RED-HEADED WOODPECKER


Red-headed Woodpecker - Field Marks

The falling temperatures in the east mean it is a good time to consider putting out a suet feeder. In turn, the suet might entice this beautiful woodpecker to your feeding station. If you can't get a Red-headed Woodpecker to come to you, try to find one in open woods, farm country, near forest edges, orchards, or groves of tall trees in open country in the eastern United States.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus

This striking and unmistakable bird was a favorite of early ornithologists such as Alexander Wilson and Audubon. Often conspicuous because of its strong pattern, harsh calls, and active behavior in semi-open country, it often occurs in small colonies. Although it migrates only short distances, little groups of migrants may be noticeable in early fall and late spring. Once a very common bird in eastern North America, the Red-headed Woodpecker is now uncommon and local in many regions.

Field Marks
A black-backed woodpecker with a head that is entirely red (other woodpeckers may have a patch of red). Back solid black, rump white. Large, square white patches are conspicuous on the wing (making the lower back look white when the bird is on a tree). Sexes similar. Immature is dusky-headed; the large white wing patches identify it.

Size
8 1/2 - 9 1/2" (21-24 cm)

Similar Species
The only eastern woodpecker with the entire head red. Red-breasted Sapsucker also has an entirely red head but a different range (Pacific states).

Voice
A loud queer or queeah.

Range
East of the Rockies from southern Canada to Gulf States.

Red-headed Woodpecker - Range Map

Migration
Some are probably permanent residents but others, especially from northern and western areas, travel to wintering areas in southeastern states. Migrates by day. A short-distance migrant, not known to occur south of United States.

Habitat
Groves, farm country, orchards, shade trees in towns, large scattered trees. Avoids unbroken forest, favoring open country or at least clearings in the woods. Forest edges, orchards, open pine woods, groves of tall trees in open country are likely habitats. Winter habitats influenced by source of food in fall, such as acorns or beechnuts.

Feeding
Diet: Omnivorous. Perhaps the most omnivorous of woodpeckers. Diet includes wide variety of insects, also spiders, earthworms, nuts, seeds, berries, wild and cultivated fruit, rarely small rodents. Sometimes eats eggs and nestlings of other birds. Also sometimes eats bark.

Behavior: Opportunistic. Flies out from a perch to catch insects in the air or on ground; climbs tree trunks and major limbs; clambers in outer branches; hops on ground. Gathers acorns, beechnuts, and other nuts in fall, storing them in holes and crevices, then feeding on them during winter.

Nesting
Male establishes territory and advertises there with calling, drumming. Displays (including aggressive ones) involve bowing head, spreading wings. In resident birds, male's winter territory may become breeding territory.

Nest: Male's winter roosting cavity may be used for nest, or new cavity may be excavated (mostly by male). Nest cavity is in bare dead tree or limb, from a few feet above ground to 65' or higher. No nest material other than wood chips in bottom of cavity.

Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 3-7, rarely more. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night), 12-13 days.

Young: Are fed by both parents, and leave the nest at about 27-31 days. 1 or 2 broods per year; pairs may start on a second nesting attempt while still feeding fledglings from the first. Second brood may be raised in same nest but more often in new cavity.

Conservation
Has been decreasing in numbers for years. Reasons not well known, probably include loss of potential nest sites (due to cutting of dead trees), competition with starlings for nest cavities.

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