Even current selective logging practices require the falling of some wildlife trees for safety reasons. Wildlife trees are also cut for firewood, despite permit regulations restricting their cutting.

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