Melanerpes aurifronsgolden-fronted woodpecker

Geographic Range

Golden-fronted woodpeckers, Melanerpes aurifrons, are found in the Nearctic region. A non-migratory species, these woodpeckers range from the southwestern portion of Oklahoma, southward into central Texas and east Mexico towards Monterrey as it borders the western region of the Gulf of Mexico into Merida, Mexico. Golden-fronted woodpeckers are found as far south as Honduras and Nicaragua. (Garcia-Trejo, 2009; Peterson and Holt, 2003; Ragsdale, 1890)


Golden-fronted woodpeckers are most commonly found in riparian woodlands. These woodlands may include stands of cottonwood (Populus), willow (Salix), and cypress (Cupressus). Along with woodlands, their habitat includes arid tropical scrubs and semi-arid to arid brushlands, or savannas, that include oak (Quercus) and juniper (Juniperus) trees. These birds are most abundant in cottonwood stands. The elevational range for this species is sea level to 2500m. (Husak, 2000a; Husak, 2000b; Husak and Maxwell, 1998; Peterson and Holt, 2003; Smith, 1987)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2500 m
    0.00 to 8202.10 ft

Physical Description

Golden-fronted woodpeckers have four subspecies that vary in physical description. Across all subspecies, mass ranges from 66 to 99 grams and wingspans ranging between 124 to 136 millimeters. Their total length from the edge of the bill to tip of toes ranges from 20.3 to 24.3 millimeters. According to Husak and Maxwell (1998), males are typically heavier than their female counterparts, weighing approximately 14% greater than females. Males also have bills that are 9-15% longer than females.

Their nasal tufts are either red or yellow. They have white and black striped wing feathers. These black patterns usually expand further than the white areas in most subspecies, including Melanerpes aurifrons dubius. Their heads are mostly light grey along with their breast and flank areas. Their abdominal area is yellow as the grey color continues towards the tail. Tail feathers, which are black and speckled with white patches.

Male golden-fronted woodpeckers have red crowns with a golden orange nape while the females have grayish crowns with a yellow nape. Both sexes share the same grayish-green legs and feet. Their eyes are a dark shade of red in adults compared to the brown in juveniles who gain their respective color by autumn following their hatch date. There is a great variety in coloration across the geographic range of golden-fronted woodpeckers. For example, individuals of Melanerpes aurifrons aurifrons have a continuous yellow coloration from their tufts to their belly and nape. Melanerpes aurifrons polygrammus and Melanerpes aurifrons santacruzi subspecies share similar characteristics with golden-fronted woodpeckers and each other. Melanerpes aurifrons polygrammus has a yellow colored nape that reaches or comes together with the red patch on the head while Melanerpes aurifrons santacruzi has an orange nape instead that also comes together with the red patch.

Red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes corolinus), Gila woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis), and Hoffman's woodpeckers (Melanerpes hoffmannii) are similar to golden-fronted woodpeckers. Red-bellied woodpeckers have the similar shade of red on the crown of their head, but also on the nape and nasal tufts, which distinguishes them from golden-fronted woodpeckers. Gila woodpeckers also have a red crown but are predominantly brown rather than grey. Huffman's woodpeckers share the same brown color and share the same golden yellow nape as the golden-fronted woodpeckers but can be distinguished by their call. (Garcia-Trejo, 2009; Husak and Maxwell, 1998; Wallace, 1974)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    66 to 99 g
    2.33 to 3.49 oz
  • Range length
    20.3 to 24.3 mm
    0.80 to 0.96 in
  • Range wingspan
    124 to 136 mm
    4.88 to 5.35 in


Golden-fronted woodpeckers are monogamous, often staying with one partner throughout the breeding season. These birds do not have a specific time of year for when courtship takes place and often remain together after the mating season ends.

Head and bill movements occur during the earlier stages of the breeding season to attract mates.

