A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Fairly common throughout the forested areas of Sonoma County, although less common than the smaller but similar-looking Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). Present all year, but appears more common in the winter months as populations move down from higher elevations. Breeds in the county, using conifers or evergreen hardwood stands to find suitable trees for excavating nesting holes. Known to breed at locations on Sonoma Mountain, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and elsewhere. Usually solitary.

Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker are the only woodpeckers normally present in Sonoma County that have a plain black back with a single, vertical, white stripe. Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) is horizontally striped with white on the back. Hairy may be distinguished from Downy Woodpecker by its larger size--typically about nine inches tall (Downy is usually closer to six inches tall); its comparatively long, heavy bill (the bill will be nearly as long as the head in Hairy Woodpecker, much shorter and lighter in Downy Woodpecker); and by its clear, white flanks and belly. Red at nape of neck in males, as in Downy (and Nuttall’s) Woodpecker. Compare photos below. Vocalizations different (see links to recordings of vocalizations below). 

English synonyms: Cabanis' Woodpecker, Chihuahua Woodpecker, Harris' Woodpecker, Modoc Woodpecker, Newfoundland Woodpecker, Queen Charlotte Woodpecker, White-breasted Woodpecker (none of these used in Sonoma County)

Downy Woodpecker in other languages--German: Haarspecht; Spanish: Carpintero ocotero, Carpintero Serranero, Carpintero Velloso, Carpintero velloso mayor, Carpintero Velloso-mayor, Carpintero-velloso Mayor, Checo velloso, Pico Velloso; French: Pic chevelu; Japanese: セジロアカゲラ (sejiroakagera), Russian: Волосатый дятел; Chinese: 长嘴啄木鸟

(Language information from Avibase, Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al, Princeton Field Guide Series), and Birds of Asia (Mark Brazil, Princeton Field Guide Series).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 80

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 280

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 95

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 290

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 320

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 352

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 234

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 269

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 214

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 118-120, 343

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 171-173

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 46

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 220

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 240

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 224

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 269

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 445

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 237

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Hairy Woodpecker

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Downy Woodpecker

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Nuttall’s Woodpecker



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Hairy Woodpecker, Shevlin Park, Bend, Oregon, August 10, 2011

Hairy Woodpecker

Picoides villosus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated November 10, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

For comparison: Downy Woodpecker (male)

Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, October 29, 2013

Note, very small bill

For comparison: Nuttall’s Woodpecker (male)

Hewitt St., Santa Rosa, January 30, 2013

Note horizontally striped back, spotted flanks