We only have 3 more weeks of our autumn feature, Woodpecker Wednesday. On December 21 (the Winter Solstice), Waterfowl Wednesday will return! Today’s featured woodpecker is the Red-headed Woodpecker.
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
The plumage of the Red-headed Woodpecker is bold and striking. Their bellies are white, and their wings are half-black, half-white. Their round heads are bright red. There are only four sexually monochromatic woodpeckers in the world and the Red-headed Woodpecker is one of them. This means it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between a male and female visually in the field. Immature Red-heads actually lack the red head. Their heads are gray-brown, and the white patch on their wings have rows of black spots.
Year-round from Rocky Mountain States east to the Atlantic Coast and south to Texas and Florida. Summer (breeding): from Eastern Montana to New York. Some populations winter in mid-Texas.
Deciduous woodlands, open forests, groves, orchards, farm country
Considered the most omnivorous North American woodpecker. Eats nuts, insects, seeds, fruit. Sometimes they raid nests and eat eggs/nestlings. May occasionally eat mice and other adult birds. Like the Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-heads are proficient at flycatching.
Like some other woodpeckers, Red-heads store nuts and seeds in crevices of trees. However, they are the only North American woodpecker that is known to use bark and wood as a protective covering to hide their caches.
They are monogamous, usually for several years. Males will do most of the excavating on a dead tree, and if the female approves the site she will tap with him. Red-heads may have 1-2 broods per year, with usually 4-5 eggs per clutch. Both parents will incubate the eggs for 12-13 days and the young will fledge about 27-31 days after hatching. The pair may start a second brood in the same nest, but usually a separate nest while still feeding the first brood.
rheer, rheer squeal; racka racka chatter used for communcation between mates, a short descending rattle as a defense call. Groups call while flycatching.
Populations have fluctuated dramatically over the past 200 years, and have declined in the Northeast in recent years. Population loss is likely through to lack of old-growth forests and acorn crop fluctuations. The are considered Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
- Red-heads are very pugnacious, and will be aggressive towards a variety of other birds, even the large Pileated Woodpecker
- Their closets relatives are the Acorn and Lewis’s Woodpecker. They are all members of the genus Melanerpes.
- They will store live grasshopper into tree crevices that are so tight the grasshopper can’t escape.
- Sometimes Red-heads may drop nuts or pine cones on roads to be crushed by cars. Unfortunately, this leads to a relatively high rate of roadkill mortality.
- Due to the striking contrast of their plumage, they are sometimes known as “the flying checkerboard”.