Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Kingfishers and Woodpeckers of Maricopa County


Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon

The Belted Kingfisher is the only kingfisher in North America with a widespread range.  This kingfisher is found almost everywhere in North America along freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds as well as coastal bays.  The female Belted Kingfisher is more colorful than the male, which is what is photographed below.  A female Belted Kingfisher has a blue band across her breast and a chestnut band across her belly, while the male only has the blue breast band.  The Belted Kingfisher feeds primarly on fish, but also eats amphibians, reptiles, and insects.  It is very fun to watch while it hovers over the water, and diving into the water after it's prey.  Belted Kingfishers give a loud distinctive rattle call, which is often heard as they are highly vocal.  These birds are permanent residents over much of their range, but the northern populations do migrate south.  Arizona has good numbers of breeding Belted Kingfishers in the northern parts of the state.  In Maricopa County, this bird is present from fall through all of winter, and continuing through spring.  It is very common in the county during these timeframes, and can be found near any large pond, marsh, river, and often canals. 


Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis

This distinctive and beautiful but odd woodpecker has characteristics and behaviors that strongly differ from other North American woodpeckers.  It's black/greenish back with a pink front is very unique, and it flies in similar ways as to that of a crow.  Lewis's Woodpeckers catch insects in the air, as they hunt them from a perch or even from telephone wires, which isn't typical woodpecker behavior.  They also feed on different nuts and fruits, and they are often seen storing nuts in cavities preparing for food source during the winter months.  The Lewis's Woodpecker is found throughout much of western North America in the Lower 48, where they favor open oak and pine forests, riparian woodlands, and orchards.  Lewis's Woodpeckers breed in the northern parts of Arizona in higher elevations, where much of the overall North American population winters in the southern states, including the habitats favored by Arizona's breeding birds.  This bird is very irruptive and irregular in years where food sources aren't as high as in it's breeding range.  It may come down to ranges south of it's normal range in high numbers during these years, and several birds are usually seen anually in small numbers in lower elevations.  During winter in Maricopa County, this bird may show up in areas where it can store nuts in old woodpecker holes, especially palm trees in parks and golf courses.  Acorns off of oak trees satisfy a Lewis's Woodpecker, so Mount Ord is often a very good place to look (Area 1), which is a good place to check during migrations and throughout winter.


Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus

This strange woodpecker is found in large family groups, where they are very noisy and highly vocal.  These family groups have multiple males and females, where all birds help with feeding the young and taking care of the nest.  Acorn Woodpeckers in Arizona don't always live in these family groups, where some are found in areas in smaller numbers.  They get their name from storing thousands of acorns in different holes in trees or poles to provide food for their family during the winter months.  Acorn Woodpeckers live throughout several states in the west, in oak and pine forests that are dominated highly by oaks.  They are found year round in a lot of these forests throughout Arizona.  In Maricopa County, Acorn Woodpeckers breed in the pine and oak forests in the Transition Zones of the Highway 87 Area (Area 1).  They are regular and fairly common in these hotspots, but are never found in abundant numbers during breeding season and usually don't have as large of family groups in the Transition Zones in Maricopa County.  Look for Acorn Woodpeckers at Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness year round.  Numbers may be a lot higher during migrations.


Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes uropygialis

The Gila Woodpecker inhabits the desert southwest, where it is found in deserts dominated by the saguaro cactus.  A lot of holes are drilled in saguaro cactuses by these woodpeckers, which are used by a variety of other bird species.  Gila Woodpeckers are highly vocal, and feed on a variety of foods.  They are easily found in Maricopa County in deserts, riparian areas surrounded by desert where they like to nest in large trees in addition to the saguaro cactus, and suburban areas with desert plantings and palm trees (where they also nest).  In Maricopa County, this bird can be found in every area (Areas 1-13) with ease in appropriate habitat.


Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris

The small Ladder-backed Woodpecker is a regular and common sight throughout much of Maricopa County as a year-round resident.  It is found in dry habitats, most often with mesquite trees in midst of desert and riparian habitats.  Ladder-backed Woodpeckers feed on cactus fruit and insects, and they usually build their hole in a mesquite tree or a cactus.  They are often heard before they are seen, as voice often can help locating this woodpecker.  In Maricopa County, excellent places to see Ladder-backed Woodpeckers include:  Area 1 (Mesquite Wash, Sunflower, Bushnell Tanks), all of Area 2,  Area 5 (South Mountain Park, Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Park), Area 6 (Thunderbird Conservation Park, Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Squaw Peak Park), Area 7 (Tres Rios Wetlands, Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area), Area 8 (Thrasher Spot), Area 9 (White Tank Mountain Regional Park), and all of Area 10, 11, and 12.


Red-naped Sapsucker Sphyrapicus nuchalis

The Red-naped Sapsucker breeds in the west in mixed conifer and aspen forests.  It feeds highly on sap taken from trees, where it is located most often by listening for it's quiet tapping on tree bark as it pursues the sap.  In Arizona, Red-naped Sapsuckers breed in the northeastern part of the state in Apache County's White Mountains.  It winters throughout much of Arizona, especially in riparian woodlands.  In Maricopa County, Red-naped Sapsuckers are common winter residents and are found easily throughout the winter, especially in riparian woodlands.  They are also found in the Transition Zones in the higher elevations within the Highway 87 Area (Area 1-Mount Ord, etc.).  Fall through all of winter and into spring are the timeframes from where Red-naped Sapsuckers can be found within the county.  Although they can be found in most riparian areas, they tend to be abundant in riparian areas dominated by sycamore trees, which offer the sapsucker it's favorite food source.  These areas dominated by sycamores are:  Area 1 (Sunflower and Bushnell Tanks, Sycamore Creek), and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Seven Springs Wash and Recreation Area).  Other suggestive riparian woodlands that Red-naped Sapsuckers are often found in include:  Area 1 (Mesquite Wash), any of the Salt River sites (Area 2), Area 7 (Tres Rios Wetlands), Area 10 (Morgan City Wash and Hassayampa River Preserve), and Area 12 (Box Bar and Needle Rock Recreation Sites).


