Leuconotopicus villosus villosus, L. v. monticola

Status:  Common regular resident west, fairly common central and east. Rare regular winter visitor west.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM6321, 12 Dec 1895 Fort Robinson, Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  There have been several recent changes in assignment of woodpeckers to genera. Leuconotopicus includes species previously assigned to Picoides (Fuchs et al 2015, Gill and Donsker 2017, Chesser et al 2018): Red-cockaded, Smoky-brown (of Mexico and South America), Arizona, Strickland’s (of central Mexico), Hairy, and White-headed.

Ten subspecies are recognized, separated into four groups by Pyle (1997); the Interior Western Group contained subspecies septentrionalus which included monticola, but Jackson et al (2020) retained monticola separate from septentrionalus, which we follow for reasons of simplicity in understanding ranges. Subspecies monticola winters south to Nebraska. Pyle’s (1997) Eastern Group consisted of terranovae of Newfoundland, villosus, breeding west to Central North Dakota and northern Texas, and audubonii, breeding east of villosus, from southern Illinois to eastern Texas.

Nebraska breeding birds are presumed villosus; earlier authors suggested that monticola may be resident in northwest Nebraska as it is in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Bruner et al 1904, AOU 1957), but it is more likely that it occurs only as a winter visitor; it occurs at Barr Lake, Colorado, late Aug-early May, where local breeding birds are villosus (Andrews et al 2002). Documented records of monticola in Nebraska may be increasing; there were four records 2013-2019 in Scotts Bluff  and Dawes Cos, then in 2020 there were three reports involving four birds, in Scotts Bluff and Kimball Cos, shown by photographs to have essentially no white markings on the greater coverts (“shoulders”). Three more were reported in 2021 from Sioux and Box Butte Cos.

Records of presumed monticola are: a female in a Scotts Bluff Co yard 3 Feb 2013-17 May 2014 and again 1 Jan and 7 Feb 2015 (Kathy DeLara, personal communication; photo), one at Box Butte Reservoir, Dawes Co 24 May 2016, one photographed at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 16 Jun 2019 (, a male in Carter Canyon, Scotts Bluff Co 15 Aug 2020, a male there 20 Nov, joined by a second bird, another male, 30 Nov (Mlodinow,, a female in the DeLara yard, Scotts Bluff Co 25 Oct and 15 Nov 2020 where one has appeared every year recently (DeLara,, and two, at least one a male, in southwest Kimball Co 13 Oct 2020 (Willlison, Raynor, One was at Box Butte Reservoir, Dawes Co 25 May 2021 and two were at Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 26 May 2021 (

Possible occurrence of septentrionalis in winter in Nebraska is discussed under Winter.

Resident: The preferred habitat for this species is mature forest, and so in summer it is most numerous in the east but is distributed evenly over the rest of the state in lesser numbers. BBS data (1967-77) indicate that this species is far more common in the east than elsewhere.  In winter and during migration periods it occurs statewide in virtually all arboreal habitats; at this season it is often found in cities and towns.

    • Breeding Phenology
      Eggs: 20 May-1 Jun
      Nestlings: 1-21 Jun
      Fledglings: 25 Jun-11 Jul
  • High counts: 12 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 1 Apr 2017, 12 in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 19 Oct 2019, 11 at Harlan County Reservoir, Harlan Co 19 Mar 2010, and 11 at Fontenelle Forest 3 Apr 2010.

Winter:  Although this species is usually considered to be resident, there is “evidence to indicate a general southward movement in fall; the individuals seen in winter are probably not the same as those seen in summer” (Bent 1939). Jackson et al (2020) state that there is no evidence that true migration occurs but cite several examples of influxes of northern subspecies including septentrionalus. Altitudinal movement of the Rocky Mountain (and Black Hills) birds, monticola, occurs in fall and spring, with these birds appearing on the Colorado plains in winter (Andrews and Righter 1992, Andrews et al 2002) and presumably also in western Nebraska. Interestingly, CBC data indicate even distribution across the state, in contrast to the summer concentration in the east indicated by BBS data, suggesting an influx into western Nebraska in at least early winter. Rosche (1982) stated that Hairy Woodpecker is more numerous in winter in the northwest, but that no winter influx was noted further east in the Keith Co area (Rosche 1994).


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Hairy Woodpecker at Papillion, Sarpy Co 18 Feb 2008 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds.  Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, USA.

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed. Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Bent, A.C. 1939. Life histories of North American woodpeckers. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 174. Dover Publications Reprint 1964, New York, New York, USA.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Chesser, R.T., K.J. Burns, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., D.F. Stotz, B.M. Winger, and K. Winker. 2018. Fifty-ninth Supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 135: 798-813.

Fuchs, J., and J-M. Pons. 2015. A new classification of the Pied Woodpeckers assemblage (Dendropicini, Picidae) based on a comprehensive multi-locus phylogeny. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 88: 28-37.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Jackson, J.A., H.R. Ouellet, and B.J. Jackson. 2020. Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021. Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus ). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 3 Jun 2021