Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2019-39

Common name:

Gila Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes uropygialis
Date: 11/07/2019
Time: 8:15 am
Length of time observed: 30 seconds
Number: 1
Age: mature
Sex: Male
Location: La Verkin
County: St. George  [Washington]
Latilong: 37.201, -113.284
Elevation: 3,190
Distance to bird: 7 feet
Optical equipment: N/A
Weather: Clear skies, no breeze, 45 degrees
Light Conditions: Full lighting
Description:        Size of bird: Slightly larger than a robin. Probably 8-9 inches
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Woodpecker
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Black and white barred back. Gray/tan breast. Red crown
(Description:)            Bill Type: Unmistakably woodpecker-esque. Long, thin, straight
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Black and white barring on back and wings, along with bill shape, immediately pointed to woodpecker. The breast was a tan/gray, with no spotting or any other colors, until some black and white coloring towards the feet. The tan/gray color covered all of the neck and head, except for a distinctive red crown, which did not extend past the top of the head. The bird looked down, and I had a clear view of the top of its head. There were no other distinctive patterns or colors aside from these. The size pointed towards Gila Woodpecker as well; it was obviously smaller than a Northern Flicker. The bird was also perched facing me, but slightly turned, the whole time. Because of that, I had a very accurate view of its breast, front, top, and side of the head, and its back.
Song or call & method of delivery: N/A
Behavior: Flew up from lower on the hill, landed on top of a creosote bush (where I observed it), and then flew into trees by a nearby house. While perched it looked around, as if it was foraging. Sounds of nearby hikers seemed to scare it off.
Habitat: Just up a trail from the Virgin River. Heavily covered by Creosote, Prickly Pears, and smaller barrel cacti. Very rocky, dry, and covered in red rock.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Ladder-backed Woodpecker: This woodpecker has distinct eye lines on the face. The Gila Woodpecker I saw didn't, it had no markings on its face. The Ladder-backed also often has at least some spotting on its breast. The bird I saw didn't have any markings on its breast. The Ladder-backed also has a more white color (along with the black) than the Gila Woodpecker I saw, which was obviously more tan.

Northern Flicker: Again, the bird I saw had no spotting or other marks on its breast. Northern Flickers also typically have that black collar at the bottom of its neck, which the bird I saw didn't. It also didn't have a malar stripe, which I often see on Northern Flickers. The size of the bird I saw was also obviously smaller than a Northern Flicker. But I ruled out a juvenile Northern Flicker quickly due to the coloration.

Golden-fronted and Red-bellied Woodpeckers: These are the most similar looking birds to what I saw. And while I know that my sighting was out of normal Gila Woodpecker range, these two bird's normal ranges are so far away that I ruled them out. There are also coloration differences which made it an easy choice, along with the range info.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
 I organized all of the preserved bird specimens in the Southern Utah University taxonomy collection, so I've been able to hold and closely study the Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Northern Flicker. We did not have a Gila Woodpecker; I've seen and learned about them from my own study. Through my hands-on experience I've been able to easily recognize distinguishing features while birdwatching. From comparing the bird I saw to birds in that specimen collection I was able to rule everything out except a Gila Woodpecker.
References consulted: Smithsonian's Birds of North America, Fred J. Alsop, 2001
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Dunn and Alderfer, 6th edition
Audubon Birding App
Cornell Lab of Ornithology online
Description from: Notes taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: Austin J. Adams
Observer's address: 112 S 700 E
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: N/A
Date prepared: 11/15/2019
Additional material: No_additional_Materials
Additional comments: I am 100% convinced that I saw a Gila Woodpecker.