Williamson's Sapsucker Sphyrapicus thyroideus  RARE-ALSO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR

The Williamson's Sapsucker breeds in mixed-conifer woodlands in central and northern Arizona, especially in areas where there are scattered groves of aspen trees within the conifers.  It also favors pure ponderosa pine forest also.  In North America, the range of the Williamson's Sapsucker includes southern British Columbia, the Pacific-coast states, as well as throughout Utah, Idaho, and some of Nevada, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  The Williamson's Sapsucker is very different from other woodpeckers in North America in it's sexual variation between the male and female.  Early ornithologists first believed the two to be two entirely different species until they were found in a cavity together.  The male is a striking black and white bird, with a red throat and yellow bellow, and the female is more of a brownish, white, and black barred coloration overall, but at times has the bright yellow belly like the male has.  While Williamson's Sapsuckers are found in parts of north-central and northern Arizona in good numbers in their appropriate breeding habitats, they are quite rare in Maricopa County.  While some of Arizona's Williamson Sapsucker population is resident in pure ponderosa pine forest at the southern part of the state's breeding range, most of the population does move south through the winter.  In winter this bird mainly seeks out ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests also, where it's wintering range extends south into Mexico also to winter in such forests.  Although rare in Maricopa County, the Williamson's Sapsucker is probably annual.  On occasions it is found in thick lowland riparian areas (Hassayampa River Preserve-Area 10, Seven Springs Rec. Area and Lower Camp Creek-Area 11 are good examples), but great wintering habitat exists for Williamson's Sapsucker in Maricopa County's high elevation forests.  The habitat is great, and they are bound to be found in the Transition Zone forested areas of Area 1, that include Four Peaks Wilderness Area, Forest Road 422/Pine Mountian area, Mount Ord, and Slate Creek Divide.  Birders tend to not bird in these higher elevation areas in winter much, but if they did, Williamson's Sapsuckers would probably be discovered fairly often.  The picture below is of a female Williamson's Sapsucker on Mount Ord in early spring (April 2014).  It most likely wintered in the area.


Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus

The Hairy Woodpecker is a very widespread woodpecker in almost all of North America.  It is found in a variety of different forests in North America and is a tough permanent resident, from the thickest mixed conifer forests to open pine and oak forests.  This bird can be rather shy, and is best located by voice.  This large woodpecker has a much longer bill than the similar looking but tiny Downy Woodpecker.  It mainly feeds on different insects, but also comes to feeders for seeds and suet.  In Maricopa County, Hairy Woodpeckers are permanent residents in fairly common numbers in the pine and oak forests of the Highway 87 Area (Area 1).  Look and listen for this species at Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and the Four Peaks Wilderness Area. 


Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus

The large Northern Flicker is the most abundant woodpecker in North America, where it is found in almost every area, including forests, parks, and farm areas.  It breeds in higher forested elevations in Arizona, but during winter much of the population does move south into lowland habitats.  Northern Flickers feed on the ground, in which their diet highly consists of ants.  In Maricopa County, Northern Flickers are very common in lowland habitats during migrations and winter throughout most of the county, especially in riparian areas, both Lower and Upper Sonoran habitats, as well as the forested Transition Zone.  They breed in small numbers in the Highway 87 Area's (Area 1) pine and oak forests at Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness.  This bird is often very vocal and can be heard from long distances.


Gilded Flicker Colaptes chrysoides

The Gilded Flicker, closely related to the Northern Flicker, is only found in the southwest.  It favors deserts with high numbers of saguaro cactus, where it makes it's home.  This flicker has a complete brownish/yellow crown and nape, which is different than the Northern Flicker.  A lot of it's habits are similar to the Northern Flicker, as they both have a lot of the same diet by eating on the floor, as ants are their favorite food source.  Other insects, fruits, and seeds also make up their diets.  Gilded Flickers sound nearly identical to Northern Flickers.  In migrations and winter when Northern Flickers are abound, do pay closer attention to field marks, although Northern's rarely tend to spend their time in pure saguaro cactus desert as the Gilded Flicker does.  Gilded Flickers are permanent residents at all times throughout all of their range.  Excellent places to look for Gilded Flicker in Maricopa County are:  Area 1 (Mesquite Wash, lower Four Peaks), Area 2 (Hawes Trail System, and Phon D. Sutton, Coon Bluff, Goldfield, Blue Point, and Butcher Jones Recreation Sites), all of Area 3, Area 5 (Desert Botanical Garden and Papago Park), Area 6 (Phoenix Mountains Preserve and Squaw Peak Park), Area 9 (White Tanks Mountains), Area 10 (Morgan City Wash, Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Castle Hot Springs Road), Area 11 (Spur Cross Conservation Area), and Area 12 (desert surrounding Box Bar and Needle Rock Recreation Sites, and Bartlett Lake Recreation Area).


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Birding in Maricopa County

An online guide to the birds and birding locations of Maricopa County


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An online guide to Gila County Birding


Birding in Arizona's White Mountains

An online guide to Birding in Arizona's White Mountains