As you enter Lassen Volcanic National Park’s northern entrance the first thing you see along the right side of the road is Manzanita Lake with Mount Lassen in the background.

Mount Lassen From Manzanita Lake

Mount Lassen from Manzanita Lake (click on photos for full sized images)

A  birding friend of mine listed nesting White-headed Woodpeckers (Picoides albolarvatus) on the local Shasta County listserve so I thought I’d head up to Lassen Park to check it out. I wanted to do a bit of scouting before our annual Audubon Outing anyway and it’s only an hour from my house.

White-headed Woodpecker MaleWhite-headed Woodpecker Male

The White-headed Woodpecker is a non-migratory bird found in mixed coniferous forests dominated by pine trees in far western North America. Yah, another western species 😉

White-headed Woodpecker Range Map

Why are they found only in this habitat? Pine seeds are an important part of their diet through much of the year but especially in fall and winter. Throughout their range they require habitat with an abundance of mature pines (with large cones and abundant seed production) and availability of snags and stumps for nest cavities1.

White-headed Woodpecker Male

This pair was bringing beaks full of insects to what was left of a burned out stump of a huge pine tree, the remains of which were probably three feet in diameter and only eight to ten feet tall.

White-headed Woodpecker Male

The adults were arriving pretty regularly to the cavity entrance to feed the persistent demands of the nestlings. Here the male shows his red occipital patch and you will notice that the nestling’s crown is all white.

White-headed Woodpecker Male

In a subsequent trip a different nestling, with a hint of pale scarlet on its crown, comes to the entrance.

White-headed Woodpecker Male

And again, the hungry white-crowned nestling. Note that the adult always turns its head to the side to accommodate the nestling during the transfer of mainly larvae and adult insects.

White-headed Woodpecker Male Feeding Nestling

This is clearly a third and different nestling with an extensive scarlet crown patch.

White-headed Woodpecker Male

White-headed Woodpeckers usually lay 4 to 5 eggs in a clutch and we’ve seen at least three different nestlings here now.

White-headed Woodpecker Male

You can tell that these nestlings were getting close to fledging too. This one was sticking his head completely out of the entrance hole.

White-headed Woodpecker Nestling

The female White-headed Woodpecker looks like the male without the red occipital patch.

White-headed Woodpecker Female

She was doing more than her fair share of feeding the kids too. During the photo shoot, the adults were bringing something to the nest about every 15 minutes or so.

White-headed Woodpecker Female

Fledging usually occurs in late June and early July when the nestlings are about 26 days old. At that time the adults will call and drum near the nest cavity to coax the nestlings out of the nest1. You saw this in the video at the top of the post.

White-headed Woodpecker Female

The adults will usually attend the fledglings for another month or two as their flight skills increase, each parent taking care of half of the youngsters. I will look for them on our outing in a few weeks.

References: 1Birds of North America Online

Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.