Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)


French: Pic à front doré German: Goldstirnspecht Spanish: Carpintero frentidorado

Picus Aurifrons


, 1829,

Hidalgo, Mexico


Sometimes separated with other barred congeners in Centurus. Recent molecular phylogeny found nominate race to form a clade with M. carolinus, with M. superciliaris as sister to this pair#R. In past, reckoned closest to M. hoffmannii, and sometimes treated as conspecific. Hybridizes with latter in S Honduras (R Pespire), with M. carolinus in S USA (Texas) and rarely with M. uropygialis in SW Mexico. Recent study#R suggests that aurifrons in N of range is distinct in both size and plumage coloration from all other races, which should perhaps be treated as a separate species, M. santacruzi; this is supported by genetic differences, and has been adopted by some authors#R#R, but requires further study. Geographical variation complex, and strong clinal variation in many plumage characters, making delimitation of races very difficult; also, mainland races, themselves rather variable, intergrade, producing many populations with intermediate characters; grateloupensis may be no more than an intergrade population. Subspecific treatment has varied greatly in the past, and some have recognized only nine or fewer races; conversely, others have grouped races to form up to four separate species; further study needed. Paler birds from C Texas S to W Mexican Plateau, described as race incanescens, seem better merged with nominate; others from interior Chiapas, described as frontalis, tend towards nominate, but better treated as part of polygrammus. Twelve subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. a. aurifrons (Wagler, 1829) – Golden-fronted Woodpecker – S USA from NW Texas and SW Oklahoma S across Mexican Plateau to Jalisco, NW San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo.
  • M. a. grateloupensis (Lesson, 1839) – C San Luis Potosí and SW Tamaulipas to E Puebla and C Veracruz.
  • M. a. veraecrucis Nelson, 1900 – Atlantic slope from S Veracruz to NE Guatemala.
  • M. a. dubius (S. Cabot, 1844) – Yucatán Peninsula S to NE Guatemala and Belize.
  • M. a. polygrammus (Cabanis, 1862) – Pacific slope from SW Oaxaca E through interior Chiapas.
  • M. a. santacruzi (Bonaparte, 1838) – Velasquez Woodpecker – SE Chiapas E to El Salvador, SW Honduras and NC Nicaragua.
  • M. a. hughlandi Dickerman, 1987 – upper R Negro and upper Motagua Valley in Guatemala.
  • M. a. pauper (Ridgway, 1888) – coastal N Honduras.
  • M. a. leei (Ridgway, 1885) – Cozumel I (off NE Yucatán Peninsula).
  • M. a. turneffensis (Russell, 1963) – Turneffe Is (off Belize).
  • M. a. insulanus (J. Bond, 1936) – Utila I (off N Honduras).
  • M. a. canescens (Salvin, 1889) – Roatán I and Barbaretta I (E of Utila).
  • Descriptive notes

    c. 22–26 cm; male 73–99 g, female 63–90 g. Male of nominate race has yellow (rarely, orange-gold) nasal tufts, small red patch on centre of crown (very... read more


    Tremulous rolling “pwurr-rr-rr”, slightly shorter and higher than that of M.... read more


    Typically, arid or semi-arid country with sparse to tall second-growth woodland; also mesic areas.... read more

    Food and feeding

    Rather catholic in diet. Wide variety of insects and their larvae, including those of wood-boring beetles, ants, and grasshoppers,... read more


    Late Mar to Jul in Texas, from Jan in S Mexico (Chiapas), and Feb–Aug in Guatemala; sometimes 2 broods, in Central America even... read more


    Resident; occasionally wanders N, E or W of normal range.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to fairly common throughout its range, locally very common. Local abundance varies annually; breeding surveys in a study area in S Texas found... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 February 2020).