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Puerto Rican Woodpecker Melanerpes portoricensis

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Judith D. Toms



Wetmore (1927) described their behavior as similar to the Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) and "ant-eating woodpeckers of the United States." Like most woodpeckers, they have an undulating flight (Raffaele et al. 1998). Puerto Rican Woodpeckers sunbathe on exposed branches or snags, particularly in the early morning (Wetmore 1916a, 1927, Leck 1972).


Puerto Rican Woodpeckers are territorial during the breeding season, but not during the nonbreeding season (see Social and Interspecific Behavior; Wallace 1969). Territories do not appear to be large; one, limited by topography, measured about 0.4 ha (Wallace 1969). However, they have "extensive" home ranges (Recher and Recher 1966), possibly due to extra-territorial movements during the non-breeding season. Density in Maricao, averaged over the breeding and non-breeding seasons, was estimated to be 2.4/ha (Delannoy and Cruz 1999). However, it is not known whether the habitat was saturated.

Sexual Behavior

Pair bonds are maintained throughout the year. Although pair bonds are looser in the nonbreeding season, females often follow males while foraging (Wallace 1969).

Social and interspecific behavior

During the breeding season, Puerto Rican Woodpeckers are territorial and occur in pairs (Wallace 1969). Since territories are widely spaced, aggressive interactions are rare. However, one territorial fight has been described: "two males fought vigorously with violent physical contact in mid-air while a female, the mate of one of the belligerents, watched passively from within her own territory" (Wallace 1969).

In the nonbreeding season, Puerto Rican Woodpeckers are not territorial, but instead form loose groups of up to ten individuals foraging within a 15 m radius (Wallace 1969). Groups use tall, prominent snags as calling and gathering perches (Recher and Recher 1966).


No instances of predation have been recorded. However, they have been observed scolding Puerto Rican boas (Epicrates inornatus; Mercado et al. 2002). They showed no response to "large hawks" circling overhead (Wallace 1969).

Recommended Citation

Toms, J. D. (2010). Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.