Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
Length: 8.5-9.25 in
Wing span: 16-18 in
Weight: 71 g
Red-headed Woodpecker gives all sorts of chirps, cackles and raucous calls. One of the most common calls is a shrill, hoarse 'querr' or 'tchur' call. It is similar to a Red-bellied's call but is higher pitched. Other calls include: rattle calls and wicka calls. The drumming is either a two-part hammer or a staccato roll like a Downy Woodpecker; given as 19-25 taps/second.
(Recordings from xeno-canto.org. Spectrographs generated in Audacity)
Adults: Sexes are similar. Adults are strikingly colored with red, white and black. A crimson head, snow white underparts and rump, black back and tail, and wings that are half black (upper) and half white (lower). The Red-headed Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird (between robin and crow) with large rounded heads, short, stiff tails, and powerful, spike-like bills.
Immature: Juveniles are gray-brown on head, throat and upper breast with faintly streaked underparts. The white wing patches are present and show rows of black spots near the trailing edge.
In flight: The white on the rump and lower wings can be seen in flight. They have strong flight with slow, steady wing beats. Flight pattern similar to a blue jay.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are most closely related to Lewis Woodpeckers in terms of behavior.
In the northern part of their range, Red-headed Woodpeckers prefer deciduous woods with standing, dead trees, as well as, forest edges, river bottoms, forested wetlands, roadsides, parks, and farmland. In the southern part of their range they can be found in pine savannahs and open forests with a clear understory.
Red-headed Woodpeckers can be nomadic; present in appropriate habitat one year and not the next. Nomadic behavior is tied to abundance of food resources, especially nuts.
Foods & Foraging
Red-headed Woodpeckers are omnivores consuming a variety of insects, fruits, nuts, tree bark and even eggs and nestlings of other bird species. Examples of foods consumed include; beetles, midges, earthworms, spiders, acorns, beech nuts, pecans, berries.
They forage by hammering wood in search of insects like most woodpeckers, but also forage on ground and fly catching from a perch. Food is often cached.
Click here to see how the Red-headed Woodpecker's range could be reshaped as a result of climate change.
The Red-headed Woodpecker breeds from extreme southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, south to Florida and the Gulf Coast. It winters in the southern part of its breeding range. Some individuals are permanent residents, while others, especially from the north and west, migrate to the southeast to winter.
The Red-headed Woodpecker is a year round resident in our area, though some individuals may winter further south.
Arrival & Departure
The global population of the Red-headed Woodpecker is at about 1.2 million birds. IUCN currently has this species listed as a bird of Least Concern. However, the Red-Headed Woodpecker is still listed as a bird of conservation concern and is still on some Watch Lists because, even though it was once a very common bird, the population has declined about 2%/year from 1966-2014. This represents a cumulative decline of 70%.
The major factor in declining populations of this species is habitat loss and degradation, resulting in diminished food resources (e.g. beech nuts) and loss of suitable nest sites (e.g. dead trees). Other reasons for decline include competition with starlings for nesting sites and mortality due to car strikes.
However, IUCN has noted that an increase in habitat management has brought about some stability to the population, at least in some parts of its range. Increase in number of nesting sites has resulted in the IUCN moving the Red-headed Woodpecker from Near Threatened to Least Concern in their most recent assessment of risk.
Red-Headed Woodpecker: Least Concern
Least Concern category includes birds that are not at risk of being threatened or endangered at this time.