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Gila woodpeckers have a striking black and white barred pattern on their back, upper wings, and tail. In flight, there are also large white wing patches. The rest of the body is tan, and the male has a small, round, red cap on its crown (top of the head).
This woodpecker is native to southern Arizona, southeast California, southern Nevada, southwestern New Mexico, and western to central Mexico. It is a very active, noisy bird, with a penetrating call. Gila woodpeckers are most often seen clinging vertically to trees, cacti, or telephone poles, excavating insects with their strong bill. While hammering on wood, or sometimes even metal roofs or drainpipes, their beaks make a characteristic drumming noise. In addition to insects, they also eat various fruits and berries. Gila woodpeckers often nest in cavities carved out from saguaro cacti. Once the woodpeckers abandon their nest, a variety of other animals including lizards, owls, and rodents use them for shelter.
The gila woodpecker is part of the widespread, diverse, New World genus Melanerpes, which also includes the acorn woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus and the golden-fronted woodpecker, Melanerpes aurifrons. The closest relatives of the Melanerpes woodpeckers are the the sapsuckers in the genus Sphyrapicus.