Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis)

Puerto Rican Woodpecker


The Puerto Rican woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis) is the only woodpecker endemic to the archipelago of Puerto Rico and is one of the five species of the genus Melanerpes that occur in the Antilles. Furthermore, it is the only resident species of the family Picidae in Puerto Rico. The species is common on the main island of Puerto Rico and rare on the island of Vieques. The Puerto Rican woodpecker has a black body and a bright red throat and breast. It has a white patch that runs across the head from eye to eye. Its flanks and lower body have a light tangerine coloration. As with the majority of birds sexual dimorphism is present in this species. The males' throat and breast are more brightly colored than the females' with females tending to be all-around duller in coloration. There is also a substantial (~18_) difference in bill length between sexes.

Distribution And Habitat

The Puerto Rican Woodpecker is a common endemic species in Puerto Rico known to occur throughout the main island (Raffaele 1989a), and it is fairly common in Vieques (Gemmill 2015). This species is more common in hills and lowlands associated with forests, mangroves, and shade coffee plantations, but it also occurs in palm groves, parks, gardens, and woodlots, from the coast to the mountains (Oberle 2018, Raffaele 1989a). The atlas fieldwork yielded a total of 814 records within 388 hexagons or 81 percent of the 479 total hexagons (see map). Of the 388 hexagons where this species was found, breeding met the atlas definition of confirmed in 24 percent (93) of the hexagons, probable in 39 percent (153), and possible in 37 percent (142) (see map and table). Puerto Rican Woodpecker distribution. The map shows the highest breeding code by hexagon and overlaying the ecological life zones in Puerto Rico. Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.

Puerto Rican Woodpecker Distribution

Breeding Habits

Previously published reports indicate that the Puerto Rican Woodpecker excavates cavities in high trees or palms in January or February and lays eggs later, followed by fl edglings reported from late March to June (Toms 2010). Old or abandoned nests are sometimes used by other 181Puerto Rican Woodpecker/Carpintero de Puerto Ricocavity-nesting species such as the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), the Caribbean Martin (Progne dominicensis), and the Puerto Rican Flycatcher (Myiarchus antillarum) (J.A. Salguero-Faría, personal observation 2009). Atlas results indicate that the woodpecker breeding season extends throughout the year but is more active from March to June, with a peak in May (see chart). This seasonal pattern of woodpecker breeding appears to coincide in each of the life zones with no evidence to suggest breeding times differ among the life zones. Results show that the Puerto Rican Woodpecker mostly breeds within the subtropical moist forest life zone (61 percent of the hexagons). Breeding for this species was also reported for the subtropical wet and lower montane wet forest life zones (22 percent of the hexagons), the subtropical dry forest life zone (17 percent of the hexagons), and for only one hexagon (1 percent of the hexagons) in the subtropical rain and lower montane rain forest life zones (see table and map).


The Puerto Rican Woodpecker exhibits a stable population within its distribution range, and it is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2016). Locally, this species is not listed in any of the threatened categories of PRDNER and USFWS. In Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Woodpecker has a protected habitat in land of 13 percent or 1167 km2 of the total area covered by the hexagons where evidence of breeding was found for this species (9255 km2).