Not much is known about mating behaviors for these woodpeckers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that forming or bonded pairs drum and vocalize more often, beginning in late February. (Husak, 2005; Husak and Maxwell, 1998; Smith, 1987)

Golden-fronted woodpeckers do not have a limited breeding season, but breeding occurs typically from January to late June depending on geographic location. During this time, a pair might raise 2-3 broods. These broods are in clutches of 4 or 5, sometimes up to 7 in. After laying one egg, the female takes up to a day to recover before another is laid. After about 30 days, fledglings leave the nest. If these woodpeckers create additional broods, there is a break of 2-3 weeks post-fledging.

Their time of independence occurs during fledging stage between 32 to 33 days.

Birth mass has not yet been reported. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Golden-fronted woodpeckers have up to 3 broods a year.
  • Breeding season
    Depending on the geographical location, these birds breed between January through late June with no specific season.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 5
  • Range time to hatching
    12 to 14 days
  • Average fledging age
    30 days
  • Range time to independence
    32 to 33 days

Golden-fronted woodpeckers share responsibilities when it comes to caring for their young. During the day, females are responsible for keeping the eggs and hatchlings warm while the males take over at night. As one parent broods, the other travels out to collect food for the nestlings. Males continue to brood until the offspring reach their 21st-day post-hatching.

Skutch (1969) stated that both the male and female make sure to clear the nest of fecal matter by carrying it out. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998; Skutch, 1969)


The maximum lifespan of golden-fronted woodpeckers has recorded to be 5 years and 8 months. There is no data recorded for average lifespan in the wild or captivity (Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    5.8 (high) years


Golden-fronted woodpeckers hop along flat surfaces and in straight lines when on branches or narrow areas. They tend to bathe in small bodies of water like puddles, ponds, and make-shift bird fountains. Husak and Maxwell (1998) observed mud-bathing and sunbathing. Aggressive behavior towards intruders increases during the breeding season. Physical contact with intruders includes fully expanding wings and lunging forward. Head swinging also takes place as well as pointing of the bill.

While in flight, golden-fronted woodpeckers flap their wings rapidly before pulling them closer towards their center as if they were gliding. If suddenly frightened, takes flight immediately in a more panic-like way than normal to escape.

Like most birds, these woodpeckers also perch on higher areas like tree branches or high power lines. They tend to sleep in made areas of trees or in the nests if brooding their young.

Golden-fronted woodpeckers have a distinct call for different situations. Warning and greeting calls are used more often than distress calls, which are only heard during aggressive contact with other species. When mating, these birds use non-verbal communication more often, vocalizing more when pairs are formed. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

Home Range

The home range for these birds vary between 144,000m^2 to 417,000m^2 depending on the breeding season (142,000m^2 to 232,000m^2), summer months (154,000m^2 to 417,000m^2), and winter months (28,000m^2 to 177,000m^2) according to Husak (2000). Some have been reported to only defend portions of their home range. All ranges are claimed and maintained by both male and female golden-fronted woodpeckers.

Specific territory size has not been reported. (Husak, 1995; Husak, 2000b)

Communication and Perception

Golden-fronted woodpeckers vocalize year-round. These birds use a variety of calls which include mate-greeting, signs of distress or warnings, and agonistic calls. Their calls can be frequently heard at the peak of the morning sun when and during the sunset. Both male and female golden-fronted woodpeckers vocalize.

Warning calls typically are made when the birds want to recognize trespassing on their territories. Trespassers include animals that try to steal food, predators, or humans. They also greet each other in mating with a different call that can sometimes be heard at nests. Distress calls are uncommonly vocalized during contact or sudden attacks by predators.

Golden-fronted woodpeckers also communicate through non-verbal communication. Tapping between both the male and female mated pair is considered sexual behavior. Drumming is also used by males, rarely females, that symbolizes the "marking" of territory.

During their first week post-hatching, young made "begging" call. As they proceed to the fledging stage, their call changes to a consistently wheezing. During their first stages of flight, golden-fronted woodpeckers are usually quiet and do not produce sound until their post-fledging stage is reached. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

Food Habits

Golden-fronted woodpeckers are omnivorous, eating both plant-based foods as well as animals smaller than their average size.

In summer months, few of the plant-based foods they consume are corn (Zea mays), wild fruits, acorns, and pecans. Their animal diet is made up of arthropods (spiders, walkingsticks, beetles, ants, praying mantis, cicadas, grasshoppers, and moths) at their larval and adult stages. During the winter and fall months, their diet consists of beans, citrus and cactus fruits as well as berries. While these birds do not normally cache food away, they occasionally store fruits and nuts in small, dark places where consumers of the same foods will not be able to find them. According to Husak and Maxwell (1998), a golden-fronted woodpecker has been recorded predating other bird eggs. Astorga (2014) reported about a golden-fronted woodpecker eating carrion as well as dog food. They have also been recorded preying on a western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis).

Their foraging habitats include various parts of trees (branches, trunk, and limbs) as well as ground foraging in open, uncluttered areas. (Husak, 1995; Husak and Maxwell, 1998; Schroeder, 2013)

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Hector (1985) stated that an Aplomado falcon, (Falco femoralis), was reported to have remains of golden-fronted woodpeckers. A Texas rat snake (Pantherophis lindheimeri), along with an Accipiter species have also been recorded as predators. (Hector, 1985; Husak, 1997; Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

  • Known Predators

Ecosystem Roles

Golden-fronted woodpeckers are considered prey for Aplomado falcons (Falco femoralis), Accipiter species, as well as a Texas rat snake (Pantherophis lindheimeri).

Nasal mites (Sternostoma porteri) and protozoans (Plasmodium vaughani) were reported in golden-fronted woodpeckers.

Golden-fronted woodpeckers provide nest cavities for other species of birds who compete with them for home territory. These birds include tityras (Tityra semifasciata), eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis, and house sparrows (Passer domesticus). Common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) do not compete, but forcibly try to remove golden-fronted woodpeckers from their nesting locations for their own benefit. (Bennett, et al., 1991; Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Nasal mites (Sternostoma porteri)
  • Protozoan (Plasmodium vaughani)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans who are bird-watchers benefit from this species. They provide research and educational benefits, encouraging ecotourism for golden-fronted woodpeckers. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998; Vincent and Thompson, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Golden-fronted woodpeckers have been reported to have harmed structures such as utility poles and wooden fence posts to create cavities. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998)

Conservation Status

According to IUCN Red List, golden-fronted woodpeckers are listed as a species of "Least Concern." Because golden-fronted woodpeckers do not migrate, they have no special status through the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They have no special status on CITES, the US Federal List, and the State of Michigan List.

Harvesting or cutting down mesquites (Prosopis)) and other common nest cavities and foraging places for these birds can potentially reduce their survival as well as where they can live.

Husak and Maxwell (1998) reported that around the 1930s, Texas hunters would trap and/or shoot golden-fronted woodpeckers because of the damages they called to utility poles and fence posts. The birds declined in number at this time, but this reduction effort has long since ceased. The population appears stable and there are no conservation efforts currently in place. (Husak and Maxwell, 1998)


Teresa Hickman (author), Radford University, Layne DiBuono (editor), Radford University, Lindsey Lee (editor), Radford University, Kioshi Lettsome (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


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Husak, M. 1995. Evidence of possible egg predation by golden-fronted woodpeckers. Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society, 28/2: 55-56.

Husak, M. 2002. Low frequency of site fidelity by golden-fronted woodpeckers. The Southwestern Naturalist, 47/1: 110-114.

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Peterson, A., R. Holt. 2003. Niche differentiation in Mexican birds: Using point occurrences to detect ecological innovation. Ecology Letters, 6/8: 774-782.

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Schroeder, L. 2013. Nestling diets and provisioning rates of sympatric golden-fronted and ladder-backed woodpeckers. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 125/1: 188-192.

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Smith, J. 1987. Evidence of hybridization between red-bellied and golden-fronted woodpeckers. The Condor, 89/2: 377–386.

Styrsky, J., J. Styrsky. 2003. Golden-fronted woodpecker provisions nestlings with small mammal prey. The Wilson Bulletin, 115/1: 97-98.

Vincent, V., W. Thompson. 2002. Assessing community support and sustainability for ecotourism development. Journal of Travel Research, 41/November: 153-160.

Wallace, R. 1974. Ecological and social implications of sexual dimorphism in five melanerpine woodpeckers. The Condor, 76/3: 238–248.